Joe Biden demonstrates that a straight speaker is going to occasionally jam his foot in his mouth. The further lesson is that you shouldn’t keep talking through your toes.
After Biden said Barack Obama is “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he got hammered for dissing, ignoring or forgetting previous black candidates.
He should have just said, “You know, that was a stupid thing to say. That leaves out Jesse, and others, and I didn’t mean to do that.” Instead, he danced around the words in a press call, and even on Jon Stewart last night only said he expressed himself “not very artfully.”
The bigger issue is, would we rather have someone who’s practiced and cautious and mealy-mouthed, or someone who speaks from the heart and occasionally screws up? As Jon Stewart said in an interview with Biden several months ago, “When you make the decision to run, don’t all your advisers come up and turn you into cottage cheese?” – make you so bland you piss off no one.
There’s a third alternative, of course. Speak fewer words. Don’t just open the spigot. Think for a heartbeat or two. Not to open the tub of cottage cheese, but to give yourself a better chance of having your words land near where you aim.
As Joe Klein wrote in the January 29 Time magazine, new straight-speaking Rocky Mountain Democrats come off well in comparison with established candidates like Clinton/Obama/Edwards, who “tend to talk too formally – and too much about too little.”
More words seldom mean more clarity. Say it straight, say it simple, say it short. And when you screw up, say that.