Biden's supreme challenge: no gaffes

Jake Turcotte

Just like a football game (we confess, we overuse sporting analogies), the tailgating has begun in St. Louis in preparation for tonight's historic vice presidential debate.

Historic for a number of reasons. But when you think of past debates, it's mostly the one-liners or gaffes that you remember. Policy is important. But history remembers the sound bites.

Like in 1976. President Ford announced that there was "no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." This led Ford staffer Stuart Spencer to recollect:

"[I] was sitting next to [National Security Adviser] Brent Scowcroft in the holding room watching this. I heard [Ford] say it, and I didn't think anything about it. Brent, in his style, punched me and said, 'You've got a problem.' I said, 'What's the problem?' He said, 'What Jerry just said about Poland. He means "emotionally." . . . There are x-number of divisions in Poland.' . . . I said, 'How many is that?' He said, 'Some 240,000.' I go, 'Oh God, these are Russians, 240,000 Russians, and they don't have control of Poland?' I go out. By this time, [White House Chief of Staff Dick] Cheney and I were spastic."

Who says Dick Cheney doesn't show emotion?


Fast forward to the legendary "You're no Jack Kennedy" of 1988. Or Al Gore's "lockbox" or 2000. Or Ronald Reagan's response to a question about whether he was too old to serve.

"I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," he said.

These are what people remember.

And with Joe Biden and Sarah Palin entering the ring this evening, we may have just hit the jackpot. Who is apt to flub the most? As Tim Russert would say, "It's too close to call."

Palin's media exposure

Every time Sarah Palin's done an interview in the past month, there's been a story. Rarely has it been flattering. This has been a major distraction for the McCain campaign. After all, Biden routinely shoots himself and everyone around him.

Stand up Chuck!

Some are innocent gaffes. Like when he asked Missouri State Sen. Chuck Graham to stand up at a campaign rally. A second later he realized that Graham uses a wheelchair.

"Oh, God love ya'," he said punching himself in the head. "What am I talking about. I'll tell you what, you're making everybody else stand up though, pal. I'll tell you what..... stand up for Chuck!"

Others are more odd, like his harrowing helicopter ride when he was forced down in Afghanistan. He always leaves out the fact that it was snow that forced him down, not a military attack.

Or when he announced last week that President Roosevelt went on TV following the stock market crash of 1929. The problem was FDR wasn't President and TV wasn't available yet.

With other gaffes, he appears to honestly think he's saying the right thing, only to find out that he wasn't. Like when he announced that he and Obama were against clean coal.

“We’re not supporting clean coal,” Biden said. "No coal plants here in America."

The problem? Obama mentioned his support of clean coal in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National convention.

The little engine

You have to credit the McCain campaign. Try as they would to get some focus on almost - at one point - daily foibles by Biden, none of them got any play. Sarah Palin was just too much for the media to ignore. Both when she was a superstar and when the star was falling.

So, the Republican campaign tried again today. This time launching a new ad focusing on Joe Biden's frequent misstatements.

Ready to lead?

"What might Joe Biden say at tonight's debate?" the announcer asks. "Anything's possible."

Then the commercial cuts to a highlight reel of some of Biden's fumbles.

  • "I think I probably have a much higher I.Q. than you do" he says to a reporter.
  • "You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent," he said to another reporter.
  • "Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am. It might have been a better pick than me," he said at a town hall meeting.

Time to be part of the deal

The announcer then asks, "And what might he say about his vote to raise taxes on those making just $42,000 a year?"

"It's time to be patriotic, Kate, time to jump in, time to be part of the deal," Biden says in a recent television interview.

Ready to gaffe?

After a reference to the "Stand up, Chuck" moment, the ad concludes with "Ready to gaffe? Yes. Ready to lead? No."

How to stop Biden from screwing up tonight?

How to stop Biden 101

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane told The Vote that Biden needs to focus -- not on Palin but on the viewers.

"Biden's challenge is not to prove he is smarter, better positioned to serve or more experienced than Palin - as that risks looking patronizing or sending the exact wrong message to working class voters who get turned off by Democrats who appear to be looking down their nose at working families," he said.

His goal is to ignore Palin and focus on connecting with voters sitting in their living rooms by making clear he is indeed one of them - an uncommon, common man," Lehane adds.

Electroshock therapy

GOP operative Rob Stutzman enjoyed talking to The Vote about the propensity of a Biden gaffe: "My guess is they’ll have electrodes hooked up to Biden’s 20 pound cufflinks so they can shock him if he starts praising Hillary or discussing his favorite his favorite ice cream from the dining car on the Amtrak."

QR Code to Biden's supreme challenge: no gaffes
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today