Biden's Epic Gaffe, Cont.


People keep emailing me to say that Biden's gaffe wasn't a gaffe at all, that he was just talking about how Barack Obama will be tested like any new President will be tested, etc. Daniel Larison makes a similar point, calling Biden's remarks "wholly unremarkable." But folks, God love you, it's just not so. Per Ben Smith, here's what Biden said:

It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

Biden didn't say: "Every President gets tested in his first six months in office, and Barack Obama won't be any different." He specifically highlighted Obama's youth as a reason to expect a "generated crisis to test the mettle of this guy," and specifically compared him to John F. Kennedy - whose perceived inexperience (and poor initial impression on the world stage) was supposedly one of the contributing factors in the Russian decision to send missiles to Cuba. It's true that all Presidents should expect to get their mettle tested in their first year in office, and it's true that John McCain's years working on foreign-policy issues in Washington won't exempt him from that rule. And maybe that's what Biden meant to say. But the words he actually uttered seemed intended to cite his running mate's youth and relative inexperience as a reason why Obama, in particular, would be likely to face an international crisis in his first six months. And in an election where John McCain has been trying (and trying, and trying) to emphasize the risks associated with Obama's inexperience, that seems like a remarkably foolish thing for a vice-presidential candidate to say about his running mate and foreign policy. If Biden's remarks are "wholly unremarkable," then, it's only because we've reached a point in the race where Joe Biden could be photographed doing the foxtrot with Jeremiah Wright at a "Free Mumia" rally and it wouldn't affect the outcome of the election.

Larison's follow-up comment, though, is worth pondering:

What is remarkable about what Biden was saying as he addressed a crowd of Seattle Obama fans is that he was telling a progressive crowd bluntly that a President Obama is probably going to use military force in the early months in response to a crisis or foreign conflict. Biden was telling them that it is going to seem completely unnecessary and contrary to everything Obama voters think they are getting when they elect him.  What could he have meant when he says that the administration is going to need the help of these Seattle progressives (and others like them) "in the community"? My guess is that he was saying that all of the antiwar progressives who have flocked to Obama are going to be deeply disillusioned by Obama's response to said crisis and there is a danger that the administration will become politically isolated as Obama's core supporters lose confidence in him at a supposedly critical juncture.
Jump to comments

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air