Posted by Curt on 11 December, 2019 at 11:55 am. 8 comments already!


Everyone was buzzing last week about Joe Biden’s confrontation with a voter in Iowa who had the temerity to ask about son Hunter’s extremely lucrative job on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma—a job Hunter Biden received one month after his father was named the Obama administration’s “point person” on Ukraine.

Biden, obviously, did not take well to the suggestion he had enabled corruption by his son. As a general rule, I’d like to see more bare-knuckles between politicians and voters in campaign settings, but the real revelation here is that Joe Biden is totally, utterly unprepared to answer obvious difficult questions he’s going to have to answer in a presidential campaign.

Biden’s latest excuse is blaming his aides for not warning him that his son’s Burisma job was a problem, even though at least one aide says he raised the issue with him directly. Plus, calling an ordinary voter a “damn liar” and other ad hominem insults for raising the very real issue of his son’s corruption is… something.

Yet much of the political Twitterati responded with praise because Biden was “feisty.” In fact, here’s how CNN National Political Reporter Maeve Reston covered the exchange:

In a human moment defending his son, Biden showed the authenticity, emotion and readiness for a fight that appeals to so many Democrats as they look for someone who can take on Trump … Thursday afternoon’s exchange could benefit Biden at a time when Democrats say toughness is one of their most coveted assets in their battle against Trump …. It could help Biden allay the doubts of Democratic voters who have continually complained in interviews that the former vice president is too soft-spoken … Though most political consultants would counsel their candidates not to personally attack voters as Biden did Thursday, he at least looked like he wouldn’t shy away from the fight.

That seems to be a charitable take on what happened, to put it mildly. On Friday, the day after the confrontation, even the 77 year-old Biden said he shouldn’t have challenged the out-of-shape voter to a push-up contest. Online, people were having a field day about one part of the heated conversation where the former vice-president appears to call the man “fat.”

Tellingly, one of Biden’s more brazen insults produced almost no reaction: Biden said, “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect,” and challenged the voter to an IQ test.

Underwhelming Biden

Perhaps this wouldn’t have largely have escaped notice if Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Mayor Pete Buttigieg decided to employ a similar insult. She’s a Harvard prof and he’s a Rhodes scholar, so maybe people would consider it unforgivably patronizing if they lorded their credentials over a normal voter.

But I think it’s fair to say Biden’s intellectual reputation is such that most people would think publicly offering to take an IQ test would be inadvisable. Yet he seems to skate whenever he says outrageous things that question his competence, such as when he plays into racial stereotypes or encourages people to brandish shotguns. It gets laughed off as Uncle Joe’s monkeyshines or whatever.

Biden obviously has exceptional retail political skills, and it’s true that not everyone who is bright and capable comes off in a wonky fashion that everybody recognizes as smart. But setting aside his talent for campaigning, Biden’s entire career as a politician is marked by a series of ethical lapses and terrible judgments.

Years ago, I did a survey of his political career and the results were underwhelming. Biden supported for the SALT II treaty, which in retrospect looks like a misplaced sop to the Soviets. Thanks to his egregious and unfair grandstanding on the judiciary committee in the 1980s, it’s arguable that no single figure did as much to turn the Supreme Court nominations process into the goat rodeo it is today, and he unintentionally galvanized support to turn the conservative legal movement into the formidable force it is today.

In his six-terms in the Senate, Biden drafted and passed one bill, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which is now singled out by criminal justice reform activists as the poster child for what not to do legislatively. (Another major part of Biden’s law, the Violence Against Women Act, was partially struck down by SCOTUS.)

While Biden was vice president, one of his aides wrote a scathing memoir for the administration’s failures hold Wall Street accountable after 2008, called The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins. It directly fingers Biden as part of the problem.

Then there was the time Biden publicly bet his vice presidency on negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq. Suffice to say, Biden failed to do this, and most people agree this failure immediately paved the way for the Islamic State’s rise to power in the Middle East, where at one point the barbarous death cult controlled a de facto nation the size of Joe’s native state of Pennsylvania.

Yet in 2012 The Atlantic actually ran the article “Joe Biden: The Most Influential Vice President in History?” that specifically singled out Biden for his dominant role in the Obama administration’s role in reining in Wall Street and crafting foreign policy.

On the flip side, what are his actual accomplishments? Try and name them. Here’s CNN’s attempt to do a timeline of key events in his life, for what it’s worth. He was in the Senate and White House for 44 years straight. (Note that we haven’t discussed his repeated and inexcusable plagiarism in law school, as well as during his first presidential campaign.)

What It Means to be ‘Smart’

That brings us back to the IQ test. At what point would you say Biden’s actual discernment, the kind of thing you would attribute to intelligence, is bad? Again, none of this is to say Biden is necessarily dumb. As Biden is fond of reminding people, he went to law school on an academic scholarship, and plenty of demonstrably smart people, especially those inhabiting D.C., can be and are often very wrong about political judgments.

But we should also ask ourselves what it means to be “smart” in a political context. A couple of months ago, I was at a party where Pascal Emmanuel Gobry started discoursing, as French intellectuals are wont to do, about how D.C. was essentially held hostage by a cartel of 140 IQs who run This Town.

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