- Mark Twain
In the spirit of Twain's famous metaphor, Joe Biden is a mighty gifted sausage maker. The vice president is the man of the hour, the Obama administration's legislative deal-maker on the fiscal cliff and leader of forging gun-control legislation following the Newtown massacre. Biden is the LBJ of the Obama White House when it comes to dealing with Congress as that institution sinks ever deeper into an historic nadir of national trust.
Ever since he showed his political pugilistic skills with Paul Ryan in the VP debate following President Obama's dull performance in the first presidential debate, Biden has moved to a position reminiscent of Cheney's with George Bush.
"Joe" is always billed as an ordinary working class guy. On the campaign trail, the youthful 70-year-old flirtatiously nuzzles motorcycle mamas at lunch cafes. Last week, he amused the pundits by spouting corny jokes or wisecracks with everybody at a photo-shoot for new congress members being sworn in. As Maureen Dowd points out, the VP is comfortable in the halls of Congress and he is not afraid of letting his sub-conscious free-associate and have a little fun. He's the politician you'd like to have a beer with. Michael Smerconish on MSNBC gushed, "Praise Biden for showing how it's done, how to be a pol."
VP Joe Biden in the limelight December 31st
On the other hand, this would-be working-man-of-the-people was re-elected US senator from the Moneybags Corporate State of Delaware for over 36 years, a period known for the inexorable slow demise of labor unions. Ponder that for a while and you realize what a brilliant and accommodating man Biden must be.
Joe Biden has been making sausage for over a third of a century. Among his list of successes is the current Drug War and the current Counter-Terrorism War, both of whom are now interlocking to become one long, bi-partisan war without end. While Biden may scrap with Republicans, he is a classic Cold War Liberal in the Hubert Humphrey model, pushing moderately progressive legislation while reinforcing the pillars of imperial militarism and the burgeoning police-state that is post-9/11 America.
When Republican Senator Mitch McConnell -- for the past four years an unabashed obstructionist in the senate -- could no longer deal with Democratic Senator Harry Reid, Biden came to the rescue and huddled with McConnell. The two men have reportedly been friends for 25 years in the Senate. Thus, Biden was deemed McConnell's "best dancing partner" for making sausage late into the night. We are told the compromise they forged saved the nation from going over the fiscal cliff.
But maybe the cliff was really just a simple-minded metaphor cited so much it became reality in people's minds, an artificial boogie man to fear, something to avoid at all costs. Without a degree in economics and psychology and an appreciation for the absurd, it was hard to tell what really happened late New Years Eve when the nation was partying and tooting horns.
Had a triumphant President Obama finally beaten the Social Darwinist Tea Party Republicans into submission and won the day, or had he once again caved and given up the store for bi-partisan kumbaya? We won't really know until March, when the fiscal can they kicked down the road comes alive again with the debt-ceiling food fight Republicans seem to be planning. The other night on Fox News, Sean Hannity literally lectured Republican congress-members with bullet points on exactly what they should do to shut down the government.
Whatever really happened, Joe Biden was riding high. As he stood behind the President speaking at a White House podium about the fiscal cliff deal, he wore the smile of a cat who had just lunched on someone's pet bird.
In his 2007 memoir Promises To Keep, Biden waxes emotional on the warm relationship between Senators Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater, even though they were partisan opponents. Biden writes, "I mark the last days of Hubert Humphrey as the high point of bi-partisan decency in my career." He tells how Goldwater marched over to Humphrey who was dying of cancer but still determined to show up on the senate floor. Goldwater "envelope(d)" Humphrey with a long hug. They were both in tears. "They made no effort to hide it."
This is certainly very moving, but it suggests that Joe Biden is a man of the Senate and of the Politics of the Senate -- and not a man of the people. This sentimentality helps us ordinary people understand his relationship with Mitch McConnell and why they are such good sausage-makers together.
Mark Twain's metaphor for law-making
Biden quotes Humphrey saying this: " "The senate is a place filled with goodwill and good intentions, ". and if the road to hell is paved with them, then it's a pretty good detour.' " If Humphrey's metaphor is to make any sense, however, the "good intentions" of the Senate cannot be a "detour." The point of the metaphor is good intentions can lead to hell. I submit that that hell is what we're living through today: Unquestioned, bi-partisan, fiscally irresponsible, mostly-secret militarism accompanied by a highly partisan struggle in congress for the left-over domestic scraps. Another aspect of that partisan struggle is over what is the cause of the nation's grotesque deficit: Militarism or domestic Entitlements?
As Dave Lindorff from TCBH has pointed out, "The US is currently running a $1.3 trillion deficit (that) almost exactly matches the amount that is being spent annually on the US military, and on military/intelligence-related activities."
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