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CloseReading: Are Joe Biden's "Gaffes" Accidental? Or Brilliant?

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Cross-posted from WhoWhatWhy

Who's the fool? Joe Biden--or us? I say us.

As you probably know, the other day, Vice President Biden got in a bit of trouble -- again. Speaking to an audience in southern Virginia that included hundreds of blacks, he said:

"Look at what they [Republicans] value, and look at their budget. And look what they're proposing. [Romney] said in the first 100 days, he's going to let the big banks write their own rules -- unchain Wall Street."

And then came the punch line...

"They're going to put y'all back in chains."

The reaction was immediate -- and huge. Biden's oopsies are as popular as Dan Quayle's two decades earlier. The media (including the influential Jon Stewart) had a field day with this remark, in part because any kind of perceived mis-statement by a famous person tends to get a rise out of the public and is a sort of welcome, effortless freebie.

With the vice president's latest, reactions varied. Some treated it as yet another gaffe by a famously gaffe-prone vice president. Others saw it as a deliberate if crude effort by Biden to fight his way back into the public eye just when the media was focusing all attention on his "opponent," Romney's newly announced running mate, Paul Ryan.

The GOP, including Sarah Palin as well as reliably supportive Fox News, however, tried to blame it on the Obama administration.

Here's Mitt Romney: "The White House sinks a little bit lower," he said. "This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like."

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Democrats and their own media allies attacked the Republicans for trying to make something out of it, and for trying to tie it to Obama.

But Obama did not actually disassociate himself from the remarks. He insisted the racial angle was accidental -- and the comments legitimate. In an interview with (appropriately enough) the program "Entertainment Tonight," the president said:

"We don't spend a lot of time worrying about the chatter and the noise and this and that. The country isn't as divided with gaffes or some stray remark as Washington is. Most folks know that's just sort of a WWF wrestling part of politics. It doesn't mean anything, just fills up a lot of air time."

And he explained in another interview (again, appropriately enough) with People magazine, that Biden was talking strictly about how consumers would suffer under GOP administration.

"In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that."


All this makes me wonder if something else is not going on. It makes me wonder if these remarks were intended to have the exact effect they did.

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Let me explain.

There is no question that Joseph Biden has a long history of putting his foot in his mouth. But the mere expectation that everything he says is accidental or ill-conceived also puts him in a good position to put out material that actually helps Obama. And it is not as if Biden is completely incapable of memorizing his lines -- or at least reading them off a teleprompter.

Maybe these most recent remarks were mistakes. But mistakes tend to come in debates, in response to questions, not in prepared speeches. And these seem to have been prepared remarks, a carefully calculated effort, as with all good speeches, to  create some theatre -- and to include at least one "hot" phrase that will get picked up by the electronic media. There is simply no point to having Biden speak to a live audience without considering how to multiply the ultimate audience by a factor of thousands.  And no point to having him speak at all unless he has some zinger that will appeal to news producers and headline writers.

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Considering how much of the black population of US... by Richard Pietrasz on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 2:28:47 AM
going on for a while, and not just for black peopl... by Jill Herendeen on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 1:53:00 PM
Biden's comment  "They're going to put y'all ... by Susan Santiago on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 9:28:17 AM
but I have always been a Biden fan.  (That's ... by Mary Pitt on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 11:25:19 AM
he spoke frankly to an audience he wanted to reach... by Michael Shaw on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 11:25:57 AM
I watched the video of Biden's speech.  The m... by Joan Wile on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 12:34:38 PM
I would still be yellin' and stompin'! "Tell it l... by Mary Pitt on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 1:07:00 PM
I read/heard Joe Biden's comments about chains to ... by Alex Howard on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 11:15:39 AM
Does it really matter what Joe Biden says? I had h... by Deborah Dills on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 6:05:57 PM
are not prospering due to the Democratic White Hou... by Mary Pitt on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 6:42:57 PM
Private Prisons Profit From Immigration Crackdown... by Deborah Dills on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 8:20:16 PM
the prison for profit is the main reason we have a... by Anuel Jackson on Friday, Aug 31, 2012 at 7:04:38 PM
You have got to be kidding! Do you really believe ... by Alex Howard on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 11:26:42 AM
Great article, but I can assure you that black peo... by Herbert Calhoun on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 6:29:29 PM
Herbert,Not sure if you ever check out Smiley and ... by Deborah Dills on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 8:02:55 PM
seemed to be primarily the product of the corporat... by John Sanchez Jr. on Saturday, Aug 18, 2012 at 10:44:51 PM
Thank you.... by Alex Howard on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 11:43:18 AM
...people in politics today.  I lean toward h... by JimZ on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 12:28:33 AM
Observe how sore the toes of Republicans when the... by Bill Dugan on Sunday, Aug 19, 2012 at 6:22:07 AM
Bill, I was truly enjoying your comment ... until ... by Alex Howard on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 12:07:17 PM
This is not the first time that Congress had stymi... by Mary Pitt on Monday, Aug 20, 2012 at 1:10:26 PM
Obama's war policies are his own, and not much dif... by Richard Pietrasz on Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012 at 6:32:46 PM