Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Joseph Biden: Experience Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Nobody really cares who the Vice President is, right? What’s important, after all, is who the President is. That’s normally the way people think during a presidential election, but not this year. Because of Republican John McCain’s age and Democrat Barack Obama’s inexperience, in this election the choice of a VP running mate is a truly important issue.

The two major contenders have chosen someone to balance their perceived weaknesses, with Sen. McCain choosing a younger VP candidate in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Sen. Obama choosing someone with long experience in Washington in Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden.

Sen. Biden’s 36 years in Washington as a member and one-time chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member and current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, leads many folks to believe that he is more qualified to be vice president than Gov. Palin.

The media emphasizes that Mrs. Palin has only been the mayor of a small town, the governor of a large but low-population state, and the mother of five children. She has been on the national scene for a mere five weeks, and has been criticized for answering questions in a way that creates doubt about her knowledge of issues.

Given that stark comparison, Sen. Biden ought to have walked away from last week’s Vice Presidential debate having won handily on substance. He didn’t.

The man known for a “gaffe a minute” and as a “barrel of gaffes” didn’t commit another magnificent flub in last Friday’s debate, but he certainly was confused about certain facts, and that is surprising from someone so well qualified. Observers counted no less than 10 outright misstatements of fact from the Delaware Senator, and other statements from him of questionable veracity.

We will discuss two of them.

An outright misstatement by Mr. Biden came after this question from moderator Gwen Ifill: “Let me clear something up. Sen. McCain has said he supports caps on carbon emissions. Sen. Obama has said he supports clean coal technology, which I don't believe you've always supported.” To which the Senator said, “I have always supported it. That's a fact.” And a little later he tried to explain away an earlier comment that contradicted that answer. “A comment made in a rope line was taken out of context,” he said. “I was talking about exporting that technology to China so when they burn their dirty coal, it won't be as dirty, it will be clean.”

However, one year ago Senator Biden was interviewed by the environmental organization Grist, and the outdoor activity organization Outside, and was asked, “What role does ‘clean coal’ play in your vision for energy independence and climate security?” Mr. Biden responded, “I don’t think there’s much of a role for clean coal in energy independence, but I do think there’s a significant role for clean coal in the bigger picture of climate change,” he said. “Clean-coal technology is not the route to go in the United States, because we have other, cleaner alternatives.”

That context seems very clear, doesn't it?

A little later he took Governor Palin to task over the duties of the Vice President after she said, “I'm thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate …”

Mr. Biden responded: “The idea [Vice President Cheney] doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.” And, “the only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress.”

Sen. Biden, Mr. Judiciary Committee, is confused. Article I of the U.S. Constitution does indeed outline the duties of the Vice President, but Article I addresses the Congress, not the Executive. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitutions says: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

The Constitution assigns the Vice President the job of President of the Senate, formally presiding over Senate deliberations, in addition to breaking tie votes. The VP thus is assigned a role in the legislative function, as well as in the Executive Branch. In modern times the Vice President has allowed the President Pro Tempore to most often perform those duties, but that is the VP’s option.

So, Sen. Biden was wrong again, and—incredibly—is confused about the U.S. Constitution. For a lawyer who has been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that is quite disturbing.

Joseph Biden’s long experience is supposed to balance the almost total lack of experience of Barack Obama. But as we’ve seen, long experience does not necessarily make a superior candidate.

Which begs the question: “is it better to have as Vice President someone who doesn’t know all the answers, or someone who knows the wrong answers?”

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