One of journalists’ favorite pastimes during the Bush years was to poke fun at the president’s frequently bumbled speech patterns. Bush’s less-than-stellar oratorical moments — such as “Is our children learning?” and “They misunderestimate me” — were proof, they said, that he was just plain stupid.
Enter Obama. From the moment he delivered a “rock star” performance at the Democrats’ 2004 convention, inside-the-beltway pundits were enrapt with his speechifying. Witness Chris Matthews’ leg thrill, David Brooks’ pant crease fetish, and ABC News’ calling a meeting with Obama a “religious experience.”
The fact that Obama can’t survive two minutes without a teleprompter doesn’t matter. It only matters that he dazzles — and that he’s liberal.
That, in truth, is the key. Ronald Reagan, after all, could dazzle. But he was a conservative. Because he used his rhetorical abilities to advocate smaller government and greater individual responsibility, the media viewed that talent as a weapon, not an asset.
Thus, journalists assailed the Gipper as a simpleton and a moron while lauding the “genius credentials” of Walter Mondale, a politician better suited to connecting with a dining room table (hat tip to Barney Frank) than the American people.
The hypocrisy continues today, nowhere more evident than in the media’s treatment of Vice President Joe Biden. Bush might have struggled with syntax and word choice; Biden struggles with foot-in-mouth disease, a far worse malady for an individual once removed from the presidency.
Similar to Bush’s verbal foibles, Biden’s most widely circulated gaffes have no lasting impact on the welfare of the nation. It’s embarrassing that Biden would ask a guy in a wheelchair to stand up; it’s humorous that he considers J-O-B-S a three-letter word; and it’s revealing that he called Obama the first “mainstream,” “clean” African-American presidential candidate.
But none of those have the impact of Biden’s “October surprise” in the waning days of the general election campaign last year. At a fundraiser in Seattle, Biden warned a crowd of supporters that America would face “an international crisis, a generated crisis” within the first six months of Obama’s administration “to test the mettle of this guy.”
As it turns out, Biden wasn’t exactly channeling Nostradamus in that prediction. Eight months have passed since Obama was sworn in, and no major foreign policy crisis so far. In other words, add another gaffe to Biden’s growing list.
Given the timing of Biden’s foreign policy warning — two weeks before the election — it’s reasonable to assume that it was more about campaign theatre than anything else. And historically, Biden placed a safe bet by predicting a major international event in the first few months of Obama’s presidency. That’s happened with many, but not all, presidents before.
Even so, Biden’s emphatic assurance — “mark my words,” he said — that a crisis would erupt calls into question his judgment. The fact that he didn’t soften his prediction with a qualifier shows once again that he shoots firsts and asks questions later, a dangerous trait for nation’s No. 2 man.
The media, true to form, have ignored Biden’s botched prediction. If Bush or Sarah Palin had forecast a similar apocalyptic thunderstorm that ended up a drizzle, it would be front-page news. Or, as Biden might put it, a “storybook.” But it’s only a story if the gaffe or failed prediction proceeds from the mouth of a conservative. Biden not only gets a pass, he gets praised for being honest and straightforward.
Obama has already been forced to publicly chide his vice president. In fact, a frequent refrain from the White House has become, “What Joe really meant to say…” Can the president can rein in his veep before Biden actually does cause an international incident?