Muzzling the Biden gaffe machine

Dana Milbank:

Joe Biden spoke to supporters here for 14 minutes and 25 seconds Tuesday morning -- and that's big news.

Until he became Barack Obama's running mate in August, Biden could take that long just to say "good morning"; now the Democratic senator from Delaware has to give his entire stump speech in that span. On Capitol Hill he used to speak endlessly on any subject to anybody who asked for his view (and many who did not); now he has to read his words carefully from a teleprompter, squinting into the bright sunlight to avoid missing a syllable of the text that had been written for him by his Obama handlers.

The muzzling of Biden seems unnatural and inhumane, like taking a proud lion into captivity. Biden, who once scolded Sarah Palin for ducking reporters, hasn't given a news conference since Sept. 7. The king of the rhetorical jungle hasn't taken questions from voters in a town hall forum since Sept. 10, when he famously said that Hillary Clinton is "more qualified than I am to be vice president" and "might have been a better pick than me." He doesn't even do much chitchat with supporters at events since he was caught on tape on one such occasion contradicting Obama's energy policy.

Now even Palin takes questions from reporters on her campaign plane. But the wordiest man in Washington has to make his remarks short, sweet and canned.

Here he was at an Ocala horse farm reading a seasonal joke written for him: "Look, folks, I know Halloween is coming, I know Halloween. But John McCain dressed up as an agent of change? That costume just doesn't fit, folks."

Next stop, Kilwin's chocolate shop in the Villages, a sprawling central Florida retirement community, where the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee avoided anything that strayed from his assigned topic: ice cream.

"Look at this! Man, this is a dangerous place. Holy mackerel!" Biden said as he entered the ordinary-looking shop. He greeted the server. "I'm an ice cream guy. Is ice cream down that way? Could I get a sugar cone and chocolate chip?" He turned to a friend, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "What you gonna have? It's on me -- I'm the last of the big spenders from up north. . . . I'm getting plain old chocolate chip. That's plenty, God love ya." He greeted a woman named Bonita. "Hey, Bonita, I'm Joe. Not the plumber, Joe the Biden." He greeted a man who said his name is Jeff. "Hey, Jim, where you from?" He found a woman from his native Scranton. "I'll be darned."

But when a reporter shouted out a question about whether Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) should resign after his conviction on bribery-related charges, Biden said not a word.

Even muzzled, Biden still has an occasional run-in with run-on thoughts, as he did earlier this month at a fundraiser when he predicted: "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama. . . . Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy." Biden went on to recommended that the donors "gird your loins." Obama later had to dismiss his partner's "rhetorical flourishes."


Milbank is finally catching up with some of Biden's gaffes that conservatives have been talking about for some time. this means the framing of Biden and his gaffes has gone mainstream, but it lacks the intensity of the anti Palin stories by the mainstream media.


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