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“What Actually Matters”: Joe Biden Was A Good Vice President. The Democratic Candidates Should Learn From This

It won’t be long now before the political world begins the quadrennial festival of pointless yet momentarily diverting speculation on whom the presidential nominees will choose to be their running mates. So let me suggest a radical idea before that process gets underway: The candidates should choose someone who would actually — are you ready? — do a good job as vice president.

Sounds crazy, I know. But it’s something almost no one talks about when debating this decision. And the guy who has the job now is a good example, believe it or not.

Before we discuss Joe Biden, there’s something important to understand about the “veepstakes”: Almost everything you’ll hear about how the nominees should make their decision is wrong. (I should mention that more detail on what I’m discussing here can be found in an article I wrote for the latest print edition of the American Prospect; the article isn’t online yet, so you should immediately head down to your local newsstand to procure a copy.)

It’s wrong because the choice of a running mate makes little or no difference to the outcome of the election. Should the candidate pick someone who comes from a swing state? No, because it won’t matter — while the nominee might get a boost of a couple of points in their own home state (above what a generic nominee from their party would get), vice presidential nominees don’t bring in any home-state votes.

Should the candidate pick someone who’ll help them unify the party after a contentious primary season? No, because in most cases the party is going to unify no matter what. We live in an era of negative partisanship in which voters’ dislike for the other side is a more powerful motivating factor than their affection for their own party. Republicans are unusually fractured this year, but if they come back together it will be over their shared hatred of Hillary Clinton, not because of a vice presidential nominee. Democrats, on the other hand, will be unified by Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Don’t believe the Bernie Sanders supporters who are saying they’ll never vote for Clinton — almost all of them will, just as the Clinton supporters who said they’d never vote for Barack Obama in 2008 did in the end.

Should the candidate pick someone with an interesting demographic profile? No, because as with all the other considerations we’re discussing, in the end the difference that could make will be minuscule next to how voters feel about the person at the top of the ticket. That isn’t to say it would have zero effect if, say, Clinton picked a Latino as her running mate, but the effect in persuading more Latinos that they should vote for the Democratic ticket will be so small as to be barely worth considering.

All of this is why political scientists who have studied this question have been almost completely unable to locate a significant effect of vice presidential choices on the final outcome of the race. The outlying case is Sarah Palin, who likely cost John McCain a point or two. The other running mate who might have made a small difference is Dan Quayle in 1988. But both of those were picks that went horribly wrong; what you won’t find is a running mate who actually helped the candidate at the top of the ticket in any meaningful way.

So if you’re Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz (I won’t pretend to know what bizarre calculations might be whirring through Donald Trump’s mind), that means you should just pick someone who would actually be good at being vice president, and as long as the person isn’t a political disaster during the campaign, you’ll have done yourself a favor. Which brings us to Joe Biden.

John Harwood (who has really been killing it with these) has an interview with Biden out today, and from Biden’s answers, it’s obvious that he still hasn’t quite made peace with the idea that he’s never going to be president. When asked about his “Goofy Uncle Joe” persona, he said: “if you notice, I beat every Republican in every poll when they thought I was running. You notice that my favorability was higher than anybody that’s running for office in either party.” He also vigorously defended not only his record as a senator but the administration’s accomplishments. Which you’d expect, but what most people don’t realize is that Biden has been an extremely effective vice president.

Thanks to his decades in the Senate, Biden came to the job with a deep understanding of the way the federal government operates, which enabled him to oversee projects that spanned different agencies and different branches. Most importantly, he was in charge of implementing the Recovery Act, which was one of the administration’s great unsung successes. It involved a huge amount of work and coordination, and by every account Biden performed exceptionally well at it. Just the fact that they managed to distribute over three-quarters of a trillion dollars without any major scandals of graft or theft was an extraordinary accomplishment.

And perhaps most critically for a vice president, Biden has kept a strong relationship with the president throughout the last seven years, which many VPs can’t say (most notably, Dick Cheney was hugely powerful in George W. Bush’s first term, but lost favor in the second term). That isn’t to say he hasn’t had some Bidenesque screwups along the way, but he seems to have done about as good a job as President Obama could have hoped.

To what degree Obama knew that would happen when he picked Biden isn’t clear — though as someone from Delaware who had run a couple of weak runs for the White House, Biden didn’t look like electoral gold at the time, so Obama couldn’t have been worrying too much about getting a boost to the ticket. And it can be hard to predict how someone will do in a job they haven’t done before. But if the 2016 candidates take a good look at history, they’ll realize that there’s little to be gained by worrying too much about how their running mate will affect the election’s outcome. Pollsters will tell you that after a running mate gets picked, the candidate will get a bump in the polls for a few days based on all the positive news about the choice, and then the race settles right back down to where it was before.

I realize that means the millions of words that will be spilled on the veepstakes will all be for nought. I’m not telling anyone to stop speculating and musing. Go right ahead; I might do some of it myself. But we shouldn’t forget what actually matters about the choice.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 19, 2016

April 22, 2016 Posted by | General Election 2016, Joe Biden, Vice-President Candidates | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“That 1992 Clip Of Biden Is Very Misleading”: No, Joe Biden Is Not A Supreme Court Hypocrite

It’s a mighty thin reed that Republican leaders hang onto when they selectively cite then-Sen. Joe Biden’s remarks from 24 years ago as evidence to deny any Obama appointee to the Supreme Court a fair hearing and a vote. President Obama is right in saying, “We all know senators say stuff all the time,” and the excerpt Mitch McConnell and the other Republican leaders cite to support their obstructionism is not what Biden was saying when he spoke at length on the Senate floor in late June 1992.

It was the end of the court’s term, a time when aging justices often hand down their resignations. There were retirement rumors about 83-year-old Justice Harry Blackmun. Biden, in his role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wanted to discourage Blackmun from stepping down and the Bush White House from thinking it could confirm a replacement before the election now five months away.

There was no vacancy on the court, and Biden wanted to keep it that way. In just two weeks, the Republicans would hold their party convention with President George H.W. Bush running for re-election in a highly charged three-person race against Democrat Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot. In the Senate, hard feelings lingered from the previous October’s Anita Hill hearings, and Biden warned that if the administration tried to get one or the other justices to resign in order to create a vacancy, he wasn’t inclined to go along with that.

And if they did—and here’s the olive branch, which funny enough isn’t getting much air time as the old clip is replayed—he would consider confirmation of a nominee in the Kennedy mode, as in Justice Anthony Kennedy, a solid but conservative-leaning jurist who was confirmed unanimously in February 1988, Ronald Reagan’s last year in office. Biden didn’t in any way say or imply he wouldn’t be holding hearings, or that he would do what McConnell and the other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are doing, which is sight unseen refusing to hold hearings or to even meet with the nominee.

It is a show of disrespect not only for Obama but also for the Constitution and the executive’s role to propose and the Senate’s to advise and consent. McConnell gleefully cited the cherry-picked Biden excerpt as proof of what would happen “if the shoe were on the other foot.” But if that were true, the GOP would at least go through the motions before regretfully finding the nominee is an extremist they can’t support. That would be rough politics as usual.

The bigger question: Will anyone nominated be out of the running for Hillary Clinton, if she’s the next president? Or will that person move to the front of the queue? Will Republicans feel compelled to go after that person with extra zeal? And given these unknowns, who would say yes to Obama?

Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, presiding over two of the most contentious nominations in history, Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Bork’s “originalism,” in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, sparked strong opposition and his extensive writings gave critics plenty to work with. The assault was brutal, giving rise to the verb, to be “borked.” Biden won praise for challenging Bork on certain rights to privacy that he rejected because they weren’t enumerated in the Constitution. The full Senate rejected Bork 58-42, with six Republicans joining 52 Democrats to vote against him.

The Anita Hill hearings in October 1991 were not Biden’s finest hour, and his role chairing those hearings will be reprised in the HBO movie Confirmation, airing on April 11 and starring Kerry Washington as Hill, Wendell Pierce as Clarence Thomas, and Greg Kinnear as Biden.

Emotions are still raw even after 25 years, and the scuttlebutt in Washington is that Biden will not be pleased with his depiction in the film as far too deferential to Thomas.

That may surprise viewers today, but criticism then of Biden, as one disaffected liberal put it, was not that he was a partisan in-fighter, but that “he bent over backwards to grease the skids for the most unqualified successful Supreme Court nominee we have ever seen.”

People involved in the fight then and interviewed for this article did not want to be quoted by name. The hearings were brutal, with Thomas calling them “a high-tech lynching.” Women’s groups siding with Hill were convinced Thomas was lying and demanded Biden order lie-detector tests and subpoena records of X-rated films Bork had allegedly rented. They blamed Biden for not putting more pressure on Hill to come forward earlier.

The coziness of an all-male and all-white Judiciary panel grilling Hill, a prim college professor who had reluctantly come forward alleging sexual harassment by Thomas, set the stage for a political revolution. The following year, 1992, a record number of women sought political office and a record number won, dubbing it the “Year of the Woman.”

The HBO film will portray at least one witness against Thomas that Biden never called and that critics believe could have ended Thomas’s confirmation. Biden in his role as chairman told the woman the Republicans had dug up more stuff on her, and he described what she would face on national television if she came forward. She chose not to testify, and her statement is in the hearing record.

Confirmation will air at a potentially critical time in the current court fight, but whatever conclusions viewers draw, it should be underscored that Biden let the nominations of Bork and Thomas go forward even if he and his political party disagreed. They each got a vote, and Thomas is now in his 24th year on the court after being confirmed with a mere 52 votes in the Senate.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, March 3, 2016

March 4, 2016 Posted by | Joe Biden, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Distasteful Degree Of Opportunism”: Public Editor; No Problem With Dowd Column, But News Story Needs Correction

Today New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in on the Maureen Dowd-Joe Biden controversy (see my previous post), allowing the columnist to defend her account of the fraught conversation between the vice president and his late son, Beau Biden.

“The column is accurate,” affirmed Dowd, noting that on 60 Minutes, Biden referred to a “Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute” his son had made a deathbed request that he run for president:

I never reported a last-minute deathbed scene where Beau grabbed his father’s hand. In fact, my column recounted a conversation they had seated at a table after Beau knew his prognosis was bad. He was terminally ill for some time.

She also noted that Dick Harpootlian, the South Carolina Democratic activist, had referred to Beau’s wish for his father to enter the presidential primary in a June Wall Street Journal column.

Sullivan concurred: “A re-reading of the column (and a second look at the vice president’s words on CBS) bear [Dowd] out. There is no mention in the column of a deathbed conversation or hand-grabbing, and there is mention of father and son sitting at a table.”

She has a point. But “deathbed” is not necessarily a literal expression; in Dowd’s August 1 column, she described Beau as having lost control of his face and his speech. She also recounted Joe Biden’s inner thoughts as he spoke with his son, and quoted Beau as pleading that “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”

Sullivan did chide political reporter Amy Chozick and the paper’s news editors for repeating and amplifying Dowd’s story in a front-page news article , complaining that the following sentence merited a correction:

Ms. Dowd reported that as Beau Biden lay dying from brain cancer, he tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.

Evidently Sullivan believes Biden merely denied was that this conversation occurred while his son was actually prone — when he sounded as if he was denying the tone of the discussion as reported by Dowd and repeated by Chozick. We may never know exactly what he meant, unless another interviewer asks Biden a few more questions: Did he talk to Dowd himself? Was her account of his conversation with his son (and his own inner thoughts) accurate? And why did he wait almost three months to issue a denial?

On national television, Biden went out of his way to correct the record: “Nothing like that ever, ever happened.” Nothing like that – and Dowd’s column, which set the tone of subsequent sensational coverage in the Times and everywhere else, was a lot like that. The issue isn’t whether Beau Biden was lying down or sitting at a table, but what kind of conversation he had with his father about the presidency, the Clintons, and “Biden values,” which – if Dowd is indeed telling the truth – seem to include a distasteful degree of opportunism.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, October 27, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Joe Biden, Maureen Dowd, The New York Times | , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Maureen Dowd Media Conflagration”: Dowdgate? Biden Insists Deathbed Scene With Son Beau Never Happened

Not every day does the Vice President of the United States accuse America’s most respected newspaper of publishing a falsehood about him and his family. Over the weekend that is what Joe Biden alleged, posing a difficult problem for The New York Times.

Appearing on CBS 60 Minutes, Biden denied that the affecting deathbed scene between him and his older son Beau, as famously recounted by Times Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd, had ever occurred. Dowd’s sensational August 1 column sparked a media conflagration, fired up the “draft Biden” movement, and the scene, not incidentally, was reported on the paper’s front page that same Sunday.

According to Dowd, Beau Biden on his deathbed “had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” But according to Joe Biden, it didn’t go down that way at all.

Asked by correspondent Norah O’Donnell about the conversations he had with Beau about running for president, he replied:

Well, first thing I’d like to do, and you’re being very polite the way you’re asking me the question because some people have written that, you know, Beau on his deathbed said, “Dad, you’ve got to run,” and, there was this sort of Hollywood moment that, you know, nothing like that ever, ever happened…Beau all along thought that I should run and that I could win…there was not what was sort of made out as kind of this Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute Beau grabbed my hand and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to run, like, win one for the Gipper.’ It wasn’t anything like that.

While the facts behind this bizarre drama remain mysterious, the motivations seem obvious. Certainly Dowd, whose corrosive hatred of Hillary Clinton is the stuff of soap opera, wanted to encourage the entry of Biden into the Democratic presidential primary (as did many of her colleagues in the Beltway press corps). As for Biden, the dramatic scene in Dowd’s column encouraged supporters and sympathizers to rally behind his possible campaign, which may explain why he failed to shoot down the story until now.

While the vice president allowed this anecdote to persist for two months — notably failing to deny it when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or when Politico reported that he was its source — he seems to have no compelling reason to prevaricate about the matter now.

That leaves a big dark cloud of doubt over Dowd and the Times editors. (In today’s edition, a story on an inside page about Biden’s 60 Minutes interview glancingly notes his denial of “news reports about conversations with his dying son,” while neglecting to mention the role of the newspaper and its star columnist.) Presumably the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, will inquire how this happened on behalf of perplexed readers. The explanations should be interesting.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, Ocetober 26, 2015

 

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Joe Biden, Maureen Dowd, The New York Times | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Biden Urges Us To Regain Our Sense Of National Purpose”: The Vice President Struck A Chord Too Long Missing From Our Public Debates

After Joe Biden’s Rose Garden announcement, news reports naturally focused on his decision not to seek the presidency. But the overarching theme of his short address was something more powerful and less political: This is a great country that ought to be more optimistic about its potential, more ambitious in its goals, more confident about its future.

That theme underlay Biden’s clarion call for a “moonshot” to cure cancer. As he noted — “It’s personal,” he said — his grief over the untimely death of his son, Beau Biden, fueled his sense of urgency. The younger Biden, Delaware’s attorney general, died in May at the age of 46, after a long battle with brain cancer.

Still, the vice president struck a chord too long missing from our public debates, too little heard in our partisan warfare: We have the ability to accomplish great things when we summon the will to do so.

“I know we can do this. The president and I have already been working hard on increasing funding for research and development, because there are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine. The things that are just about to happen, we can make them real with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today. … If I could be anything, I would want to be the president that ended cancer, because it’s possible.”

Whatever happened to that feisty spirit in our civic life? Whatever became of our sense of never-ending achievement, of unbridled national ambition, of great national purpose? Why don’t we reach for the stars anymore?

Instead, we’ve become brittle, limited in our expectations, dour in our outlook, afraid that the nation’s best days have already passed. While the lingering effects of the Great Recession, as well as the global threat of terrorism, have undoubtedly worked to dampen our optimism, history teaches that we’ve faced down more daunting odds before.

Indeed, the long-running Cold War, when the Soviet Union represented an existential threat to the United States, inspired the great space race that led to Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. The United States poured money into the sciences, down to the high school level. That period of bountiful scientific research benefited not only NASA, but also countless other streams of inquiry — including the pioneering communications work that led to the Internet.

Since the 1970s, though, Congress has slowly drained away money from the sciences, a process that has sped up over the last few years. In their current obsession with reducing federal government spending, GOP budget cutters have hacked away at everything from medical research to space exploration.

Nowadays, Congress can’t even agree to fund things that we know work. While all reasonable people agree that the country needs to repair and rebuild its aging infrastructure — bridges, highways, dams — Congress cannot manage to set aside the funds that are necessary.

During his first presidential campaign, President Obama called for a massive revamping of the nation’s electric grid, a plan to put in place the energy infrastructure for the 21st century. But that’s rarely even discussed anymore.

Instead, a small minority of vociferous partisans holds up routine legislation, such as raising the debt ceiling to pay the bills we’ve already incurred. That’s how a great nation behaves?

It’s not clear that even a massive infusion of research dollars — Biden’s “moonshot” — would lead to a “cure” for cancer. Scientists would likely even debate the use of the phrase, since cancer is not a single disease but rather a group of diseases that share the phenomenon of abnormal cell growth.

Still, Biden’s call for pouring national resources into the search for better treatment options makes sense. When President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon!” our scientists weren’t certain we could do that either. But they dared to dream big dreams. Why don’t we do that anymore?

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Winner for commentary, 2007; The National Memo, October 24, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Joe Biden, Scientific Research | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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