Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Biden

The Gun Control Bubble Pops

In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

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In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.

This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.

That’s got to puzzle those who were certain that Newtown had fundamentally changed the discussion in this country about guns. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel points out in an insightful analysis today, the president can’t even count on Democratic support for an assault weapons ban, let alone Republicans. Indeed, it’s far from clear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Joe Manchin, who was the media’s poster child for gun lovers who had seen the light, will back an assault weapons ban.

The president may talk about more gun control and Newtown in his second inaugural speech and hope it will be a useful stick with which to keep beating Republicans. But since the House will wait to see if anything passes the Senate before voting it down, the odds are that it will be Senate Democrats who fear being portrayed as foes of the Second Amendment that will be the ones administering the coup de grace on any far-reaching legislation that Biden puts forward.

Moreover, the notion that the White House will prioritize the gun issue in the coming months also fails to take into account that the president has a much more important fight on his hands with the budget and the upcoming debt ceiling showdown. Since he is in a stronger position on that one, not to mention that the state of the economy will have a lot more to do with whether his second term turns out to be a nightmare, gun control advocates are probably dreaming if they think Obama will spend much of his finite political capital on assault weapons.

This shouldn’t cause anyone to think that the NRA is totally out of the woods. Senate Democrats who don’t dare ban weapons will look to support some part of Biden’s proposals. That means the gun lobby will probably lose some part of this battle since the White House appears to be willing to take what they can get rather than waste the coming months pushing a forlorn hope.

But the main point to take away from this turnaround is the fashion in which media elites are disconnected from political reality.

The aftermath of Newtown did give gun control advocates an opening to refloat all of their old proposals with more traction than they have had in many years. And the NRA flubbed the aftermath of the shooting with a press conference that was remarkable for its tone and cluelessness.

But none of that changes the fact that there is still a reliable majority in Congress that is opposed to infringement on the right to possess guns and little proof that any such legislation would stop tragedies like Newtown from happening. There is probably a consensus that can be built on issues on the margin of this issue, like background checks, but nothing more.

That so many talking heads blithely assumed that all this would change after Newtown was merely wishful thinking on their part. That’s something to remember the next time liberals make similar assumptions about the conventional wisdom that they are trying to foist on the country.

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Biden to Present Gun Control Proposals Tuesday

The White House isn’t wasting any time on the gun control debate. After meeting with gun-rights advocates today, CBS News reports that Joe Biden will present his gun control proposals to President Obama as soon as Tuesday:

After consulting with a series of stakeholders in the ongoing debate over gun control, Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations for reducing gun-related violence in America to President Obama on Tuesday, he said today.

The vice president, speaking to reporters before a meeting on gun violence with sportsmen and women, and just minutes before another school shooting was reported, outlined a series of the recommendations he said are emerging in the course of his conversations with various stakeholders in the conversation. Among those possible proposals include universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and increased federal capabilities for effectively researching gun violence. Biden also stressed ongoing discussions about the importance of including the mental health community in the conversation.

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The White House isn’t wasting any time on the gun control debate. After meeting with gun-rights advocates today, CBS News reports that Joe Biden will present his gun control proposals to President Obama as soon as Tuesday:

After consulting with a series of stakeholders in the ongoing debate over gun control, Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations for reducing gun-related violence in America to President Obama on Tuesday, he said today.

The vice president, speaking to reporters before a meeting on gun violence with sportsmen and women, and just minutes before another school shooting was reported, outlined a series of the recommendations he said are emerging in the course of his conversations with various stakeholders in the conversation. Among those possible proposals include universal background checks, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and increased federal capabilities for effectively researching gun violence. Biden also stressed ongoing discussions about the importance of including the mental health community in the conversation.

Increasing federal capabilities for “researching gun violence” sounds about as effective as Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board. A task force will be convened, funding will be allocated, reports will be written, and that will probably be the end of it. But it will give the appearance that the government is doing something, and it probably won’t get much opposition from the gun lobby.

A ban on high-capacity magazines will get pushback. The problem here is that the definition of high-capacity can be subjective, and apparently there are easy ways of getting around this type of ban. As for more rigorous background checks, it’s irrelevant to the Sandy Hook shooting, since Adam Lanza stole the weapon from his mother. However, it may have made a difference in the Tucson shooting, since Jared Lee Loughner appeared to show signs of mental illness before the attack. The question is, where do you draw the line? Loughner was behaving erratically at school and work, but he was never declared mentally ill by a court, nor did he undergo a psychiatric exam before the shooting. Gun control advocates may try to push for mental health reviews in the background check, but that sounds like it could raise constitutional issues.

Allahpundit also writes that this would be a tough policy to get past House Republicans:

Background checks, in particular, enjoy massive support, with one recent poll showing 92% in favor of requiring them at gun shows and a CNN poll taken last year finding 94% support for checks on all potential gun buyers.  That’d be a very tough vote for congressional Republicans and of course Biden knows it, which is why he’s talking it up today. If you can’t get your policies passed, you might as well use them as a way to make the opposition squirm. 

More evidence that the White House primarily views the gun control debate as a way to score political points, and is looking to make things as difficult for Republicans as possible.

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Obama’s “Throw Rocks at It” Approach to Capitol Hill

Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

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Today is Richard Nixon’s centennial, which will draw attention to relevant aspects of Nixon’s life and legacy besides Watergate. Nixon’s grasp of American politics was unusually sharp, and a Politico story today about President Obama’s striking disinterest in negotiating with Republicans calls to mind a piece of advice Nixon once gave to Ronald Reagan through William F. Buckley.

Despite the claims that Obama is “the Democrats’ Reagan,” Obama lacks Reagan’s best qualities, especially his temperament. Nixon and Buckley were having lunch when Nixon made a suggestion for Reagan: the president’s admirable affability shouldn’t preclude having someone else be tough on the Democrats for him, enabling Reagan to stay above the fray. Here is how Buckley relayed the advice to Reagan (“RN” is Nixon; “RR” is Reagan):

“He needs an Agnew,” RN said. “He did it for me, and he was first-rate–check his ratings back then. I did it for Ike. Ike was smooth. But when I went all-out against the Dems, and they went to Ike, he’d sort of shrug his shoulders, but when he saw me, he’d say: ‘Attaboy, Dick. More of the same.’” What if [John] Connally wouldn’t? Well, RR would need to find somebody who would do it. The Dems are terrifically vulnerable, but there isn’t anybody out there in headline-country who’s skewering them with their own vulnerabilities. It’s got to be done.

Contrast that with how Obama approaches his political fights with the Republicans. A perfect example was Obama’s bizarre campaign-style event at which he taunted Republicans about the fiscal cliff deal before the deal was even done. Rather than use his vice president–Joe Biden can be as vicious as they come, and he’ll always get a pass from the media–to shove Republicans around, allowing Obama to stay above the fray and look presidential, Obama does this himself while tasking Biden with the actual work of governing. Here’s Politico:

His apparent conclusion, after watching the implosion of the House GOP’s effort to pass a modest tax increase before the final fiscal cliff deal, is that the best way to deal with the Capitol is to throw rocks at it — then send Vice President Joe Biden in to clean up the glass.

The result is that we only got a fiscal cliff deal, however imperfect, because Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached out to Biden and the two put something together. Obama has always been uninterested in the details, which is why we had to pass the bill with his name on it–Obamacare–just to find out what’s in it. And as the New York Times has reported, Obama isn’t interested in building relationships with either party on Capitol Hill. With an air of entitlement, he dispenses demands and assumes someone will always be there to clean up the messes he makes in Washington.

That someone, these days, is Joe Biden. But the roles can’t be reversed so easily. The public looks to the president to set the tone of an administration, and what they’ve seen in Obama’s four years is mostly petty and vindictive behavior. And it’s only a matter of time before Biden reverts back to his old “put y’all back in chains” self. Reagan’s problem, according to Nixon, was that he didn’t have anybody “throwing rocks” at the other side. Obama’s problem is that he’s running out of people to clean up the glass.

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Prime Minister Biden on the Upswing

Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

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Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

Most serious observers initially laughed off the rumors first floated last year about Biden thinking about 2016. Biden was too old, too much a product of the country’s political past and a human gaffe machine. But Biden’s strong showing at the Democratic National Convention illustrated just how well his rabble-rousing style appeals to his party activists. While most Americans may have been turned off by his contemptuous attitude and weird grinning during the vice presidential debate with Paul Ryan, that was exactly what the liberal base wanted. When you figure in the fact that Biden’s prime ministerial relations with Congress will allow him to solidify alliances and do favors for influential party members, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that he actually stands a fair chance of being the Democratic nominee to succeed Obama.

Part of the plausibility of the Biden 2016 scenario lies in the fact that, at least at present, there aren’t many viable alternatives for Democrats. Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice but her recent health problems and the fallout from the Benghazi disaster make any assumptions about her inevitability seem less certain. Outside of her there are no real big league prospects for the Democrats. Though that may change (in 2005 no one believed the then-freshman senator from Illinois would be elected president), Biden is justified in not being afraid of any possible rival.

It remains to be seen whether Biden will be able to spend the next four years taking credit for administration legislative successes and dodging blame for the inevitable second term failures. Biden has, after all, been wrong on virtually every major foreign policy stand he has taken and his populist style grates on many. Biden’s propensity for mistakes and long-winded speechifying will also make him a perfect target for opponents. He could well talk himself out of the race long before he enters it.

Nevertheless, Biden bears watching in the coming weeks and months. Rather than needing to strike out on his own, the best thing Biden can do to strengthen his standing among Democrats is to be Barack Obama’s loyal soldier. Though Republicans may be salivating at the thought of having to face Biden in 2016 after being beaten by the far more popular Obama the last two cycles, the vice president’s growing importance has made his long-cherished dream of the presidency a bit less fantastic.

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A Bad Deal Beats a Calamitous Outcome

The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

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The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

I don’t believe that narrative for a moment. Most Republicans want to take meaningful steps to re-limit government, which is entirely admirable. But they faced a particularly bad set of circumstances, and it wasn’t at all clear to me what the game plan would have been if they had succeeded in blowing up the deal passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. 

To have amended the Senate deal with the most minor spending cuts–essentially pocket change, given the level of deficits and debt we’re dealing with–would have been fiscally meaningless. And if an amended deal had led to no deal at all–which is precisely what would have happened–it would have been calamitous for House Republicans. There is simply no way Republicans could extract a good, or even mediocre, deal from this situation. They had to hope they could minimize the damage, retreat to safer and better ground, and think through a strategy on how to more effectively wage future battles with the president. Republicans can also take some comfort in the fact that Democrats, after having spent a decade demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, made them permanent for 98 percent of Americans. And as the dust settles on this deal, it may dawn on Republicans that Democrats, who presumably were in a position of maximum strength, didn’t get nearly as much as they hoped for. (For more, see Yuval Levin’s excellent analysis here.)   

Congressional Republicans who wanted to amend the deal sent to them by the Senate may have been engaging in a primal scream of sorts. They are enormously (and understandably) frustrated at the president’s staggering indifference to our debt crisis and their inability to do anything about it. And because this deal is so bad in so many ways, they wanted to vote against it. But if more of them had voted the way Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Eric Cantor did, they would have badly damaged their party and their country.

I for one am glad that cooler and wiser head prevailed and that this bad deal didn’t give way to a much worse outcome. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the aftermath of a damaging election loss.

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Terrorist Release is Rebuff for Obama

The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.

What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.

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The loathsome Ali Musa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative who engineered the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Iraq in 2007, is reportedly back in Beirut, no doubt basking in his new-found freedom to plan fresh terrorist outrages. His release from Iraqi custody, while not unexpected, is nevertheless dismaying. The U.S., after having released all other detainees, turned him over last to Iraqi custody in 2011 hoping against hope that the Iraqis could somehow be persuaded to keep him locked up. Fat chance.

What makes the whole situation really pathetic is that Vice President Biden called Prime Minister Maliki in recent days pleading for Daqduq not to be released. The fact that he was set free anyway is hardly a sign of Maliki’s respect for the rule of law. It is a sign of how little influence the U.S. now wields in Iraq and how much influence Iran now has. Daqduq, after all, was in Iraq working for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to train Shiite militants to attack U.S. personnel. His release is a big victory for Iran and a big defeat for the United States.

If President Obama is chagrined about the outcome, he had no one to blame but himself. His failure to make a serious push to maintain U.S. forces in Iraq past 2011 means that our influence over that country’s future is marginal. There is little, alas, we can do as Iraq aligns itself more closely with Iran and against our interests in the region.

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Ex-SEAL’s Father: Hillary Blamed the Movie

The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

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The father of Tyrone Woods, the ex-Navy SEAL who died while trying to defend Ambassador Chris Stevens in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, made the rounds of some radio shows yesterday, and the tale he told of his meetings with top administration officials doesn’t put any of them in a flattering light. Speaking to radio talkers Glenn Beck and Lars Larson, Charles Woods expressed his belief that, given the revelations about real-time intelligence about the attack being funneled to Washington, it’s clear that someone gave an order not to save those trapped in the consulate by the terrorists.

But as upset as he is about the failure of the administration to come clean about what happened, his account of his personal contacts with them is just as bad. He described President Obama’s condolences as insincere, said Vice President Joe Biden made a wildly inappropriate remark about his son and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that, “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.”

Woods’ account of the president’s attempt to condole him may be put down as the angry reflections of a grieving father, but it does dovetail with much of what we know about the president’s personality.

On Beck’s show, Woods described the encounter in this manner:

“When he finally came over to where we were, I could tell that he was rather conflicted, a person who was not at peace with himself,” Woods said. “Shaking hands with him, quite frankly, was like shaking hands with a dead fish. His face was pointed towards me but he would not look me in the eye, his eyes were over my shoulder.”

“I could tell that he was not sorry,” he added. “He had no remorse.”

As for Biden, the blundering veep’s attempt to praise the slain ex-SEAL did not go over very well:

Woods said Biden came over to his family and asked in a “loud and boisterous” voice, “Did your son always have balls the size of cue balls?”

“Are these the words of someone who is sorry?” said Woods.

But perhaps most damning of all were the words of Clinton, who not only attempted to promote the story of the video being the cause of the attack, but went so far as to promise to have the man who produced it jailed. While the White House has been furiously trying to persuade the country that it always knew that what happened was a terrorist attack, Clinton’s comments are another reminder of the administration’s effort to falsely blame it all on the video. That Clinton would go so far as to push for the man’s arrest for exercising his free speech rights is chilling, especially given the State Department’s prior and subsequent efforts to appease radical Islamists.

Woods’s complaint is especially heart-rending because he knows that his son was not at the consulate at the time of the attack, but rather a mile away in a safe house, yet responded to calls for help. As Alana reported yesterday, the latest revelations about real-time information coming in about the attack makes the failure to respond adequately even more puzzling. Woods is demanding answers that have not been forthcoming:

I want to honor my son, Ty Woods, who responded to the cries for help and voluntarily sacrificed his life to protect the lives of other Americans. In the last few days it has become public knowledge that within minutes of the first bullet being fired the White House knew these heroes would be slaughtered if immediate air support was denied. Apparently, C-130s were ready to respond immediately. In less than an hour, the perimeters could have been secured and American lives could have been saved. After seven hours fighting numerically superior forces, my son’s life was sacrificed because of the White House’s decision. This has nothing to do with politics, this has to do with integrity and honor. My son was a true American hero. We need more heroes today. My son showed moral courage. This is an opportunity for the person or persons who made the decision to sacrifice my son’s life to stand up.

The administration’s apologists have told us that it is too soon for us to expect answers about a complicated matter. It is true that the fog of war made it difficult for the president and his team to respond effectively. But we also know that they seized upon a lie about the video and promoted it relentlessly for as long as they could get away with it. They were determined to do anything to suppress the facts about the revival of al-Qaeda-related groups in Libya. Rather than Woods or Republican critics speaking out of turn, it was an administration that was campaigning on the idea that the death of Osama bin Laden ended the war on terror that was playing politics. Charles Woods’ testimony only adds to the justified anger that many Americans feel about the president’s handling of the tragedy in Benghazi.

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Does Biden Speak for the Administration on Iran?

Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:

Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.

In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”

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Obviously Jeffrey Goldberg is no rosy-eyed optimist when it comes to the threat of a nuclear Iran, but he’s also spent the last few years trying to assure everyone that President Obama is dead serious about preventing the bomb. Which is why it’s surprising to see this relatively tough criticism of the administration in his latest column:

Romney was handed an additional gift last week by Vice President Joe Biden. Over the past three years, I’ve been impressed with Obama’s seriousness on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, the urgency with which he treats the subject, and the measures he has taken to keep the regime from crossing the atomic threshold. But last week, in the vice-presidential debate, Biden attempted to portray Representative Paul Ryan as a hysteric on the subject, even though Ryan’s seriousness on Iran matches the president’s.

In so doing, Biden downplayed the importance of confronting Iran. Biden said that when Ryan “talks about fissile material, they have to take this highly enriched uranium, get it from 20 percent up. Then they have to be able to have something to put it in. There is no weapon that the Iranians have at this point. Both the Israelis and we know — we’ll know if they start the process of building a weapon. So all this bluster I keep hearing, all this loose talk — what are they talking about?”

Goldberg writes that Biden “downplayed the importance of confronting Iran,” and calls this a “dramatic, deviation from the administration’s line on Iran.” He notes that Biden was wrong in both substance (an Iranian bomb isn’t that far off when you look at the work they’ve done so far) and tone (yes, it actually is a big deal).

It’s definitely unsettling to hear the vice president dismiss concern over a nuclear Iran as “bluster” and “loose talk,” the same terms used by people like Stephen Walt to smear journalists like Goldberg as warmongers. But was Biden off-message, or just clumsily parroting the administration’s internal sentiment? Keep in mind that “bluster” and “loose talk” were the same two words used by President Obama to dismiss Republican critics of his Iran policy at AIPAC last spring. Kind of a coincidence, no? Recently, Obama also referred to Israeli concern over the nuclear program as “noise.” The difference may just be that Obama phrased his administration’s line a bit more carefully, which wouldn’t be a surprise considering, well … Biden.

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Afghan Bugout Will Have Consequences

One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

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One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

The editorial acknowledges that the paper, like many liberals, used to think of Afghanistan as the “good war” that needed to be pursued to victory as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq. But that has long since been exposed as a cheap rhetorical device whose intent was to bash President George W. Bush rather than a sincere desire to ensure that the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies did not regain control of Afghanistan. The Times claims that any chance of victory was lost because of Iraq but fails to explain why that is so since they believe no amount of counter-insurgency efforts would root out the Taliban.

Advocates of quick withdrawal blame the situation there on the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. On that score, Karzai and his corrupt regime have much to answer for. But the willingness of the Taliban and other Islamists to go on fighting until victory would not be diminished even were the Kabul government to be led by saints. For far too long, America has not treated victory over the Taliban as its priority and the result is an unsatisfying stalemate. But what will follow American withdrawal will be a disaster as even the Times notes:

We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not. The Taliban will take over parts of the Pashtun south, where they will brutalize women and trample their rights. Warlords will go on stealing. Afghanistan will still be the world’s second-poorest country. Al Qaeda may make inroads, but since 9/11 it has established itself in Yemen and many other countries.

The only problem with this assessment is that it may be too optimistic. If the Afghan people believe the government is no longer the “strong horse” in the country, the Taliban and Al Qaeda may achieve far more than a takeover of the south. The result will be ruinous for the people we have sought to protect there, a point on which the Times editors shed few tears. The Times writes as if the end of the Vietnam War was a worthy model for the U.S. to pursue in Afghanistan. Given the toll in human suffering in terms of mass executions, hundreds of thousands sent to “reeducation camps” and or made to flee as boat people, that’s an immoral position. But it is also wrong about the strategic effects of defeat in Afghanistan.

The end in Vietnam did lead to collapse and genocide in Cambodia, but Southeast Asia was always a strategic backwater in America’s Cold War against the Soviet Union. By contrast Afghanistan’s fall would not only reinvigorate an al-Qaeda that the Obama administration pretends to have defeated. It will impact the stability of non-Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East and reduce the chances that a democratic government in Iraq will survive in the long run.

The Times also foolishly asserts that such an outcome would strengthen America’s hand in Pakistan, but it is difficult to see how a victory for their Taliban allies across the border would make Karachi any more amenable to U.S. interests.

It should also be noted that the editorial concludes with a passage that is factually incorrect. Dwight Eisenhower did negotiate an end to the fighting in Korea but he did not leave Korea as the Times asserts. American troops are there to this day guaranteeing the survival of the peace that Ike made. The absence of such a tough-minded peace doomed Vietnam to a totalitarian nightmare and may yet be felt in Iraq. The Times’s claim that what follows our defeat will be, “likely to be more presentable than North Korea, less presentable than Iraq and perhaps about the same as Vietnam.” That demonstrates ignorance of the differences between the Vietnamese communists and our foes in Afghanistan. But if Americans willingly allow the nation that launched 9/11 to fall back into the hands of those who aided and abetted that crime then it will reduce our prestige and harm our interests far more than advocates of withdrawal seem to understand.

Unlike Southeast Asia in the 1970s, America cannot pretend as if the Middle East is on a different planet. The costs of trying to do so will not only be immoral but will also make the United States and the world far less safe.

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Did Intelligence Tell WH There Were Protests in Benghazi?

The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

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The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

This is because the CIA intelligence at the time didn’t support the idea that there was a protest outside the consulate. By cherry-picking the initial intelligence report, the administration could provide some flimsy cover for its claim that the terrorist attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the Cairo demonstrations over the video. But no amount of intelligence manipulation can create a protest where none existed.

Biden’s unequivocal claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters is simply not credible, and, worse, it glues the administration to its failed initial narrative. White House spokesperson Jay Carney had spent weeks slowly backing away from the protest story, and Biden has now made that impossible.

There are also risks to scapegoating the intelligence community, as FP’s Peter Feaver writes:

Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.

So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat. Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security — and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.

Benghazi was reportedly teeming with CIA operatives; a top State Department official has testified that she monitored the entire attack in real time; and there were survivors who were able to piece together a tick-tock of the attack for the media. The CIA should would have easily known if there was or a protest outside or not, so Biden’s comment is a blatant accusation of incompetence.

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Biden’s Lie About Religious Freedom

Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

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Here’s one final note about the vice presidential debate. Both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their weak moments. Ryan couldn’t explain what Mitt Romney would do differently in the future to deal with the tragedy in Syria even if he was right about President Obama’s mistakes. He was also flummoxed by Biden’s comeback about his request for stimulus funds for his Wisconsin congressional district, something for which he should have been prepared. The list of Biden’s mistakes is much longer. Biden told a flat out lie when he claimed he opposed the Iraq War and the add-on of the prescription drug plan to Medicare. He voted for both of the wars and the free drugs for seniors. But as bad as that was, far more offensive was the lie about the administration’s attack on religious freedom via ObamaCare.

In response to Ryan’s accurate charge that the HHS Mandate under ObamaCare forces religious institutions to violate their consciences to pay for services their faith opposes, Biden claimed the following:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one might ask Biden if Georgetown is not being compelled to pay for contraception, then what exactly was behind the ruckus about Sandra Fluke’s complaints about the university’s refusal to do so. Biden’s claim was not only an offensive falsehood, it was a stupid one since even his liberal supporters know that is what is happening.

In truth, the attempt to force both church institutions and individuals to bow to the dictates of the president’s signature health care legislation is the subject of legal challenges that are still making their way through the courts. As the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted today, there are currently 33 such cases representing over 100 hospitals, universities, businesses and schools that are seeking to defend their constitutional rights against the administration’s attempt to compel them to do exactly what Biden says they are not being asked to do. These plaintiffs face potential government fines of millions of dollars, but they are determined to stand up for their faith and their beliefs in spite of the government’s efforts to intimidate them.

There is a lively debate going on about the future of health care, but there may be no more insidious aspect to the ObamaCare issue than this threat to religious liberty. Both Biden and his party support the HHS Mandate, something that was made abundantly clear at the Democratic Convention at which Ms. Fluke was unveiled as a prime time liberal star. But the vice president’s willingness to lie about that support tells us that he understands just how unpopular this stand is outside of the precincts of the left. He should have had the guts and the honesty to say so.

Democrats repeating their “liar, liar” mantra about Romney and Ryan (and claiming that this justified Biden’s boorishness) need to own up to the barefaced lies Biden told at the debate.

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The Rising Veep Futures Market

Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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Analysis of the vice presidential debate has rightly focused on whether the dustup between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan will influence the fortunes of their respective tickets next month. The jury is obviously out on that question, but though we ought not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the debate is also very likely to impact the 2016 contest. Whatever one may think of their performances, both Biden and Ryan are likely to be players on the national scene for some time to come.

That this would be so for the 42-year-old Ryan is hardly news. Ryan is already a major figure in his party and the Congress, so win or lose this year, he’s going to be a factor in the future. But despite, or perhaps because of, his ludicrous behavior during the debate, the same can probably be said of the 69-year-old vice president. Though many may have laughed about Biden’s thinly concealed ambition to succeed President Obama, on the strength of his well-received Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as well as his debate performance, no one should be chuckling about such a prospect today. Though only the most hard-core Democratic partisans were not appalled by his boorish behavior in the debate, both appearances capture his appeal to the party base. If he maintains his health and especially if he is the sitting vice president, Biden will be a formidable competitor for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

It is true that Biden is something of a buffoon, as he so clearly demonstrated last night. But it is the sort of buffoonery that the liberal core of the Democratic Party adores. His bloviating is of the sort that engenders disgust among his opponents but liberals have always longed for a leader who doesn’t merely argue with the other side but bullies them into submission. Biden combines the glad-handing spirit of the traditional politicians with the conduct of a bare-knuckles brawler, exactly the combination that is most likely to charm some of the interest groups who are most likely to turn out in Democratic primaries. He will also benefit from his close association with the president, a not inconsiderable credential in a 2016 race that is unlikely to have a major African-American in the running (sorry, Corey Booker, you won’t be ready by then, if ever). Biden will also have no trouble raising the money needed for a presidential run.

That is not to say I’m predicting Biden will be the Democratic nominee four years from now. Though his party’s bench is terribly thin, someone else is bound to emerge and any fresh face will have an edge against what will by then be a terribly familiar and somewhat elderly Biden whom most rational Democrats will have to know would be a disastrous top of the ticket in a general election. But I do think Biden has a more than decent chance to be competitive in the primaries.

As for Ryan, as most of the TV talking heads said last night, he did himself no damage last night. He remains the intellectual leader of his party and should Romney win, Ryan will be his natural successor as well as the next in line during his presidency. Even if he loses, Ryan will assume the role of the de facto leader of Congressional Republicans and spend the next four years in the spotlight as speculation about the next round grows. Indeed, as the nation’s drift toward insolvency becomes even more apparent, entitlement reform will grow in importance as an issue. That means the Wisconsin congressman will be even more of a player in the next few years than he was in the past.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republican bench is deep and strong. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are just two of a formidable array of potential GOP candidates. As much as I admire Ryan’s intellect, integrity and good manners, unless Ryan is the sitting vice president, he will be hard pressed to beat either Rubio or Christie. But if he runs, he has as good a chance as anyone.

All of which means it is entirely conceivable, if not necessarily likely, that we haven’t seen the last debate between Biden and Ryan. If so, you can bet that Ryan will insist on rules about interruptions the next time around.

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Biden’s Reckless Rhetoric on Afghanistan

I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).

Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:

It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.

But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.

It’s their responsibility, not America’s.

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I just hope the Taliban were too busying planting roadside bombs, shooting school girls, extorting merchants, or doing whatever is they normally do at 5:30 a.m.–when the vice presidential debate started by Kabul time–to watch the Biden-Ryan slugfest. Because if they had tuned in, they would have heard a message from the vice president–the deputy satan–that would have been music to their ears (if, that is, they did not prohibit music as contrary to their extremist beliefs).

Here is what Biden had to say about Afghanistan:

It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security. We have trained over 315,000, mostly without incident. There have been more than two dozen cases of green-on-blue where Americans have been killed. If we do not — if the measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We’ll only train in the — in the Army bases that exist there.

But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security.

It’s their responsibility, not America’s.

But we did not invade Afghanistan in 2001 (a war that Biden supported, as he supported the one in Iraq) as a favor to the Afghans. We invaded because we had been attacked from its soil and wanted to punish the perpetrators and, more importantly, to prevent a recurrence in the future. Yet if we leave prematurely there is a very real danger that the Afghan security forces will fall apart and the Taliban will come back into power, bringing their buddies in al-Qaeda with them.

It is precisely to avert this danger that Biden’s boss, the president, signed a Strategic Partnership Accord with Hamid Karzai this past spring, pledging to support the Afghan government until at least 2014. Biden might have mentioned this accord, which could be seen as a foreign policy achievement of this administration. He did not. Nor did he mention the need to maintain a residual force of American trainers and Special Operations personnel in Afghanistan after 2014, even though all serious military experts agree that such a force will be absolutely essential to buttress the fledgling Afghan National Security Forces, which lack key “enablers,” such as airpower, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and route-clearance vehicles.

All that Biden said, over and over again, is that we are going to pull out completely in 2014. Obviously that message was intended for domestic consumption, to win votes among a war-weary electorate. But it will resonate on the battlefield and it will do much to buttress the morale of the enemies that 68,000 U.S. troops are still fighting.

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Why Dems Loved Biden’s Boorish Behavior

The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.

The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.

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The morning after the vice presidential debate, Democrats are delighted. Vice President Joe Biden’s obnoxious display was exactly what was needed to cheer them up after a week of morose speculation about why President Obama was so passive and uninspired at last week’s first presidential debate with Mitt Romney. Indeed, the more Biden giggled, smirked and interrupted Paul Ryan, the better they liked it. While his condescending and bullying behavior contradicted liberal doctrine about conservatives being the ones guilty of polluting the public square with political incivility, it embodied their complete contempt for both Republicans and their ideas. Biden’s nastiness may have re-invigorated a Democratic base that wanted nothing so much as to tell their opponents to shut up, even if it may have also alienated a great many independents. But with the main focus of the election still on the remaining two presidential debates, it’s not clear that President Obama can profit from Biden’s example.

The reason for this is not very complicated. The Democrats cheering on Biden’s bullying, while ignoring the fact that he had nothing to offer on the future of entitlements and his disgraceful alibis about Libya, did so because at bottom they really do not feel Republicans or conservatives are worthy of respect or decency. Though they rarely own up to it, they don’t think Republicans are so much wrong as they are bad. By contrast, most Republicans think Democrats are wrong, not evil. Ryan, whose polite behavior was entirely proper but was made to appear passive and even weak when compared to his bloviating opponent, demonstrated this paradigm by patiently trying to explain his positions even when he was constantly interrupted.

Hard-core Democrats would have been happy had Obama treated Romney the same way Biden did Ryan (some even falsely claim that Romney behaved in a similar manner to Biden), and there were plenty of signs that he shares his number two’s contempt for the opposition. But while a vice president, especially one who has often been treated as something of a national joke during his four years in office, might be allowed to get away with playing the buffoon, a president cannot. That means next week the president will have to again behave like a grown up. Given the town hall meeting format at the Hofstra University debate, it will be even more important for him to be as civil as Biden was rude. If, as is very likely, Romney again gives a strong performance and doesn’t allow himself to be run roughshod over (as perhaps Ryan did at times), then the odds are Democrats will again be unhappy with their leader’s showing.

The problem here is not just that presidents and would-be commanders-in-chief must appear presidential. It is that the liberal base of the president’s party is so filled with anger and contempt for Republicans that they can’t abide even a show of civility from their champions.

Though President Obama may decide to show up and demonstrate a bit more involvement and passion in the upcoming debates, he is unlikely to satisfy his supporters’ need to bash the GOP. Though liberals are saying Biden has stopped the bleeding begun last week in Denver, the president’s failure to misbehave in the same manner is bound to raise the same complaints next week.

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Biden’s Self-Damage on Libya Narrative

Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

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Now that the spin-room arguments about debate winners and losers has died down, the most enduring part of last night’s debate may be Vice President Biden’s comments on Libya. Because the administration has been so tight-lipped on the issue, Biden’s remarks are important in piecing together the puzzle of exactly what the White House knew and when.

As Jonathan noted earlier, Biden specifically contradicted the senior State Department officials and whistle blowers who just testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, and also took a direct swipe at the intelligence community. Josh Rogin reports on more:

Vice President Joe Biden claimed that the administration wasn’t aware of requests for more security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi during Thursday night’s debate, contradicting two State Department officials and the former head of diplomatic security in Libya.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there,” Biden said.

In fact, two security officials who worked for the State Department in Libya at the time testified Thursday that they repeatedly requested more security and two State Department officials admitted they had denied those requests.

This, along with Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter’s bombshell gaffe about politicizing Benghazi yesterday, means that last night’s debate probably won’t help shift the news cycle away from Libya, as the Obama campaign may have hoped. Instead, it raises even more questions for them, including: who’s telling the truth on security requests, the State Department and the security personnel on the ground or Vice President Biden?

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Biden’s Behavior Will Become the Story

As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).

As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.

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As I predicted yesterday, Vice President Biden came out aggressive and swinging against his opponent, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Even when it wasn’t his turn to speak, Biden interjected himself into Ryan’s speaking time. According to RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, Biden interrupted Ryan a total of 82 times. CNN instant polling after the debate showed 70 percent of respondents noting that Biden, not Ryan, spent the debate attacking his opponent (compare this to 19 percent for Ryan).

As Jonathan noted last night, Biden’s incivility could end up causing him more harm than good with voters in the long term. CNN and NBC anchors immediately weighed in on Biden’s tendency to smirk and laugh during his opponent’s allotted time. In the age of split-screen television, Biden’s aggression may have come off well with the Democratic base, but it likely did nothing but turn off undecided voters. His behavior, as already noted by the GOP’s research team, was deemed inappropriate at best by many in the mainstream media.

There were few sound-bite worthy comments from Paul Ryan tonight, save for perhaps his telling Biden, “I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” After a debate that many in the mainstream media and instant polls are calling a tie, the GOP has already settled on a message for how they think the vice presidential debate went down, and it’s Biden’s physical reactions during Ryan’s remarks on Libya, Iran and Afghanistan. They released a web video less than two hours after the conclusion of the debate highlighting Biden’s worst laughs, gestures, and smirks:

We’ll see how many Americans actually watched this debate, but it appears that enough people were thrown off by Biden’s behavior to make that, not his words, the story after last night’s debate. After the last debate, many in the news media commented on Obama’s much more subtle smirk (the GOP even made an ad out of that, too). One can only wonder why Biden wasn’t instructed by his debate coaches to tone down the condescension instead of ramping it up several notches.

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Biden Throws Intel Community Under Bus

The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

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The vice presidential debate opened with a question about the Libyan consulate attack. While that section of the evening probably didn’t figure heavily in forming opinions about whether Vice President Biden or Paul Ryan prevailed, it did provide an interesting twist in the unfolding tale of administration prevarications about the murders in Benghazi.

In response to a pointed question from moderator Martha Raddatz about what he and the president knew about the Benghazi attack, Biden threw the intelligence community and the State Department under the bus. The vice president claimed that the story the administration put out about the terrorist attack on the consulate and the murder of the U.S. ambassador being part of the fallout from a controversial anti-Muslim video was the fault of the intelligence they were given. But rather than put the issue to bed, it raises even more troubling questions not only about the security disaster but also about the lack of leadership shown by senior administration officials, including the president. It also contradicts State Department testimony and other comments from intelligence officials that they knew it was a terror attack within 24 hours of it happening.

For Biden to put all of the blame for the lies about the video and the denial of terrorism on intelligence officials says a lot about the complete breakdown of administration counter-terror policy. His denial that anyone in Washington knew that the story put forward by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wasn’t true seems implausible. Even if true, it speaks to administration incompetence. The narrative here is still confused and Biden’s contribution only furthers muddies the waters.

It also demonstrates how absurd and hypocritical Democratic attacks are on Mitt Romney for his criticism of the initial reactions from Washington to both the Libya attack and the assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Efforts such as those of Biden to deflect blame for a disaster that unfolded without any leadership from the top onto the Republicans are clearly not going to work.

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Did Biden’s Incivility Work For Him?

The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.

But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.

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The vice presidential debate provided a test case about the way Americans think about civility. In terms of substance, both Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan had their moments of strength. Ryan was strong on foreign policy, while Biden squirmed and threw the intelligence community under the bus about administration lies about the Benghazi attack. Biden delivered class warfare body blows about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe.

But the main difference between the two wasn’t so much their competing liberal and conservative ideas and arguments. It was the blatant disrespect shown by Biden for his opponent. Biden giggled, smirked and mugged throughout the debate almost every time Ryan spoke. He also interrupted the Republican almost at will without moderator Martha Raddatz saying a word to call him to order. It may be that Democrats were so dismayed by President Obama’s passive performance in his debate last week that Biden was urged to be more aggressive. But what he did wasn’t merely aggressive; he was openly rude. That may have encouraged the Democratic base, but it remains to be seen whether that is the sort of thing most Americans are comfortable with.

Democratic spinners will say he is a “happy warrior,” that his nastiness and aggressiveness bloodied the Republicans and that it doesn’t matter that the way he did it was embarrassing. They may have a point. People probably won’t decide not to vote for Obama because they think the giggling, smirking and interrupting was beneath the dignity of the office he holds. If Biden’s job was simply to rally the base and attack his opponents, then his arrogant condescension will help the Democrats regain their momentum after a week in which they’ve lost a lot of ground.

But it is also possible that a lot of those Americans who saw the debate, even those who are Democrats but especially independents and undecided voters, will not think much of a vice president of the United States acting more like a schoolyard bully than a statesman.

Many Democrats will applaud Biden’s buffoonery and falsely claim that it was no different from Romney’s demeanor last week even though there is no possible comparison. Republicans can console themselves that while Ryan did seem a little nervous at times, he wasn’t intimidated. Nor did Biden succeed in painting Ryan as the monster that the Democrats claim him to be. Ryan also passed the plausibility threshold as a potential president because of his strong knowledge of foreign policy.

The bottom line here is that neither side won or lost. But it is also possible that Biden’s misbehavior will be remembered with distaste long after this election is decided.

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The Myth of Biden’s Likability

Going into the debate tonight, there’s one major false assumption that needs to be cleared up: the myth of Joe Biden’s likability. A common theme in the pre-debate coverage is that Paul Ryan needs to come off as less wonky to balance out that folksy, blue-collar persona Joe Biden likes to adopt. It’s good advice, but it also shouldn’t give anyone the impression that Biden has some remarkable ability to connect with the average American, or that Ryan is a socially-awkward number-cruncher. Actually, the polls show the complete opposite.

And by “the polls,” I mean all of the polls. Ryan has scored higher favorability ratings than Biden in every national, non-partisan poll since he was chosen as Romney’s running mate, as The Hill reported last month:

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Going into the debate tonight, there’s one major false assumption that needs to be cleared up: the myth of Joe Biden’s likability. A common theme in the pre-debate coverage is that Paul Ryan needs to come off as less wonky to balance out that folksy, blue-collar persona Joe Biden likes to adopt. It’s good advice, but it also shouldn’t give anyone the impression that Biden has some remarkable ability to connect with the average American, or that Ryan is a socially-awkward number-cruncher. Actually, the polls show the complete opposite.

And by “the polls,” I mean all of the polls. Ryan has scored higher favorability ratings than Biden in every national, non-partisan poll since he was chosen as Romney’s running mate, as The Hill reported last month:

Paul Ryan has had a higher favorability rating than Vice President Biden in every major nonpartisan national poll since the Wisconsin lawmaker was picked for the GOP vice presidential slot.

In these polls, Ryan averaged a likability factor of about 7.6 percentage points higher than Biden, and he even bested President Obama’s favorability rating four out of six times.

The most recent Pew Research poll this week found Biden underwater on likability (51 percent viewed him unfavorably, 39 percent favorably):

Vice President Biden heads into Thursday’s debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) with opinion stacked against him. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, more voters view the vice president unfavorably than favorably by a 51 percent to 39 percent margin.

Opinions on GOP vice presidential nominee Ryan are more evenly divided, with 44 percent of voters viewing him favorably and 40 percent viewing him unfavorably.

I’m not sure where the myth of Biden’s likability comes from, but it’s not backed up by the numbers.

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The Battle of the Debate Prep Surrogates

If we can get any indication on the tone of tonight’s debate from Paul Ryan and Joe Biden’s chosen debate preparation opponents, it will be two things: wonky and heated.

Biden’s team has tapped Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a strong opponent of Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Van Hollen’s participation in Biden’s debate prep shows just how seriously the vice president is taking Ryan’s plan, and just how badly the Obama campaign wants to put the Romney camp on the defensive tonight. In advance of tonight’s debate the Obama campaign has released a new ad featuring Van Hollen; The Hill reports on its contents:

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If we can get any indication on the tone of tonight’s debate from Paul Ryan and Joe Biden’s chosen debate preparation opponents, it will be two things: wonky and heated.

Biden’s team has tapped Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a strong opponent of Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Van Hollen’s participation in Biden’s debate prep shows just how seriously the vice president is taking Ryan’s plan, and just how badly the Obama campaign wants to put the Romney camp on the defensive tonight. In advance of tonight’s debate the Obama campaign has released a new ad featuring Van Hollen; The Hill reports on its contents:

Ryan “will either have to stand by the extreme positions he and (Republican nominee Mitt Romney) hold, like turning Medicare into a voucher program that ends the program’s guarantee to seniors, or he will have to flat out deny their existence, as Gov. Romney did in last week’s debate, when he denied the plan to cut taxes for the wealthiest few at the expense of the middle class, a plan they have touted for months,” Van Hollen said in the ad.

During Van Hollen’s speech at the DNC last month, fear-mongering on Ryan’s plan and Bush-blaming were the focal points. He stated,

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s obsession with tax breaks for the wealthy is part of a rigid ideology. Give people like Mitt Romney a break, and hope something will trickle down and lift others up. But this theory crashed in the real world. We all lived through the recession when jobs went down and the deficit went up. So when they say they’ll turn around the economy, beware. They mean a U-turn back to this failed theory that lifted the yachts while other boats ran aground.

What does Obama expect of Biden’s debate style? CBS News reported last night,

In an interview with radio host Tom Joyner today, President Obama described himself as “too polite” in his debate, but predicted a strong performance from the Vice President. “Biden, I think, will be terrific in the debate this week,” he said

In stark contrast to the partisan rhetoric of Van Hollen, Paul Ryan’s chosen debate opponent, former U.S. solicitor general Ted Olson is a calm, experienced and successful litigator who successfully argued the Bush v. Gore case before the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2000 election.

If we can gain any insight from this Obama interview and Van Hollen’s aggressive attacks on Ryan’s budget plan over the past four weeks, we’re likely to see Biden coming out swinging hard against Ryan’s economic proposals tonight in Kentucky. We’ve yet to see many examples of Ryan’s debating style, but given his choice of Olson as a sparring and debate preparation partner, it’s likely we’ll see Ryan try to remain calm, cool and on message. We’ll see in a few hours how Americans respond to an aggressive sitting vice president as he spars with a well-informed and level-headed opponent, but if Biden attacks too forcefully, he could come off worse than President Obama’s meek performance last week.

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