Biden bites

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.

–Bruce Benidt

4 thoughts on “Biden bites

  1. As a representative of the state that will hold the 2008 Dem convention, I’d like to assure everyone reading your blog that we will be welcoming straight speakers, gay speakers, ethnic speakers and any other speakers who want to come. Just as an aside I had always thought that Biden was straight, just not very creative. Heck, we don’t care much what they say, as long as they buy stuff while they’re here at the convention.

  2. Dennis Courtier says:

    My Dear Friend…
    Right about now is when you should be hearing a loud bang and that really intense lifting sensation that happens right after the petard goes off. The reason that even “good” politicians end up drowning in the cottage cheese is BECAUSE reporters put them there. Almost no matter what one says, some enterprising reporter with their own agenda will turn it into something else.

    Then for you, of all people, to advocate the Coolidgesque “Speak fewer words”.
    Amazing.
    I’m reminded of the old story about Silent Cal and Dorothy Parker. When the lovely Ms. Parker informed her dinner companion of a wager she made that she could get more than two words out of him, his “you lose” was the end of the conversation.

    Maybe this is the only viable political survival strategy now. Never utter more than two words back-to-back without digesting it through a speech writer and screening it with focus groups, vetting all the participants for political correctness first, of course.

  3. Love the Parker anecdote — any Parker anecdote.
    William Zinsser in “On Writing Well” said, in the punctuation section, the only thing wrong with the period is we don’t get to it fast enough.
    Actually, unprepared and unfocusgrouped talk is the best look into a person’s view of the world — that’s why C-Span is the best look we have at candidates, as they talk in and after town hall meetings, largely unguarded.
    Biden probably, in truth, has an old-fashioned view of politics that doesn’t take non-traditional candidates, such as Shirley Chisholm, seriously. We should know that about him.
    The most appalling truth we learned aboug George Allen was not that he used the word “macaca” but that he assumed a kid who looked Indian could not be a true Virginian — even though the young man was born in Virginia.
    As a reporter I learned that the more you get people to say, the more they say what they really mean, and sometimes regret it.

  4. Bill Dewey says:

    Zinsser was right, Biden didn’t get to the peiod soonenough — Barak Obama stikes us as “articulate,” I think, because — more than anyone else I can think of, he can speak to black people for white people, AND to white people for balck ones. No, he doesn’t have the descendant-of-a-slave heritage, but he has experienced much of the same treatment by the white majority of Americans that most black Americans have and has become “mainstream,” as Senator Biden says. If Obama is noticeably “clean,” it’s not, I think, because he’s black but because he’s a politician from Chicago.

    It’s okay with me if journalists rake over a candidte’s utterances; what a candiate says is what he or she is. What comes out of his or her mouth may or may not be the truth, but it comes from the candidate’s mind — or the staff’s, even worse. Hillary has said far too much to suit me already,

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