Has Joe Biden become America’s gaffe-prone intemperate uncle?
That question arises because the vice president of the United States on Wednesday had what some pundits are calling a two-gaffe day.
To be fair, the first misspeaking occurred on Tuesday, during a speech at the 40th anniversary conference of the Legal Services Corp. When speaking about his son Beau’s attempts to help members of the military straighten out problem loans, he referred to “shylocks” taking advantage of vulnerable service members.
This refers to Shylock in Shakespeare’s "Merchant of Venice," a Jewish moneylender. In the play, the character is greedy and ruthless, and the name has come to be an anti-Semitic slur.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), complained about Mr. Biden’s use of the S-word, saying it represents a “medieval stereotype” and “an offensive characterization.”
At the same time, Mr. Foxman praised Biden as a friend of the Jewish community and a “tolerant individual.” And on Wednesday, Biden apologized.
“Abe Foxman has been a friend and advisor of mine for a long time. He’s correct, it was a poor choice of words,” Biden said in a statement.
Then on Wednesday, Biden stepped in it again, using a term that some might consider offensive. Speaking at a rally for campaign finance reform in Iowa, he talked about meeting Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, calling him “the wisest man in the Orient.”
The terms “Orient” and “Oriental” are anachronistic and offensive to many Asians, as they seem to refer to a past world of exotic mystery conjured up by Hollywood as opposed to real life.
This caused many pundits – but particularly those on the right – to characterize Biden as the nation’s slightly dotty uncle, somebody who will say whatever darn thing pops into his head. After all, in the past he’s gotten in trouble for saying it helps to have an Indian accent when walking into a convenience store. He’s promoted shotguns over rifles as a means for self-defense and once referred to Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
“It’s like the Class of 1950 buried Joe Biden under their high school and said ‘Open in 2014,’ ” tweeted right-leaning CNN "Crossfire" host S.E. Cupp.
Well, maybe. But consider the way Biden handled the S-word flap. He apologized quickly. And ADL national director Foxman approached him in the first place as a friend of the Jewish community who had made a mistake.
That’s one reason Biden does not get into more trouble than he does for his words: Many of the affected groups and/or individuals figure Biden is actually on their side. After all, Mr. Obama picked Biden for his vice president after Biden had made his “articulate and bright” statement.
Plus, Biden gets away with his loose-phrases approach to speechmaking partly because he’s become less politically important as the end of the Obama administration approaches.
Let’s face it: Biden is not going to even be a serious player for the Democratic nomination in 2016 if Hillary Rodham Clinton runs. Yes, it’s early, but he’s 54 percentage points behind her in national polls of Democratic voters, according to RealClearPolitics.
He’s second in a list of potential Democratic candidates only due to name recognition. If for some reason Ms. Clinton stops running, the race will be thrown into chaos, and other Democratic contenders will quickly emerge. Biden has run for president twice, and Democratic voters showed little interest in either race. Third time is not the charm in that context.
Still, there are some who think the old liberal mainstream media double standard is covering up Biden’s offenses.
“If Biden were a Republican people would be calling for his resignation,” tweeted Daily Beast political reporter Olivia Nuzzi.