Joe Biden can't resist saying true things at awkward times

Most of the pundit class sees Vice President Joe Biden as the king of gaffes. The man commits verbal faux pas with regularity, much to the chagrin of White House spinmeisters desperate to deliver a unified message. Like a bad Catholic in a confessional, he is forever seeking forgiveness and then sinning again.

However, there is a difference between Biden and the run-of-the-mill politician with his foot in his mouth who gets into trouble for telling a big fib, garbling words or saying something profoundly stupid. Biden's problems usually arise from saying things that are inconveniently true.


Today's typical politicians work mightily to avoid uttering any phrase that has not been pre-approved for blandness and party-line conformity. They avoid unscripted occasions and run from journalists with unpredictable questions. In contrast, Biden likes talking to reporters, to voters, to students, to anyone who will listen. He gabs and pontificates and banters. Garrulous is a word invented for him.

So when taking questions after a recent talk at Harvard University, he rambled into a discourse about how Turkey and the United Arab Emirates inadvertently supplied arms and funding to the Islamic State terrorists. The assessment was pretty much true. The Turks and the UAE have been funneling money and guns to the broad array of rebels who are fighting a civil war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and some of those rebels turned out to be the terrorists who have been on a murderous spree, committing atrocities all across north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

Of course, since President Obama is trying to hammer together a coalition of Turks and Arabs to battle Islamic State, the last thing he needs is the vice president publicly saying something that would offend these allies. It is Biden's worst verbal offense since he failed to curb his tongue a couple of years ago when asked by a TV interviewer what he thought about same-sex marriage. Biden declared that he was perfectly comfortable with men marrying men and women marrying women and, thereby, got way out ahead of the man in the Oval Office. Obama had been slowly drifting in the same direction but had not made his stance public and official. He scrambled to do so after Biden jumped the gun.

The last thing a vice president is supposed to do is put the president in an awkward situation. It is a testament to his value to the administration that Biden's relationship with Obama has survived the vice president's tendency to say too much.

Whatever else one may think of Biden, it cannot be denied that he is a smart guy with a deep understanding of foreign affairs developed over his many years as a leader on international policy in the Senate. It was Biden who, early on in America's entanglement with Iraq, argued that the ethnic and sectarian divisions in that country were so great that a split into three entities -- Kurd, Sunni and Shiite -- might be a good idea. It is still a debatable point, but the last decade of strife between Iraqi factions suggests that he might have been right.

Smart as he is, though, Biden has not learned to speak as if his personality has been sent to a dry cleaner. He is all personality. He couldn't resist comparing New York's LaGuardia Airport to a dingy Third World pit, or observing that it's hard to go into a 7-Eleven in the Northeast "without an Indian accent," or using an expletive when whispering in front of a live microphone that the passage of Obamacare was "a big ... deal," or confessing that, when it comes to playing basketball, he jumps "like a white boy." All those turns of phrase and many more have landed Biden in varying degrees of hot water.

Still, give me an elected official who can't help baring his true feelings in an awkward way over the legion of politicians who camouflage their real beliefs in a fog of hollow sound bites.