Biden blows softball question, brags about becoming more ideological

posted at 11:40 am on October 3, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The final question from Gwen Ifill in last night’s debate provided both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin a perfect platform to launch tough attacks on their opponents.  However, both candidates missed the softball, and in Biden’s case, managed to strike out completely:

IFILL: Final question tonight, before your closing statements, starting with you, Senator Biden. Can you think of a single issue — and this is to cast light for people who are just trying to get to know you in your final debate, your only debate of this year — can you think of a single issue, policy issue, in which you were forced to change a long-held view in order to accommodate changed circumstances?

Employers often ask applicants a variation of this question in order to test honesty.  In fact, Barack Obama made the mistake of being completely honest in an early primary debate on the more common variation — “what would you describe as your weakness” — and got criticized for his “lack of organization” by other Democrats for his candor.  Normally, politicians will say something transparently self-serving, such as “My greatest weakness is my deep and abiding love for children, pets, and the American flag.”

In this case, both Biden and Palin answered in the spirit of the question, but missed opportunities to go on the offense.  Palin did better than Biden with this response:

PALIN: There have been times where, as mayor and governor, we have passed budgets that I did not veto and that I think could be considered as something that I quasi-caved in, if you will, but knowing that it was the right thing to do in order to progress the agenda for that year and to work with the legislative body, that body that actually holds the purse strings.

So there were times when I wanted to zero-base budget, and to cut taxes even more, and I didn’t have enough support in order to accomplish that.

But on the major principle things, no, there hasn’t been something that I’ve had to compromise on, because we’ve always seemed to find a way to work together. Up there in Alaska, what we have done is, with bipartisan efforts, is work together and, again, not caring who gets the credit for what, as we accomplish things up there.

And that’s been just a part of the operation that I wanted to participate in. And that’s what we’re going to do in Washington, D.C., also, bring in both sides together. John McCain is known for doing that, also, in order to get the work done for the American people.

The message: I’ve had to compromise with opponents on budgetary issues, but only grudgingly, and not without a fight.  That’s not a bad answer, but she missed the opportunity to talk about the Ketchikan Bridge earmark, aka the Bridge to Nowhere.  She could have used that opportunity to talk about the corrosive nature of earmarks, how she learned first-hand the potential for waste and fraud, and finish by reminding voters that Biden and Obama voted to support that earmark — twice.

But if Palin just missed an opportunity, Biden managed to step all over Obama’s message of getting past ideology and working across the aisle.  Ifill’s question seemed designed to have Biden explain his vote to support the war in Iraq as a mistake in light of the Bush administration’s handling of the war, etc etc, and how he would never do that again.  Instead, Biden emphasized his decades-long presence in Washington with an anecdote about how he learned to be even more ideological regarding judicial nominations:

BIDEN: Yes, I can. When I got to the United States Senate and went on the Judiciary Committee as a young lawyer, I was of the view and had been trained in the view that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee appointed, suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, had not committed a crime of moral turpitude, and was — had been a good student.

And it didn’t take me long — it was hard to change, but it didn’t take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

And so that — that — that was one of the intellectual changes that took place in my career as I got a close look at it. And that’s why I was the first chairman of the Judiciary Committee to forthrightly state that it matters what your judicial philosophy is. The American people have a right to understand it and to know it.

But I did change on that, and — and I’m glad I did.

Biden managed to hit every hot button in this answer to alienate centrists, independents, and undecideds.  Not only does he talk about ideological litmus tests for confirming judges to the federal bench, he brags about it.  In fact, his original position matches what most Americans believe the Senate’s scope in confirmations should be – whether judges have the competence to fulfill the roles to which the President appoints them.  Biden instead manages to encapsulate everything that has gone wrong in the confirmation process, and delights in the damage he caused.

Moreover, it hardly reflects well on Obama’s themes of post-partisanship and consensus-building.  Biden’s answer specifically rejects that.  He says the most important lesson he’s learned from being wrong is that he wasn’t ideological enough, and that he should be more partisan in his approach to the judiciary.  It’s so far off message that it simply can’t be reconciled with the ticket.

And if that’s the greatest lesson Biden’s learned in 36 years in Washington, that says volumes about Biden and Washington.


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Excellent point! And one of the more scary possibilities of an Obama presidency.

AeroSpear on October 3, 2008 at 11:44 AM

Not only is his answer awful for what it represents, but seriously, that was what came to mind? How he’s changed his mind about choosing judges? Nothing else?

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Anna on October 3, 2008 at 11:45 AM

why hasn’t mccain/palin framed the debate to be ‘lawyers’ vs. mavericks? obama and biden are both lawyers, right? neither mccain nor palin have law degrees, right? it’s a no brainer. everyone loves lawyer jokes.

DrW on October 3, 2008 at 11:46 AM

everyone loves lawyer jokes.

DrW on October 3, 2008 at 11:46 AM

Why don’t sharks eat lawyers? Professional courtasy.

I love lawyer jokes. : )

Anna on October 3, 2008 at 11:48 AM

and Biden is a lawyer that doesn’t even know what the Constitution says about the Vice Presidency

jp on October 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM

To be “borked” is no honor, his attack on Bork led to a whole new way of deciding appointments…that is you attack them personally; professional abilities, performance, intellect, judgment, all out the window because of Biden and his ilk on Bork. He ushered in the attitude that to get rid of someone, the easiest way is to attack him personally for things completely unrelated to the job.
They tried it with Clarence Thomas and it failed, they are trying it with Palin and it will fail, they did it to Hillary this time and it worked, this is nothing to brag about, it was the beginning of the huge split between Dems and Republicans…he took it to the gutter, and made everything personal.
You can put lipstick on an attorney and he is still Barney Frank…

right2bright on October 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM

This is a good example of WHY we change our minds over who won the debate and WHAT did they really say?

Fausta has 15 lies Joe Biden told…

Ifill wouldn’t be able to call him on them even IF she wanted to….

originalpechanga on October 3, 2008 at 11:50 AM

VDH had a column recently saying if you “really want change”, quit electing Lawyers to Washington.

it was good, he should work for McCain

jp on October 3, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Palin was perfect. The only thing I would have liked her to bring up, was when Obama said Iran was not a threat to us.
That would have been the perfect “foot on the throat” moment.

JellyToast on October 3, 2008 at 11:50 AM

I think we need a kitchen table debate. If any of you have mixed marriages (Dems and Repubs) you know what I’m talking about:
No moderator. Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin argue out their positions over a nice dinner while America watches. No time limits, nothing off limits, let them go and let us hear what they really think. And then, and this is an important part:
no spin allowed after, no talking head postmortem of what we had just witnessed. Fade to black or give the sports scores.
Who’s with me?

Doug on October 3, 2008 at 11:53 AM

Biden’s answer was complicated as well as wrong, Palin’s answer was simple to understand in contrast.

Mcguyver on October 3, 2008 at 11:54 AM

Biden managed to hit every hot button in this answer to alienate centrists, independents, and undecideds.

Ed, just curious. How many “centrists, independents, and undecideds” do you think come visit here at HA? Or, other like blogs? How many of those same folks do you think even picked up on his answer to make a difference in the vote?

Just wondering.

Over.

1GooDDaDDy on October 3, 2008 at 11:54 AM

Poster boy for judicial-confirmation gridlock.

Of course, if Obama wins this thing and the Dems expand their majority in the Senate (both of which are increasingly predicted by the polls) there will be no judicial confirmation gridlock.

factoid on October 3, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Great call, Ed. Both in the lost opportunity for Palin on the Bridge to Nowhere, and in Greasy Joe’s bragging about creating a litmus test in his mind about Federal judicial appointments.

+1

Jaibones on October 3, 2008 at 11:55 AM

That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, Palin didn’t have a chance to rebut this in the debate, and she might be too young to remember this sad episode in history.

But Biden did “step in it” here, bringing the question of Supreme Court picks (which was not otherwise mentioned in the VP debate) back into the overall presidential campaign.

McCain also was in the Senate during the Bork confirmation battle, and should bring this up as a campaign issue FOR judges who respect the Constitution and don’t legislate from the bench.

Steve Z on October 3, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Ed, I’m glad you explained this, it makes much more sense, listening to this last night, my eyes sort of glazed as Biden went into his lawyer mode.

4shoes on October 3, 2008 at 11:56 AM

why hasn’t mccain/palin framed the debate to be ‘lawyers’ vs. mavericks? obama and biden are both lawyers, right? neither mccain nor palin have law degrees, right? it’s a no brainer. everyone loves lawyer jokes.

DrW on October 3, 2008 at 11:46 AM

I’m one…and you’re absolutely right. For good measure, McCain-Palin should tee off on Obama-Biden for the enormous financial support that O-B receive from the plaintiffs’ bar. In fact, The Wall Street Journal had an editorial this week about how plaintiffs’ lawyers are flocking to Delaware courts as the new jurisdiction of choice for favorable tort settlements–with Biden’s son greasing the wheels.

For some reason, middle-class working stiffs can’t figure out what a plague large settlements and verdicts have on many employers. Fair compensation is one thing; boondoggles for lawyers is an entirely different matter.

Another issue that should appeal to the middle 20%.

BuckeyeSam on October 3, 2008 at 11:56 AM

Is it possible to care too much? Then, yes, I am guilty as charged.

andycanuck on October 3, 2008 at 11:57 AM

You can put lipstick on an attorney and he is still Barney Frank…

right2bright on October 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Ha ha ha! …. Ewwww yuk!

4shoes on October 3, 2008 at 11:58 AM

Uh-oh. CNN changes transcript for debate. Most trusted name in business, Yeah right??!??

ConservativePartyNow on October 3, 2008 at 11:59 AM

Beyond Bork, Biden was in on the Clarence Thomas mugging. I’d love to see an ad where Biden and Obama are stating their position on Thomas.

BuckeyeSam on October 3, 2008 at 11:59 AM

You can put lipstick on an attorney and he is still Barney Frank…

right2bright on October 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM

I’m simultaneously repulsed by and laughing at that comment! Bravo!

Brat on October 3, 2008 at 12:01 PM

The one thing that just killed me that came out of Biden’s mouth was when he made comment about taxing people who made over $250,000.00 because it was a fair thing to do. WTF!?!

Go to college, work hard, climb the ladder, and you have to pay taxes because its whats fair? Its like you’re being penalized for being successful. Unacceptable.

mindhacker on October 3, 2008 at 12:01 PM

Not only is his answer awful for what it represents, but seriously, that was what came to mind? How he’s changed his mind about choosing judges? Nothing else?

Anna on October 3, 2008 at 11:45 AM

Disagree. I don’t fault him for that, if he honestly feels that way, and I suspect he does.

I think it opened up a clear window into his tortured view of governance. As Ed noted – he thinks that being an effective and responsible Senator means taking an ideological and partisan view on the confirmation of Federal judicial appoinments, and I suspect on every other aspect of working across the aisle.

He is a rank partisan, and proud of it. This will give Americans hope, and bring about “Change We Can Believe In”, in the view of Greasy Joe Biden.

Jaibones on October 3, 2008 at 12:01 PM

I agree. Turn lawyers into a joke like community organizers

lodge on October 3, 2008 at 12:02 PM

Umm…Well it didn’t seem to me that Biden had changed his mind about confirming judges. He basically said that he became more determined to rev up the witch-hunt on these guys/gals when going through the confirmation process.
It didn’t sound like he had changed his mind about anything AT ALL.

Badger40 on October 3, 2008 at 12:02 PM

DrW has made and excellent point and since the lawyer grouping is in the tank for the most part for Obama, it would indeed be a good way to describe the McCain ticket!

I believe the Obama campaign has made a colossal mistake by asserting Sarah Palin is running for President too. They and their lackeys are incessantly hammering home to the American public that she could not hold a candle to BIden, or the possible role of President. What they have under estimated is that with the state of things in Washington, and what Biden said above, the average American voter would much rather have a hockey Mom as President than anyone remotely resembling Gaffetastic Joe or the political machine from IL, Obama. Railing against Bork IS what torches most people because WE DO want our Constitution adhered to, and WE DO want our laws obeyed without some lunacy from the 9th Circus or those that closely resemble that lot who are in judgeships all over this nation.

His answer also brought to mind all those federal judges waiting to be approved by the Senate, and the stonewalling the Democrats have performed in order to keep good justices from working for justice FOR THE PEOPLE. There is a log jam out on cases that are languishing because there are not enough judges. And ultimately what we see by looking at this example is that Democrats are by far the party least likely to reach across the aisle, and are NOT bipartisan. They do not have the best interest of Americans at heart and do not care about justice being administered.

freeus on October 3, 2008 at 12:03 PM

Biden sucked. You could see how he was upset, to the point of pouting. Sarah was getting upset to the point you could see her muscles in her jaw strain.

Biden is just another empty suit.

upinak on October 3, 2008 at 12:05 PM

Biden’s bullshit about learning from Mike Mansfield to never judge a person certainly contrasts dramatically with his rancid personal attacks on Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

rockmom on October 3, 2008 at 12:06 PM

McCain loves to talk about judges. I’m sure he will be all over this is his next debate, especially given Obama’s terrifying remarks to Planned Parenthood last year about his judicial philosophy.

rockmom on October 3, 2008 at 12:08 PM

I was unable because of work restraints to watch the debate last night. Have seen bits and pieces of it on the news programs and youtube. Was this question representative of the rest of the debate? Was Gwen Ifil (doesn’t that sound like an accessory for my Mac) fair and balanced, or was she biased in any way?

Tommy_G on October 3, 2008 at 12:09 PM

Jaibones on October 3, 2008 at 12:01 PM

Badger40 above said it much better than I.

I give up trying to comment and dance with the kids at the same time.

Anna on October 3, 2008 at 12:10 PM

Tommy_G on October 3, 2008 at 12:09 PM

Other than the fact that energy independence, gun control etc weren’ talked about at all, not really.

Maybe it was my perception, but Biden seemed to get the last word in a lot more often than Palin did.

lorien1973 on October 3, 2008 at 12:11 PM

q. cali has the most lawyers, jersey the most toxic waste dumps. why?

a. Jersey got first pick!!!

/all-time fave lawyer joke …

Buckaroo on October 3, 2008 at 12:11 PM

I am a Plaintiff’s attorney (for the most part) and I am not flocking to Obama/Biden….and I sure hope I look nothing like Barney Frank when I wear my lipstick.

That said, I was appalled by Biden’s answer to this question – perhaps more shocked than appalled. Yes I do believe there is something to be said about a jurist’s ideology – for me, the thought of Obama appointing Supreme Court justices and skewing the court to the left makes me nervous. There is some merit in ascertaining whether a potential jurist is a strict constructionist or whether he/she believes that the Constitution is a living and breathing document which should be continually reinterpreted to fit current times. But an ideology-based litmus test???? No thank you (that also goes for appointing a conservative jurist based strongly on his/her position on abortion).

HawaiiLwyr on October 3, 2008 at 12:13 PM

I couldn’t believe it when he said that. I was texting a friend in the hospital that couldn’t watch it and her comment was that he showed his true colors!

Ann on October 3, 2008 at 12:13 PM

Ron White said it best… “You can’t fix stupid”.

CC

CapedConservative on October 3, 2008 at 12:18 PM

To be “borked” is no honor, his attack on Bork led to a whole new way of deciding appointments…that is you attack them personally; professional abilities, performance, intellect, judgment, all out the window because of Biden and his ilk on Bork. He ushered in the attitude that to get rid of someone, the easiest way is to attack him personally for things completely unrelated to the job.
They tried it with Clarence Thomas and it failed, they are trying it with Palin and it will fail, they did it to Hillary this time and it worked, this is nothing to brag about, it was the beginning of the huge split between Dems and Republicans…he took it to the gutter, and made everything personal.

right2bright on October 3, 2008 at 11:49 AM

Exactly. Palin should take this answer on the campaign trail, detailing how Biden’s opposition to Bork for purely idealogical reasons (and not on qualifications) by attacking them personally helped define the term “To Bork” someone.

She should point out how the DEMs and the MSM are doing the exact same thing to her, then look straight into the camera and say “America… I will not be borked.”

AverageJoe on October 3, 2008 at 12:25 PM

freeus on October 3, 2008 at 12:03 PM

Well said.

4shoes on October 3, 2008 at 12:27 PM

Doug on October 3, 2008 at 11:53 AM

That would be amazing, but it will never happen.

I believe the French had something close to this in their last election. It was the two leading candidates sitting at a small table debating the issues. The opposition candidate was a woman that had continuously pushed the meme of Sarkozy having a dangerous temper. During the debate, he stayed calm and kept calling her on misstated facts, mispeaks and outright lies. She got very upset and lost her temper. In the postmortem, a lot of French analysts said that’s when Sarkozy cemented his win. [FYI, this is an old memory and was from articles in US newspapers, so I fully acknowledge that I probably only have part of the story.]

US candidates would never go for that. They prefer to haggle over all the debate details and stick to the smallest number of debates possible (for the most part). The debates are orchestrated by both sides to limit the amount of damage they can do to themselves. It will be a long time before we ever see an open format ‘kitchen table’ type debate in the U.S.

JadeNYU on October 3, 2008 at 12:28 PM

I love lawyer jokes. : )

Anna on October 3, 2008 at 11:48 AM

What’s the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?
One’s a muck eating bottom dweller. The other is a fish.

What do you call 10,000 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean?
A good start.

MarkTheGreat on October 3, 2008 at 12:36 PM

Ed, just curious. How many “centrists, independents, and undecideds” do you think come visit here at HA? Or, other like blogs? How many of those same folks do you think even picked up on his answer to make a difference in the vote?

1GooDDaDDy on October 3, 2008 at 11:54 AM

A good reason to make a commercial out of this answer, along with an explanation of why it is so wrong.

MarkTheGreat on October 3, 2008 at 12:39 PM

I agree. Turn lawyers into a joke like community organizers

lodge on October 3, 2008 at 12:02 PM>>>

But not until it is first made known to everybody in this nation that it was Obama’s lawyer work as a community organizer with ACORN that started this subprime mess – forcing banks to give loans on the basis of race rather than on the basis of financial risks that would then be guaranteed by tax dollars through FM/FM.

We can make jokes about community organizers and lawyers, but in real life they can be as funny as a heart attack.

It is also lawyers who made sure that infanticide of abortion survivors of any age will NEVER be prosecuted in IL (unless BAIPA was passed). See the Herbst-O’Malley Agreement where the State of IL agreed not to enforce the born-alive parts of their abortion law in return for lawyers not filing any more lawsuits about it.

justincase on October 3, 2008 at 12:47 PM

i remember this.

later after saying,

I was of the view … that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee … suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, had not committed a crime of moral turpitude, and had been a good student. …but (i) realize(d) that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference. That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork.

…he has the unchecked cynisism to say…

That’s the fundamental change Barack Obama and I will be bring to this party, not questioning other people’s motives.

eh on October 3, 2008 at 12:48 PM

F Kübler-Ross. They are simply stuck on stupid.

TheBigOldDog on October 3, 2008 at 12:51 PM

Excellent post, Ed! I told my husband last night as he spouted that highly partisan rhetoric that he wasn’t going to be making a lot of friends on the other side of the aisle with that one.

It is down-right frightening to think of Obama and a democrat controlled congress promoting judges to the SCOTUS.

This emphasizes the importance people of getting out there and working for a McCain/Palin win! Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer.

ConMom on October 3, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Here is where McCain can really kill in the next debate. The whole era of hyper-partisanship and politics of personal destruction began with the nomination of Robert Bork. Palin was too young then to have plausibly talked about it last night, but McCain was there and saw it all. And Obama voted against both Roberts and Alito.

rockmom on October 3, 2008 at 5:11 PM

So many comments, so few buzz ups. Please people don’t forget to buzz the story if you like it. The button is right there at the end of the post. The Huffs and other Dem sites are dominating social sites like digg, yahoo buzz and technorati. We should change that.

arma_virumque on October 3, 2008 at 5:58 PM

Gotta throw in one more lawyer joke:

Q: What do you call a dozen lawyers buried up to their necks in cement?

A: Not enough cement

theregoestheneighborhood on October 3, 2008 at 11:00 PM