Biden Says He's Best Prepared, Stumbles When Talking on Schools
In a lengthy interview with the Washington Post editorial board, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) asserted that he is more prepared to be president than any other candidate, disputed the notion that governors are better suited for the White House than senators and warned that Pakistan is a potentially bigger threat than Iran.
Biden also stumbled through a discourse on race and education, leaving the impression that he believed one reason so many Washington D.C. schools fail is the city's high minority population. His campaign quickly issued a statement clarifying that he meant to indicate the disadvantages were based on economic status, not race.
The senator acknowledged his penchant for excessive discourse at the outset of the session. "I say what I think," Biden declared. "There's a reluctance I think on the part of Democrats to just straightforwardly state where they are on some fairly controversial issues, because they think the American people are not prepared to, quote, take the medicine." (Hear an audio excerpt.)
The veteran senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said he was buoyed by a recent Des Moines Register poll suggesting that his support is creeping upwards -- although merely to 5 percent, from 3 percent in May. "My road to success is Iowa," Biden said. "It's the only level playing field left out there."
He complained of low name recognition -- despite his election to the Senate in 1972, his 1988 presidential campaign, and high-profile roles in a series of Senate showdowns, from the Robert Bork confirmation hearing to the ongoing debate over the Iraq war.
"The bottom line is that no one in the country knows me," Biden said. "They know Joe Biden if they watch Sunday morning shows. Or occasionally turn on C-Span. But absent that, they don't know much about me at all." Biden added, "If I were able to raise 50, 60, 70 million dollars, then things would be different."
But he argued that he is ready for the job, "more than anyone in either political party. I believe that. The question is, can I get others to believe it."
Will 2008 be the year that the Senate curse is finally broken? Biden thinks so. Without naming his Democratic competitor, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Biden said of his old friend, "Managing three million people qualifies you to go out and be president of a country with 300 million people? That's like saying I ran my lemonade stand but I can take over running McDonald's worldwide."
He added, "This may be the only time in modern American history where the skill set coming out of the United States Senate is more valuable than the skill set coming out of being a governor."
Despite all the buzz these days about global warming, Biden described "fissile material in the hands of bad guys" as "the most urgent immediate threat to human beings today. And we don't talk about it all... It's hard to get anybody's attention about it."
Which is why, he added, "I'm a hell of a lot more worried about Pakistan," which already has nuclear weapons, as opposed to Iran, which is still working on nuclear enrichment, a possible step on the way to developing nuclear weapons -- although Iran insists that's not its intent. "I wish we'd pay as much attention to Pakistan as the saber rattling we're doing with Iran," Biden said. (Hear an audio excerpt.)
After a lengthy critique of Bush administration education policies, Biden attempted to explain why some schools perform better than others -- for instance, in Iowa, as compared to Washington D.C.
"There's less than one percent of the population of Iowa that is African American. There is probably less than four of five percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with," said Biden.
"When you have children coming from dysfunctional homes, when you have children coming from homes where there's no books, where the mother from the time they're born doesn't talk to them -- as opposed to the mother in Iowa who's sitting out there and talks to them, the kid starts out with a 300 word larger vocabulary at age three. Half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom," Biden said.
The Biden campaign moved quickly to clarify the senator's remarks in a statement: "This was not a race-based distinction, but a discussion of the problems kids face who don't have the same socio-economic support system (and all that implies--nutrition, pre K, etc.) entering grade school and the impact of those disadvantages on outcomes."
In February, Biden was preparing to officially announce his White House bid when he had to explain a comment to the New York Observer about rival candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden told the newspaper.
He quickly apologized, telling reporters, "Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican Party has produced at least since I've been around...And he's fresh. He's new. He's smart. He's insightful. And I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the world 'clean.'"
Posted at 6:15 PM ET on Oct 24, 2007
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