Sunday, December 30, 2007

First Person Accounts--of Joseph Biden Jr.

I've been trapped this week with relatives and without a working laptop. (Come to think of it, most of my relatives don't work either.) In any case, I haven't delivered yet on my vow last week to write up my impressions after seeing the democratic candidates up close here in Iowa.

I'll start with the democratic candidate who surprised me the most, Joe Biden. I saw him the day after Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. He spoke to a crowd of about 30 people at the County Historical Society. He was INTENSE. He swooped in and made an apology about being late, adding that he had to attend Mass earlier in the day because his 89 year old mother would chide him later if he didn't. We laughed. He held up his hand and said, "Don't laugh. I'm not joking. She will take me to task." This was a gesture and comment he made several times during his subsequent monologue. He would take a swipe at George Bush, the audience would laugh, he would raise his palm up and say, "I'm serious. This is serious business." I think mother Biden passed on her chiding ways to her oldest son.

Biden is taller than I realized. He was well-dressed (many candidates wear work shirts or a coat without a tie). And he was better-looking and more charismatic than I had ever noticed over the small screen. Don't laugh. I'm serious. This guy took control of that room. He didn't pump us up with a campaign speech as much as he throttled us with a lecture.

Biden has long had a reputation as a long-winded speaker. Pundits and Washington elites probably say that because...

[Click "There's More" for the big secret]

Joe Biden is a long-winded speaker. Man, this guy can talk! He talked about his respect for his fellow candidates. He talked about his visits to Iowa in 1974 to help his friend John Culver (father of the current Governor) with his successful bid for the U.S. Senate. He talked about his own first Senate campaign and his opposition to the Vietnam war. He talked about his long experience in the Senate. He talked about the central importance of Pakistan in world affairs and about his friendships with Musharraf and Bhutto. Someone I saw later in the week mentioned his speaking style, "I thought I was hearing a lecture from a university professor." He exuded both gravitas and entitlement. While he spoke positively about the other democrats in the race (perhaps angling for that VP nomination), he also seemed to be just down-right pissed that he's not in the top-tier.

After a half-hour he started taking questions. I asked about his health care plan. He answered in the role of an experienced pragmatist. He asked for a show of hands from anyone who thinks that we are going to get universal health care with one vote. We didn't dare raise our hands. He then laid out a strategy of incremental changes--starting with initiatives that have the strongest support. Expand S-CHIP and Medicare. Establish catastrophic medical insurance, which would lower insurance costs for everyone. Allow individuals and employers to buy into the Federal medical insurance plan. And he had a couple other steps that he thought could find enough support to get through congress. I'm a supporter of the efficiencies of a single-payer plan, but, frankly I found his plan to be a reasonable step--or series of steps--in the right direction.

Recognizing the quirks of Iowa's caucus system, Biden asked for our vote and said, "If I'm not your first choice, please make me your second choice." However, it seems unlikely that he is going to get more second choice votes than he would first choice votes. He's unlikely to be viable in more than a few precincts. But he does have his supporters. I often hear voters--typically older ones--complain that he is not a more viable candidate.
Rather than a second choice, he is more likely to be a choice for number two. It is certainly possible that the winning candidate would choose Biden for the Vice Presidential nomination. Don't laugh. I'm serious. If Obama were the candidate and was looking for an experienced cohort and some white male street cred, it's possible. Plus, he has the ability to deliver Delaware's 3 delegates.