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Biden, the master gasbag

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Last Thursday's vice presidential debate was the most revealing, and depressing, event of the entire campaign because it showed how irredeemably fraudulent America's political class is and how superficial the voters who will decide this election are.

Recall, if you will, that going into the debate, the conventional wisdom was that Gov. Sarah Palin would be woefully outgunned by Sen. Joe Biden. A self-touted foreign policy expert and constitutional law professor, Biden joined the Senate some time after the Cretaceous period but well before bell bottoms went out of style.

As we know, the conventional wisdom was wrong. Palin wasn't stellar. But she crushed those low expectations, salvaged her political career and turned herself back into an asset for the McCain campaign.

But what about Biden? Overwhelmingly, the professional political class proclaimed that he blew her away on "specifics" and "knowledge" and "seriousness." The New York Times said Biden avoided making any gaffes, "while showing a clear grasp of the big picture and the details." The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib proclaimed on ABC's "This Week" that Biden avoided any "verbal excesses or rhetorical flourishes."

The Associated Press called Biden the "master senator ... rattling off foreign policy details with ease."

And that's true in a sense. Biden was at ease; he easily rattled off a string of falsehoods and gasbaggeries.

According to the master senator, the U.S. and France "kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon." Afterward, according to Biden, "I said and Barack said, 'Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it.' " Perhaps Biden meant to say the U.S. and France kicked Syria out of Lebanon. But even this is woefully glib. Syria never fully abandoned Lebanon. And there was no "vacuum" for Hezbollah to fill. The terrorist group was already firmly in control of southern Lebanon and part of the government. No one remembers Biden and Obama fighting for the stupidly impossible NATO move either.

Biden insisted it's "just simply not true" that Obama has said he'd "sit down with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," even though in the primaries Biden criticized Obama for exactly that.

Biden bragged about how he and Obama have focused on Pakistan, insisting that "Pakistan's weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean." Um, no. Their missiles don't get halfway there.

The constitutional law professor scornfully mocked Dick Cheney because the vice president "doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president. That's the executive branch." Wrong. Article I defines the Legislature, Article II the executive branch. Both define the role of the VP.

He flatly said that McCain voted with Obama on a tax hike. He didn't. He said McCain's healthcare plan amounted to a tax hike. It doesn't. Biden said we "must" drill for oil, but that ain't how he's voted. He said he's for clean coal, but just this month he passionately insisted to a voter that "we're not supporting clean coal" and vowed "no coal plants here in America." The scrapper from Scranton boasted about bonding with the common folks at a restaurant that's been closed for two decades.

Now, Palin had her own problems. She failed to answer direct questions directly. She offered up some obviously canned one-liners.

But here's the difference. Palin is supposed to be everything Biden isn't, according to liberal pundits and mainstream reporters alike. For weeks they've been saying she's ill-prepared, uninformed and lacks the requisite experience. But that criticism is also an excuse of sorts.

Biden has no excuse. He's been in the majors for nearly 40 years, and yet he sounds like a bizarro-world Chauncey Gardner. The famous simpleton from Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There" (played by Peter Sellers in the film) offered terse aphorisms that were utterly devoid of specific content but nonetheless seemed to describe reality accurately. Biden is the reverse: He offers a logorrheic farrago of "specifics" that have no connection to our corner of the space-time continuum.

In short, he just makes stuff up. But he does it with passionate, self-important intensity. He's like a politician in a movie with a perfect grasp of a world that doesn't exist. He's not an expert, he just plays one on TV.

No one seems to care. He convinced the focus groups he's an expert. The media, with a few exceptions, let it all slide. But imagine if Palin had made any of these gaffes. It would be incontrovertible proof that her critics are right.

Palin "lost" because she's bad at being a dishonest politician. Biden won because he is, after all, a "master senator."

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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