A quiet hurrah for Joe Biden who this week has been forced by the White House to serially apologise for suggesting out loud that certain allies of the US have, in their eagerness to see President Bashar al-Assad ousted, expedited arms and cash to terror networks.
Leading a question-and-answer session at the John F Kennedy School of Government last Thursday, the Vice-President scolded Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis”.
No one in Washington is saying what he said was factually incorrect – Biden is no foreign affairs neophyte – they just think he shouldn’t have said any of it in public. It was awkward. “The Vice-President is somebody who has enough character to admit when he’s made a mistake,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, offered later.
As Veep, Joe is used to being patronised – it comes with the territory. When one questioner last week identified himself as a student body vice- president, he quipped, “Isn’t it a bitch? Excuse me… the Vice-President thing”.
On Monday I attended the launch party for a new book by veteran political reporter Matt Bai, that explores the instant implosion of the presidential campaign of Democrat Gary Hart in 1987 when the press got wind of alleged extra-marital affair with a model named Donna Rice. Bai argues it was the moment when political journalism in America collapsed into a puerile abyss of triviality from which it has never emerged.
In his book, All The Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, Bai suggests that so bent are journalists on uncovering personal flaws and peccadillos in every candidate – the “gotcha” syndrome – that they don’t think to investigate their real characters or policies – what they actually think. And by the same token, those running for high office are terrified of revealing to reporters anything genuine of themselves in case they somehow stumble.
Today’s candidates are “like smiling holograms programmed to speak and smile but not to interact, so that it sometimes seemed you could run your hand right through them.” he says.
In 2012, any attempt I made to reach into the mind, let alone soul, of Mitt Romney was instead like crunching my hand against an invisible glass wall.
Biden remains one of a very few credible alternatives to Hillary Clinton if, for some reason, she eschews running for the White House in 2016 or stumbles. If he runs, journalists assigned to him will permanently have half their brains switched to gaffe-watch mode. He can’t help himself and it does inevitably sometimes do him harm.
Bai relates interviewing John Kerry when he was running for president in 2004 and his baulking when an aide offered him an Evian water. Evian, he was obviously thinking, equals elite. He calls Romney a man who “outwardly looked the part of a president but who exuded a vast inner reservoir of nothingness”.
With the mouth on him, Biden couldn’t do nothingness if he tried. Call me naive, but when it comes to tackling Isis, isn’t it better our leaders speak the truth about what’s going on, to us and to our supposed allies? And when the starting pistol goes on the 2016 White House race wouldn’t it be great to have at least one candidate on the trail who actually dares to reveal what he is really thinking?Reuse content