Opinion: Joe Biden’s history lesson off by 4 years and 1 president but otherwise pretty accurate

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When Barack Obama took Joe Biden to be his lawfully vetted running mate, the freshman Illinois senator took the veteran Delaware senator loose lips and all. And Republicans took note.

The same day Obama tapped Biden, the famously verbose Delaware senator who’s been in in the Senate since Obama was 11, the Republican National Committee launched a website to monitor Biden’s future gaffes. But with so much attention focused on the shooting star of the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and watching for her first big mistake, less attention has fallen on Biden’s accumulating missteps.


During his first several weeks as the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Biden did a surprisingly good job of keeping his foot out of his mouth. Sure, he slipped occasionally (like the time he asked a crowd to welcome his running mate ‘Barack America’ to the stage. Or the time he said ‘Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America’). But they’re not the sort of bungles that start wars.

Now, however, the honeymoon appears over.

Biden has blundered badly several times in the past several days, often on issues relating to the economy.

He’s been caught contradicting his running mate, which is among every political ticket’s Ten Commandments of no-no’s.


And on one occasion, he got his facts wrong. With voters closely watching and worrying about the financial crisis, these inconsistencies could have real consequences come Nov. 4, now less than six weeks away.

And they distract badly from the message the Obama campaign is trying to push on John McCain (namely, that the Arizona Senator is out of touch on the economy).

Biden made one mistake last week, when NBC’s Meredith Vieira asked him whether the federal government should bail out ailing.... corporation AIG. Biden said no, the same position his old colleague John McCain took.


That would have been fine, except for the little fact that Obama had already endorsed the bailout, saying that he would not ‘second-guess’ the government’s attempt to save AIG. This morning, ‘Today’s’ Matt Lauer called Obama out on the contradiction. Obama patiently but firmly suggested Biden should have waited to respond.

A few days later, Biden had audiences cringing when he acknowledged on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ that the wealthy would pay higher taxes if Obama was elected president and that doing so would be ‘patriotic.’ He repeated the remark again on the campaign trail, and soon after, the Republicans were out with a TV spot deriding Biden and Obama for being tax-and-spend Democrats.

And last night, in an interview with “CBS Evening News,” Biden misspoke when he told anchor Katie Couric that today’s leaders should take a lesson from the history books and follow former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to a previous national financial crisis.

Declared Biden: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.’”

What’s wrong with that, some might ask?

Well, for starters Republican Herbert Hoover was president when the stock market crashed in October 1929. Second, Roosevelt didn’t take office until four years later. And, not to be picky, but there were also no televisions in use at the time. Radio was Roosevelt’s favored medium.

Biden has made non-economic goofs as well. In last night’s interview with Couric, he called one of his own campaign’s TV ads ‘terrible.’

‘I didn’t know we did it and if I had anything to do with it, we would have never done it,’ he said, referring to a commercial that mocked McCain for being computer illiterate.


That kind of honesty might hurt Biden, but it also has the potential to help. As our colleague Faye Fiore points out in her excellent profile of Biden, published in Tuesday’s print editions of The Times, the senator’s off-the-cuff demeanor is also part of his appeal. Hmm, ‘straight talk,’ where have we heard that before?

Fiore spent several days last week on the campaign trail with Biden, and the headline of her story speaks volumes about the character of the candidate:

‘In-your-face time with Joe Biden’

-- Kate Linthicum