“I think maybe he has Parkinson’s,” said my wife as we watched the State of the Union address. She wasn’t referring to Barack Obama but the man sitting up on the dais behind him…the man with the fluorescently glowing teeth produced by the dentist applying power bleach of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide after the patient was hooked up to a dental tray.
Perched high above Obama’s right shoulder, Vice President Biden distracted from his boss’ performance, his hair jostling with the gesticulation. As senator from Delaware in his 40s, he started to lose his hair so he went to the same surgical hair-plug doctor that Bill Proxmire had visited and submitted to the procedure where grafts of hair follicles and scalp were painfully transplanted from one region of the head where the remaining hair is healthy to the bald spots on his pate.
As a corporate lobbyist for a company with some holdings in Delaware I started visiting Biden in 1973 when his hair was full, extending through 1976 when it started to turn sparse, all the way through 1991 (my last lobbying year) when it returned to the texture of new-mown turf.
“Look,” my wife said as his head jerked up and down. “Is that Parkinson’s or not?” Not just head bobbing but he was at the same time flashing his alabaster molars, grinning as if he was in on a private joke, the gesticulating matching every verbal nuance Obama was making, his head bouncing rhythmically to his boss’s rhetoric.
“All that happened,” Obama was saying, “before I walked in the door!” At that point Biden’s bobbing turned savage, undisciplined as the head twitching hit a dramatic crescendo.No, I said, that’s just Joe. He is ecstatic that 30 million are watching Obama talk and that he can get them to see him.
Head-bobbing on camera is harmless enough. What really was pitiable was when in a frenetic moment when as a candidate for president vying for the 1988 Democratic nomination he talked about his rise from poverty…abject poverty…where he worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania…struggled, got up at 4:30 every morning to study, becoming the first member of his family to go to college. The audience gasped. It was edifying.
Inspiring yes, but it wasn’t Joe Biden’s experience. It was Neil Kinnock’s, an oracular Laborite running for the House of Commons. Portrayed in a gripping film, Biden appropriated it for himself. He had been carried away by the script that he neglected to document wasn’t of his life. That episode of pathological resume misappropriation ended Biden’s presidential quest in 1987, a year before the skirmish really started. Before that he was asked by a person in a town-hall audience what his academic credentials were.
Biden took umbrage at the question and shouted, “I think I have a much higher IQ than you do!” He told the group “I went to law school on a full academic scholarship—the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship!” He added “I ended up in the top half of my class” He concluded “I graduated with three degrees from college.”
Not even remotely close. He graduated 76th in a class of 85. He later was dragged almost by the scuff of the neck to clarify and apologize via the media. His Syracuse Law School career was almost terminated when he submitted a paper in which he plagiarized from a law review article. After receiving a grade of F he was permitted to retake the course.
Biden had a tragedy in his life. Shortly after his election to the Senate in 1972, just 30 years old, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident and his two sons were seriously injured (he has since remarried to Dr. Jill Jacobs, an educator in Delaware public schools. Did this tragedy unhinge him and spur him to invent resumes and challenge a heckler to an IQ contest? No, a senate staff member told me, pleading for anonymity, that the tragedy didn’t do it. His boss was always goofy.
Goofy he is, without a doubt. Nevertheless Biden has led a charmed life because the supine media keeps his bumbling past as a closely held secret. Still stuff gets out. He’s supposed to be a foreign policy expert. He voted against the Persian Gulf war in 1991 but voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, although he later criticized the war. He voted against a timetable for troop withdrawal; indeed he demanded more troops for Iraq. The voting record is a crazy-quilt pattern of contradictions. Also although the media were compliant they couldn’t help reporting that he proposed dividing Iraq by giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis there own regions.
Somehow, unaccountably, Biden was picked by Obama for vice president. On the campaign trail as the nominee, he told Katie Couric that the nation needed a reassuring voice…like FDR’s when after the 1929 stock market crash when Roosevelt went on television to steady the populace. Couric recorded it dutifully. Later of course her researchers told her that FDR was not president in 1929, that television was not operative in 1929. The media didn’t give it much play, paying more attention to how dumb they felt Sarah Palin was.
But the Biden goofyness has gone on. In September 2008 at a mass rally Biden asked Missouri States Senator Chuck Graham to stand up. “Stand up, Chuck, let `em see you!” Then an aide rushed over to tell him that Graham was paralyzed. “Oh, God love you!” chortled Biden. “What am I talking about? I tell you what—you’re making everybody else stand up, though, pal. I tell you what: Stand up for Chuck!”
It never ends all the while Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Leno love telling stories about how dumb Republicans—usually conservatives—Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin et al are. During the 2005 Senate confirmation hearings for Justice (later Chief Justice) John Roberts, Biden, then chairman of Judiciary asked him this: “Can a microscopic tag be planted in someone’s body to track his every move? Can you rule on that?” Everyone looked perplexed and Biden changed his tack.
And whenever he gets tense he can enliven a speech with an exciting anecdote. In the last campaign he told an audience that his helicopter was “forced down” on…get this…”the superhighway of terror” by Afghan extremists. Actually snow forced the helicopter pilot to land and wait out a storm…When the budget deficit reached over $1 trillion under Obama for the first time in history, the vice president told an AARP meeting “Now people say, `What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’ The answer is yes. That’s what I’m telling you!”
Always a clutch hitter when crisis looms, Biden went on network television on April 30, 2009 to warn Americans to stay out of confined spaces such as subways and planes or they’ll catch Swine Flu. Public health officials had to rush to the media to douse the scare tactics. Reporters looked for Biden but he was nowhere to be found.
So with all these goofy things, on reflection it’s not so bad if all we get from Joe is with head-bobbing during Obama’s speeches. Considering him becoming president if something happened to Obama, observers credit the president with being astute in the selection of Biden as his Number Two. No one wants Obama to be endangered considering that the man who praised FDR’s TV speech in 1929…a statement Ms. Couric accepted as truth…succeeded to the presidency.______________________________
*: Feast of St. Francis de Sales [1567-1622]. Born in his family’s castle at Thorens, Savoy he became a bookworm and heavy-duty scholar, receiving his doctorate of laws at age 24, a record. His family’s connections could have got him a senatorship and lucrative law career but he nixed it all for the clergy, becoming one of the most talented missionaries in Church history. As a missionary in the Chablis, it was very tough duty because the populace was rebelling against the misconceived activities of the Duke of Savoy to impose Catholicism on them by force. Francis had to make clear to the Duke that being converted the old-fashioned way by persuasion and logic was the way to go.
Thus with magnificent reason and eloquence he became one of the great leaders of the Counter-Reformation, becoming Bishop of Geneva, founding schools, teaching catechetics and founding with Blessed Frances de Chantal the Order of the Visitation…members called the Visitandines. Two of his books are classics, “Introduction to the Devout Life” and “Treatise on the Love of God” which are still read today. His cause became the first beatification to be promulgated at St. Peter’s in Rome. He was made a Doctor of the Church in 1877 and is patron saint of the Catholic Press.