Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

24 August 2008

Joe Biden

It’s nice when events prove you right. Nine months ago I posted a blog called “Lightweights and Heavyweights.” It discerned only three heavyweights among the entire field of some sixteen presidential wannabes.

Apparently the American people and Senator Obama agreed with me. All of the three I named are on a ticket. John McCain—my sole heavyweight in the Republican party—is the presumptive Republican nominee. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the only two Democrats I named as heavyweights, are presumptive nominee and running mate.

At about the same time, I posted a list of the “Dream Team” that I hoped and expected Senator Obama would pick for his cabinet. Joe Biden was first on the list, as veep.

In retrospect, Biden seems an obvious choice. He doesn’t have the star quality to land the top job himself, but he’s definitely got that indefinable something called “experience.”

Experience is not just years lived, time spent in Congress, or tread worn from your tires. If those were the tests, we might have Chris Dodd.

The experience of a public servant is complex. It’s an indefinable combination of crises undergone, hits taken, and good judgments made. It involves making decisions and sticking your neck out even when you don’t have the responsibility to decide.

Biden has all that. He went along with invading Iraq, but he quickly caught on to Dubya’s mismanagement. He was right—and I think he is still right—in prescribing some sort of “soft” partitioning to cure what ails Iraqi society. He was quicker than Bill Clinton to see Serbia’s aggression in the Balkans and to recommend military intervention to stop the atrocities in Kosovo. He was almost as quick as Obama to see the dangers of Musharraf’s misrule in Pakistan.

Good judgment on foreign policy is vital for a veep, just as it is for a president. Congress controls the executive’s every domestic move, but the White House rules virtually alone on matters of foreign policy. If you doubt that, just think of Iraq and Dick Cheney.

Not only has Biden been right most of the time on difficult foreign-policy issues. He’s a tough guy and a fighter. He took on John McCain barely minutes into his first speech as presumptive running mate.

That tough-guy role is vitally important for two reasons. First, to our six-pack set, Senator Obama often comes across as a thoughtful wimp.

That impression is completely undeserved. He stuck his neck out by publicly condemning our invasion or Iraq when no one else had the guts or foresight to do so. He criticized Musharraf (who has now resigned) long before it was fashionable to do so and took lots of hits for doing so. And he changed his position on federal election funding the moment it became clear that he would become the next John Kerry if he didn’t. All those positions were tough, principled and courageous.

But to many voters, style is more important than substance. They prefer trash talkers to a man whose strongest epithet is “inaccurate.”

It’s hard to believe how things have changed since the Cold War. Back then, we laughed (uneasily) when peasant-born Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the U.N. podium and said “We will bury you.” Now our own presidents and serious candidates say things like “Bring it on!,” “Wanted, dead of alive,” “Bomb, bomb Iran,” and “obliterate Iran.”

Some voters seem to like that sort of trash talking. It makes them feel important and powerful in a dangerous and uncertain world. You might think it recalls the blood-drenched sands of the old Roman Coliseum. You might think it reflects a nation in serious decline. And you might be right. But Obama has to get elected to do any good. He needs a trash talker who can at least match McCain.

The second reason why Biden’s blunt toughness is appropriate is that it’s the veep’s usual role, both as running mate and in office. Veeps are the party’s and the government’s hatchet men (so far all have been male).

We forgot that point with Cheney because his hatchet was so sharp and he did so much more. But veeps traditionally serve as lightning rods. They explain and take blame for unpopular but necessary policies. They say things that diplomacy prevents the top guy from saying. They are the “tough cops” in double-teaming international negotiations.

Biden is perfect for that role. He has a well-deserved reputation for directness and verbal courage. He’s got a working-class background and the feistiness to go with it. He’s never forgotten who he is.

Biden’s reputation for occasional gaffes won’t hurt him. On the contrary, it will give him leeway to overstep and backtrack if necessary. He can credibly claim an overstatement was a typical but well-meaning slip, and not a deliberate campaign or negotiating stratagem.

What does choosing Biden say about Obama? As usual, it shows uncanny understanding and talent. Obama recognized what he lacks and added it to the ticket. He’s not bashful or insecure. He wants the best team he can get. He’s willing to pick people, like Biden, who will be tough to control and will give him independent, frank advice. Isn’t that what we want in a president, instead of the sycophant-filled Dubya cabinet?

It’s a shame there’s no heavyweight left to play second fiddle to the irascible and increasingly erratic McCain. Senators Lugar and Hagel may still be available, but the latter reportedly sought a place on the Democratic ticket.

So it’s unlikely that McCain will (or can!) choose a running mate that showcases an equal capacity to pick a Dream Team. Likely he will rely on his consultants and pick a running mate for political or geographic balance, with an eye on the “social” issues that still trouble the Republican base. If that happens, it will be just one more of many reasons for voting Democratic this fall.


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  • At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 1:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yep, Kosovo. If I recallthere was a lot of infrastructure demolished from 20,000 feet above...hundreds of years old houses of worship, hospitals and care centers,schools, water supplies, electrical facilities, cardboard tanks & artillery pieces, human life; led by the diseased Gen Wesley Clark, whom also permitted Clinton access to U.S. military tanks at Ft. Hood while Base Commander...the same tanks that murdered more innocent children at Waco than died at the Oklahome City bombing. Thousands of civilians slaughtered in Kosovo from aerial bombardment, along with their meager ancestral homes...only to be handed over to Muslims running the prostitution and drug trade throughout Europe

    Yep, Heckel & Jeckel, two from the same pod, both plagiarists who swore the Surge would not work, and both abortion enablers.

    Barack favors infanticide and any form of abortion, but I cannot yet confirm Slow Joe would go that far as a Catholic. Proof is that Obama by his vote, has murdered a thousand times more Americans through cruel, deadly abortion than President Bush has by declaring war against a dispicable, heathen enemy! Our U.S. military are all volunteers and have re-upped in massive numbers for what they believe a worthy cause. Do the innocent, born-alive infants have a choice to make a decision to put their life on the line? Not according to Barack the Baby Slayer! A world in upheavel, led by a crazed people who have trashed and corrupted their religion by believing they are to kill the infidel, the non-believer. And I am to be expected to vote into the presidency an individual whom voted not to fund our true heroes, our qualified military. Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, you do not qualify to be anywhere near accepting a return salute!


  • At Friday, August 29, 2008 at 2:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear Anonymous,

    I’m not publishing your comment (below) because it is well written or contains a shred of truth. I’m publishing it because it illustrates the sort of factual ignorance and lack of humanity that (if shared by enough voters) will turn our great Republic into a war-torn third-world country in less than a generation.

    About Kosovo, you don’t recall right. Probably you never knew. NATO bombing in Kosovo caused very little infrastructure damage and virtually no civilian casualties. The reason: it was directed against Serbian troops and tanks while on maneuvers in the field. What stopped the Serbs was NATO’s cluster bombs, against which they had no defense, falling on their military formations. It only took a few bombing runs to get them to surrender. One Serbian commander described the situation as an adult fighting a child.

    You might sympathize with the Serbian troops killed instantly in these massive bombing runs. But they were bent on conquest, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Their victims’ only “crimes” were being Muslims and having had the misfortune to have ancestors who had prevailed in battle against the Serbs on Kosovo Pole some six hundred years before.

    This is not just my view. This is the view of the international legal community. The Serbian leader at the time, Slobodan Milošević, later died in prison while on trial for war crimes. A secondary leader, Radovan Karadžić, is now in prison awaiting trial. The world looks forward to the capture of a third war criminal, Ratko Mladić, who is still a fugitive.

    There was a lot of infrastructure damage in Sarajevo, Kosovo and Croatia. But its cause was Serbian artillery, not NATO bombing. The Serbs spent months lobbing artillery on innocent civilians and their buildings in Sarajevo, for no purpose other than creating terror.

    I’ve been in Croatia and have seen the shells of burned-out buildings with my own eyes. The cause is self-evidently artillery, not bombing. (You can tell the difference because artillery comes from the side while bombs come from above. Bombs leave little but rubble, while artillery leaves the walls and parts of the ceilings standing.) Neither NATO nor the U.S. had any artillery in the Balkans during the brief bombing campaign. The Serbs, who had no air force worthy of the name, used artillery, often aimed at innocent civilians, to terrify their enemies.

    Your ignorance about Kosovo is just the beginning of your inaccuracies. Barack Obama does not “support infanticide and any form of abortion.” He recognizes that abortion is a difficult, complex subject. He knows people disagree about it passionately.

    Obama understands that many people—including the vast majority of America’s women—take the other side as passionately as you do yours. He knows that the federal government can do little about abortion. He acknowledges an important fact: that legal prohibition on abortions has little effect on the abortion rate. He wants to leave these difficult decisions up to individual women, their loved ones and their doctors, so he can concentrate on problems that the federal government can help solve, like Osama bin Laden, health care, our decaying infrastructure, our exhausted military, our dependence on foreign oil, and our collapsing economy.

    Unlike you and John McCain, Obama is not self-righteous about his views. When anti-abortion protestors blocked his path during a campaign visit, he didn’t edge his car forward and play “chicken” with them. He got out of the car, walked over to them, spoke with them, shook their hands, and invited them to hear his speech. Now that’s a statesman and a leader.

    The saddest thing about your comment is not its ignorance of basic facts. It’s your self-righteousness and demonization of others, especially those who you think don’t share your religious views. Your comment reeks of religious prejudice, from its name-calling (“despicable, heathen enemy”), through its absurd characterization of “Muslims running the prostitution and drug trade throughout Europe,” to its focus on the utter irrelevancy of Obama’s middle name.

    I wish I had a time machine to send you back to experience the countless, senseless religious wars that your brand of “thinking” caused. You might find yourself at home, at first, in the last millennium. There you would see up close and personal the religious Armageddon that your brand of “thinking” invites.

    But you would soon discover that the Crusaders’ world is not one you would enjoy living in. Even today, religious pogroms occur regularly in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, the Middle East, and other places. We Americans have escaped that suffering with a simple principle: we let all people—including Muslims—practice their religions peacefully and openly. And we give all believers, in whatever religion, the respect that their reverence, piety, devotion and spirituality deserve.

    You don’t say whether or not you have ever served in our military. I suspect not; you don’t even know the protocol. The president does not “accept[] a return salute” because the lesser ranked person (the president outranks everyone!) salutes first.

    More telling still, few who have actually experienced combat reveal your evident lust for it. Dexter Filkins, one of the most experienced and skilled Iraq war reporters, described war briefly as follows: “War ruins everything it touches. And everyone.”

    No one but a young, naïve boy dreaming of glory thinks of war as anything other than a dreaded last resort to be accepted with a heavy heart when all else has failed. NATO’s Kosovo operation was not a war, but a limited police action that achieved its goal of stopping Serbian aggression and genocide in a short time and with minimal civilian casualties.

    The most ironic thing about your comment is that you implicitly claim to be a Christian. But you have utterly forsaken Jesus’ teaching. He was a man of peace, not a man of war. The ancient Roman empire in which he lived was a tolerant, multiethnic, multi-religious state, similar in some way to ours.

    Like the multicultural society in which he lived, Jesus was tolerant. He himself was a Jew. Islam did not yet exist, but surely Jesus would have respected it as just another of the many religions in the rich tapestry of the ancient world.

    Jesus left matters of government to the Romans, advising his followers to “render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He would be the last to support, let alone glorify, invading Iraq, far less on religious ground.

    Jesus also cared about people—especially the poor, neglected and suffering—not abstractions. He hated the religious establishment of his day, and he hated self-righteousness in any form. If he were alive and living in America today, he would almost certainly despise the Crusader mentality that you represent. And if he revealed his political leaning, he would just as certainly support Barack Obama, our modern personification of the tolerance, compassion, and generosity for which Jesus struggled and died.


  • At Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 1:49:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Dear Sam,

    You have written an extended reply focusing almost entirely on the issue of abortion and Senator Obama’s position on abortion. That comment is not germane to this thread, which deals with Joe Biden, his foreign-policy experience, and what he adds to the Democratic ticket. Yet your comment took obvious effort to write and deserves a response.

    Taking the opposite view, another commenter also has written about abortion in a thread unrelated to that issue. Together the two of you have inspired me to tackle the issue in a complete essay.

    Writing my essay will take some time, perhaps up to a week. After I post it, I will also post both of your comments, verbatim, perhaps with further comment of my own. When I’m done I will post a link to the essay on a comment to this thread below. You can also find my essay by searching for the word “abortion,” which will appear in the title, on the home page of this blog.

    In the meantime, I wanted to applaud your effort to maintain a dialogue and to lower the heat of your rhetoric.


  • At Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 1:34:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Here are the links to my promised essay on abortion, to Sam's comment on abortion (which follows it) and to an opposing comment, which helped inspire the essay.



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