“Change,” “Hope” … Why They Must be Talking About Joe Biden!

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Deconstructing Biden | [print_link]

Biden is no prize, by a long shot, but he’s at least a fighter, and a guy who may give the repulsive Republican ticket a run for their money. Not politics, just spectacle, in an age of pseudo-democracy and worse entertainment. Of course, from the people’s perspective, all the corporate party candidates are three-legged horses. 

Weekend Edition

August 23 / 4, 2008

CounterPunch Diary

“Change,” “Hope” … Why They Must be Talking About Joe Biden!

By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

“Change” and “hope” are not words one associates with Senator Joe Biden, a man so ripely symbolic of everything that is unchanging and hopeless about our political system that a computer simulation of the corporate-political paradigm senator in Congress would turn out “Biden” in a nano-second.

The first duty of any senator from Delaware is to do the bidding of the banks and large corporations which use the tiny state as a drop box and legal sanctuary. Biden has never failed his masters in this primary task. Find any bill that sticks it to the ordinary folk on behalf of the Money Power and you’ll likely detect Biden’s hand at work. The bankruptcy act of 2005 was just one sample. In concert with his fellow corporate serf, Senator Tom Carper, Biden blocked all efforts to hinder bankrupt corporations from fleeing from their real locations to the legal sanctuary of Delaware. Since Obama is himself a corporate serf and from day one in the US senate has been attentive to the same masters that employ Biden, the ticket is well balanced, the seesaw with Obama at one end and Biden at the other dead-level on the fulcrum of corporate capital.

Another shining moment in Biden’s progress in the current presidential  term was his conduct in the hearings on Judge Alito’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. From the opening moments of the Judiciary Committee’s sessions in January, 2006,  it became clear that Alito faced no serious opposition. On that first ludicrous morning Senator Pat Leahy sank his head into his hands, shaking it in unbelieving despair as Biden blathered out a self-serving and inane monologue lasting a full twenty minutes before he even asked Alito one question. In his allotted half hour Biden managed to pose only five questions, all of them ineptly phrased. He did pose two questions about Alito’s membership of a racist society at Princeton, but had already undercut them in his monologue by calling Alito “a man of integrity”, not once but twice, and further trivialized the interrogation by reaching under the dais to pull out a Princeton cap and put it on.

In all, Biden rambled for 4,000 words, leaving Alito time only to put together less than 1,000. A Delaware newspaper made deadly fun of him for his awful performance, eliciting the revealing confession from Biden that “I made a mistake. I should have gone straight to my question. I was trying to put him at ease.”

Biden  is a notorious flapjaw. His vanity deludes him into believing that every word that drops from his mouth is minted in the golden currency of Pericles. Vanity is the most conspicuous characteristic of US Senators en bloc , nourished by deferential  acolytes and often expressed in loutish sexual  advances to staffers, interns and the like.  On more than one occasion CounterPunch’s editors have listened to vivid accounts by the recipient of just such advances, this staffer of another senator being accosted  by Biden in the well of the senate  in the week immediately following his first wife’s fatal car accident.   

His “experience” in foreign affairs consists in absolute fidelity to the conventions of cold war liberalism, the efficient elder brother of raffish  “neo-conservatism”. Here again the ticket is well balanced, since Senator Obama has, within a very brief time-frame,  exhibited great fidelity to the same creed.

Obama opposed the launching of the US attack on Iraq in 2003. He was not yet in the US Senate, but having arrived there in 2005 he has since voted unhesitatingly for all appropriations of the vast sums required for the war’s prosecution. Biden himself voted enthusiastically for the attack, declaring in the Senate debate in October, 2002, in a speech excavated and sent to us by Sam Husseini:

I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur. … [Saddam Hussein] possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons. … For four years now, he has prevented United Nations inspectors from uncovering those weapons…

The terms of surrender dictated by the United Nations require him to declare and destroy his weapons of mass destruction programs. He has not done so. …

Many predicted the administration would refuse to give the weapons inspectors one last chance to disarm. …

Mr. President, President Bush did not lash out precipitously after 9/11. He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation. …

For two decades, Saddam Hussein has relentlessly pursued weapons of mass destruction. There is a broad agreement that he retains chemical and biological weapons, the means to manufacture those weapons and modified Scud missiles, and that he is actively seeking a nuclear capability. …

We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after…. [Biden confided to his colleagues that this would be a long fight, but was still for it.]I am absolutely confident the President will not take us to war alone. I am absolutely confident we will enhance his ability to get the world to be with us by us voting for this resolution. 

His vaunted foreign policy could get us into World War III. No matter which way we turn the system offers no real choices. 

In step with his futile bid for the Democratic nomination, Biden changed his mind on the war, and part of his mandate will be to shore up the credentials of the Democratic ticket as being composed of “responsible” helmsmen of Empire,  stressing that any diminution of the US presence in Iraq will be  measured and thus extremely slow, balanced by all the usual imperial ventures elsewhere around the globe.

Why did Obama chose Biden? One important constituency pressing for Biden was no doubt the Israel lobby inside the Democratic Party. Obama, no matter how fervent his proclamations of support for Israel, has always been viewed with some suspicion by the lobby. For half the lifespan of the state of Israel, Biden has proved himself its unswerving acolyte in the senate.

And Obama picked Biden for the same reason Michael Dukakis chose Senator Lloyd Bentsen in 1988: the marriage of youth and experience, so reassuring to uncertain voters but most of all to the elites, that nothing dangerous or unusual will discommode business as usual. Another parallel would be Kennedy’s pick of Lyndon Johnson in 1960, LBJ being  a political rival and a seasoned senator. Kennedy and Johnson didn’t like each other, and surely after Biden’s racist remarks about “clean” blacks, Obama cannot greatly care for Biden. It seems he would have preferred Chris Dodd but the latter was disqualified because of his VIP loans from Countrywide.

Obama’s Bad August

By last weekend the alarm bells started ringing in earnest at Obama’s HQ.  August was turning into a disaster for the Democratic nominee. At precisely the moment the candidate should have been heading confidently towards his coronation in Denver,  John McCain had seized the initiative. While the young senator from Illinois practiced surfing in Hawaii the elderly McCain was busy in the rhetorical trenches, bellowing  “We are all Georgians” and staking out an order of battle for the Third World War.

Obama lost the battle of the headlines on Georgia and a week later he was in another no-win mess at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback evangelical church in Lake Forest, which is heartland Republican terrain in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Obama and McCain each had their solo hour, answering Warren’s questions. McCain won big, with grave, clipped answers on the moral failure of his first marriage, his strategic differences with Ronald Reagan, his opposition to abortion.

What McCain did at Saddleback was bring the  important  Christian Evangelical vote back into his column. A week earlier a friend of mine from near Spartanburg, S.C. (“the buckle of the bible belt”) called me to say all the evangelicals he knew were going to sit this one out because they didn’t trust McCain. After Saddleback he phoned back to say how impressed he’d been with McCain, predicting that the radio preacher James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family, might finally endorse the Arizona senator.

Beset with gloomy quotes from leading Democrats about the need for their candidate to ratchet up his game and whack McCain, Obama’s camp tried to break the remorseless rhythm of bad headlines. They leaked the news that Obama would name his running mate as vice presidential candidate in the next two or three days, maybe even Monday afternoon.

The tactic worked. Inside dopester stories in the press duly followed on the possible picks. But on Wednesday the Reuters-Zogby poll reported that McCain had suddenly surged ahead, and was leading Obama nationally 46-41. Reuters-Zogby is well regarded, but this year has a somewhat spotty record. Two other big polls reporting Thursday had Obama leading McCain 45-42 

Polls aside, it was obvious Obama has lost the initiative. Democrats were beginning to recall with a shiver John Kerry’s disastrous summer in 2004, when his candidacy began to sag in the face of ruthless battering.

It was not just a matter no-win situations like Saddleback or Obama’s refusal to call for Russia’s immediate nuclear annihilation. Polls showed Obama lagging behind McCain as the man the public trusts on economic policy, a topic on which McCain  publicly confessed ignorance earlier this year.  Obama even managed to lose the initiative on off-shore oil drilling. In July McCain began  taking the oil industry line by saying that, in the interests of the always mythical “US Energy Independence”,  irksome environmental restrictions on off-shore drilling should be tossed aside. Since public cynicism about the oil companies has been increasing in direct proportion to the oil companies’ record profits this summer, it shouldn’t have been hard for Obama to paint McCain as a whore for Big Oil and a foe of marine life and usable beaches. The opportunity was enhanced by a 419,000 gallon oil spill into the Mississippi River the very week McCain was pushing off-shore drilling in Louisiana.  But Obama, almost always respectful towards large corporations, declined this golden opportunity and duly came out for off-shore drilling himself.

The problem seems to be that a man who’s come to think of himself as the conduit of Mankind’s purest hopes doesn’t want to scuff his shoes by kicking mud in McCain’s face. “McNasty”, as the Republican candidate was dubbed at Annapolis, has no problem doing that, even if his shoes come at $500 a pair.

All the same, Obama’s managers slowed McCain’s surge with the fake leak about a Monday release of the veep nominee’s identity. Then the same affluent wife who buys  McCain his $500 shoes bailed out Obama just when the adverse polls were making headlines. This time it was the houses, and McCain’s inability to remember how many he and Cindy own. That’s something Americans can grasp.  A man who can’t remember how many houses he has, or runs out of fingers when trying to list them, is someone identifiably out of touch with the realities of everyday life.  John Kerry had the same problem with all his and Teresa Heinz Kerry’s numerous mansions, back in 2004.

Then, as my coeditor Jeffrey points out, McCain lost the NASCAR vote by being unable to identify the make of the car he drives. “Check with my staff” he told reporters. Next,  McCain’s brother Joe shoved John’s head back under water yet again by trying to explain the Republican nominee’s vagueness about domestic assets.  It runs in the family, he said. “The person who took care of all the business was my mother. My father had no idea about the family business, what oil leases he owned in Oklahoma.”  Joe’s later attempts to portray the McCain family as scraping by, coupon-clipping for discounts at the grocery store, were unconvincing.

As for the overall state of the race, race remains the big factor. “I still suspect Obama has no chance,” a CounterPunch contributor remarked in an email last week. “Not enough people in enough crucial states will vote for a semi-black metro-sexual, especially when they get through calumniating him.  I’d never vote for him myself, but he’s probably preferable.   I figure he’d only be as bad as Bush.    McCain, I think, is unbalanced enough to start a nuclear war, and not stupid enough to be managed by others.”

Meanwhile, Ralph Nader seems to be dropping his bid to the level of knock-about. Following on his prediction that Obama would pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate Nader released a press release Friday arguing that his candidacy helps Obama.  “Many Hillary supporters (half according to the most recent NBC/WSJ poll) do not want to vote for Obama. With Nader on the ballot, they have another choice to lodge their vote with other than McCain.”  Nader thinks HRC’s crowd will vote for him?

Face it, if you want to stay true to reason and  conscience, the man to vote for is Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate. Check out from Friday’s CounterPunch site his  stance on Georgia, an issue on which  I haven’t yet seen anything from Ralph . “Bad and over blown historical analogies won’t help resolve the conflict,” Barr writes,  If this war was like Adolf Hitler’s attack on Poland, as some have suggested, Georgia would be occupied, its government would be ousted, and its residents would be on their way to concentration camps. No one would be traveling to Tbilisi and we wouldn’t be talking to Moscow… The most important American interest is defending America; and intervening on behalf of Georgia against Russia has nothing to do with defending America.”

Alexander Cockburn is founder and editor in chief of CounterPunch.

Joe Biden and the myth of foreign policy experience

By Katrina Vanden Heuvel
The Nation 8/24/08

The conventional wisdom is that with a new cold war looming and global conflicts upon us, Barack Obama needed a Vice-President with foreign policy experience. Most establishment pundits buy the view that Joe Biden provides it.
   But on one of the key issues relating to US-Russian relations, Biden has been wrong. He has been a fervent champion of NATO expansion, a bipartisan policy whose disastrous consequences we witnessed in the recent and ongoing Russia-Georgia conflict. It is a policy that has done more to damage US-Russian relations than almost any other policy between the two countries.
   When Biden traveled to Tbilisi during the conflict in August–presumably to flex and highlight his foreign policy credentials for the Obama campaign–he presumably told Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili of his support for that country’s early admission to NATO. (The New York Times reports that the conflict did in fact boost Biden’s veep prospects.) What does this say about Biden’s foreign policy judgment that he would immediately reward Saakashvili’s reckless behavior with a promise of early admission to NATO?
   Doesn’t Biden understand that in backing Georgian admission he would be going against NATO tradition not to admit countries with outstanding territorial conflicts? Or that NATO admission would be opposed by many leading NATO allies? And that it would almost certainly forfeit any prospect of Russian cooperation on a range of issues–if not bring about Russian counter-measures.
   Does extending such a promise mean that Biden, along with John McCain, is prepared to take the US to war on behalf of Georgia? Biden’s bombast may have given him satisfaction–and appealed to Saakashvili, a man who precipitated the bloodshed with his US-trained military’s attack on South Ossetia on the night of August 7– but was it the calibrated response we seek in an experienced foreign policy leader who understands importance of reducing, not heightening,  geopolitical tensions?
   As Ronald Steel reminds us in a judicious and must-read op-ed piece in Sunday’sNew York Times, “The first essential step for the leader of the Western alliance is to tone down the bombast and restore a dialogue with Russia….Second, we should shelve loose talk about bringing either Ukraine or Georgia into NATO–at least until we are willing to invite Russia itself.”  As Steel reminds us, “NATO is essentially still a cold-war military pact seeking a new identity that it has not yet found. Admitting these two former Soviet Republics would be interpreted by Moscow as anti-Russian provocation –and rightly so. And even if it didn’t provoke a new Cold War, it would create serious tensions within NATO itself.”
   Before the consensus emerges that Biden adds “foreign expertise to ticket,” as theNew York Times‘ headline this morning declared, shouldn’t we reflect on the nature and quality of expertise and experience?  Good judgment, informed experience and valuable expertise would guide leaders to rethink policies like NATO expansion that have jeopardized our national security and damaged US-Russian relations.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel is The Nation’s editor. 

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