To understand Joe Biden, try his autobiography

Joe Biden may make his share of gaffes, but slips of the tongue don't keep him down long.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Whoops.... Joe Biden makes another of the gaffes for which he has become famous at the signing of the health care bill yesterday.

Joe Biden jumped into the headlines in an unfortunate fashion at the signing of the health care bill yesterday when a personal comment – vulgarity included – intended only for the ears of Barack Obama went zinging around the world. But as we know only too well, it wasn't the first time that America's garrulous vice president put his foot in his mouth – although one wisecracking journalist drolly called the slip, ''The mother of all Biden moments.''

But others point out that Biden has made a career of losing control of his tongue. "[I]t shouldn't be much of a surprise that Biden got himself in trouble shooting off his hair-trigger mouth," opined one blogger. "The list of his gaffes will make a fine CD one day." Many are busy adding yesterday's slip to their lists of Biden's top gaffes – including such minor disasters as insisting that FDR went on TV in 1929 to talk about the stock market crash and suggesting on the stump that Obama would have done better to pick Hillary Clinton as a running mate.

It's easy to forget, however, that Biden has also proven capable of using his words to very good effect. His autobiography, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," hit bestseller lists in 2007 (two years before Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" would set new records for the genre.)

"Joe Biden's 'Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics' is the most unlikely of campaign biographies," wrote Monitor reviewer Gail Russell Chaddock in August 2007. "It's a ripping good read. Forget all you've heard about Delaware's six-term US senator [including] ... that he doesn't know when to stop talking.... None of that explains why a first book with no sex scandals – and whose author/candidate has poll ratings in the single digits – quickly hit The New York Times Bestseller list. Here's why: Biden is a master storyteller and has stories worth telling."

Among those stories is the account of the example Biden says his father set for him. "Biden says he learned life by watching his father, Joseph Biden Sr., get up every morning and go to a job he never liked," wrote Chaddock in her review. "His father grew up around money and still had a polo stick in the closet, but lost that life. To his sons, he'd said: Get up. 'The art of living is simply getting up after you've been knocked down.' "

Biden goes on in "Promises to Keep" to address his worst gaffe ever – the day in 1987 that he forgot (according to his account) to credit British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock with the closing lines of his stump speech. It knocked Biden out of the presidential race – but not out of politics.

By comparison, yesterday's ill-timed Anglo-Saxonism seems minor indeed.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

Which political memoir would you rather read – Joe Biden's "Promises to Keep" or Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue"? Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

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