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Biden Says He's Best Prepared, Stumbles When Talking on Schools


Biden speaking to Iowa voters earlier this month. (AP).

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.'"

--Shailagh Murray

By Washington Post editors  |  October 24, 2007; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Joe Biden  
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Comments

"Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) asserted that he is more prepared to be president than any other candidate."
OOOO. "Pride cometh before the fall and a haughty spirit before destruction." Tsk tsk. Hes on rollar skates and going to fall any min.I strongly suggest you change the attitude Mr.Biden. I admire your self confidence, but don't overdo it.

Posted by: navarrjj | November 16, 2007 8:00 PM | Report abuse

So why is Shailagh Murray so eager to spin Biden's comments as a "stumble," without putting it into the context of the rest of what he said? Biden's 100% NAACP voting record and 30-year history of advocating for civil rights would seem to suggest that he is not a racist. Did Murray follow up and ask whether he meant what she now reads into what he said? Apparently not. Could it be that he was pointing out the obvious--that race and economic discrimination are linked, and that kids in inner-city D.C. might not get the same resources as kids in suburban Des Moines?

Shailagh Murray practices gotcha journalism when her subject is a Democrat (Joe Lieberman excepted). She is not alone in that at the Post. After interviewing Hillary Clinton and seizing on a few of her words to make a "point" that her full statement did not support, the Post felt obliged to put up a transcript of her interview because of the criticism.

Joe Biden is right. Half of the education gap exists before a child comes to school. That is why he has proposed an education plan to address it. The details of that plan are of no interest to Ms. Murray, but they should be.

Posted by: snelson648 | October 28, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Joe has my vote. America needs to wake up and look at who the real best candidate is.

Posted by: soonerthought | October 28, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

This was not an issue until the media made it one. There have been major "missteps" by several candidates recently that warrant attention. This was not one of them. Everyone knows what Senator Biden was saying, but the Washington Post had to take one portion of his speech and distort it.

This is very disappointing and the headline was misleading.

Posted by: psegatto | October 28, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

What I don't understand - is what Biden said that could be interpreted as racist?

What he said is a fact. Just google 'minorities and education'.

Calling Biden a racist for standing up for equality in education makes me question the education of the people that are trying to make something out of absolutely nothing.

Posted by: jillcinta | October 28, 2007 2:28 AM | Report abuse

I think Joe Biden is the most experienced candidate of either party. His Foreign Relations experience is invaluable and just what is needed for America at this time. He fights for working Americans in every vote in the Senate.

He is not the "focus-grouped, on-message 24/7" candidate and that is refreshing. His confidence to speak openly and honestly comes from 35 years of experience.

The Presidency is about getting things done through Congress. What better candidiate than one who knows it inside-out? I thought his recent book should have been titled "The Audacity of 30 years Experience"!!

Des
www.IrishForJoe.org

Posted by: roscomain | October 27, 2007 6:07 AM | Report abuse

I don't think Biden is a racist. It is just that his mouth somethings puts out stuff before his brain has time to edit it.

He was noting that Iowa had higher test scores than the DC school system because of family income, family status, education of parents and other socioeconomic factors unrelated to racial characteristics.

It is pretty obvious that he does not believe that Iowa scores better in tests because they have fewer blacks. If he was a racist he would not have been able to be re-elected to the Senate four times.

We should really give the candidates more a break when they mispeak as we all do from time to time.

Posted by: danielhancock | October 26, 2007 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Ah yes, here we go again...MSNBC with nearly "BREAKING NEWS" about Joe Biden's racist comment while speaking about education. Months go by with not a mention of his candidacy and yet one comment is newsworthy. How unfair is this election process where one or two are bolstered by coverage every single hour on MSNBC? Do we really want more of this Bush-Clinton never ending scenario or should we nominate a person of experience and intelligence and humility like Joe Biden? I may write in his name if that is my only choice.

Posted by: rapoportjerry | October 26, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

For 35 years the press has always tried to make some statement by JRB more than it is. If he is so inappropriate, how did JRB manage to get to the top of the foreign policy leadership? How did he manage to meet with more world leaders representing our government (not as first lady)than any other candidate? How did he manage to to be a respected leader in causes of civil rights, violence against women, and crime prevention? How come he is the only true leader in solving the war in Iraq?

During the thirty five years has his talkative personality caused any significant national or international policy mishap? Of course not. Joe Biden is clearly the best prepared candidate for president.

To call his recent statements a "misstep" is a gross exaggeration and a media creation. The Washington Post should focus on the truth on issues that matter to Americans----Iraq, Iran, Health Care , Education, and the Economy among others. Does Joe's "misstep" truly a worthy of news story?The Washington Post need not stoop to level of Rupert Murdock. The Post should be above that level of journalism.

Posted by: mitchtheg | October 25, 2007 9:21 PM | Report abuse

For 35 years the press has always tried to make some statement by JRB more than it is. If he is so inappropriate, how did JRB manage to get to the top of the foreign policy leadership? How did he manage to meet with more world leaders representing our government (not as first lady)than any other candidate? How did he manage to to be a respected leader in causes of civil rights, violence against women, and crime prevention? How come he is the only true leader in solving the war in Iraq?

During the thirty five years has his talkative personality caused any significant national or international policy mishap? Of course not. Joe Biden is clearly the best prepared candidate for president.

To call his recent statements a "misstep" is a gross exaggeration and a media creation. The Washington Post should focus on the truth on issues that matter to Americans----Iraq, Iran, Health Care , Education, and the Economy among others. Does Joe's "misstep" truly a worthy of news story?The Washington Post need not stoop to level of Rupert Murdock. The Post should be above that level of journalism.

Posted by: mitchtheg | October 25, 2007 9:20 PM | Report abuse

It is only a "stumble" according to the modest opinion of the journalist. As a regular reader, it is disappointing that the Washington Post stoops so low in trying to assemble such rubbish. It is no secret that hispanic minorities have a hard time, educationally, financially, socially, mainly due to long-hour working parents with nonoptimal knowledge of english. It is also not a secret that large percentages of black americans are struggling economicaly. One factor in that is the racism of employers, who have IRONICALLY been fought tooth and nail on the civil rights table by politicians like Sen. Biden since 1973.

Do read about Biden. There are good long videos on youtube, (e.g. one with ABC's This Week with George Stephanoupoulos). I hope we wake up, and realize his great abilities compared to the others. Not only as the able politician, but also as the humble, strong principled man he is.

Posted by: D987789 | October 25, 2007 8:04 PM | Report abuse

It is only a "stumble" according to the modest opinion of the journalist. As a regular reader, it is disappointing that the Washington Post stoops so low in trying to assemble such rubbish. It is no secret that hispanic minorities have a hard time, educationally, financially, socially, mainly due to long-hour working parents with nonoptimal knowledge of english. It is also not a secret that large percentages of black americans are struggling economicaly. One factor in that is the racism of employers, who have IRONICALLY been fought tooth and nail on the civil rights table by politicians like Sen. Biden since 1973.

Do read about Biden. There are good long videos on youtube, (e.g. one with ABC's This Week with George Stephanoupoulos). I hope we wake up, and realize his great abilities compared to the others. Not only as the able politician, but also as the humble, strong principled man he is.

Posted by: D987789 | October 25, 2007 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Sawargos, you should be ashamed from spewing that kind of misinformed hate speech. You mock his hair issue when the man had several surgeries to deal with brain aneurysms while not mentioning the changing dues of Hillary or Edwards $400 cuts. You speak of his state's antebellum views when he first ran to further the Civil Rights movement. You then try to bring up a bad memory with the 1988 campaign. He used Neil McKinnock(idiot, get it right) frequently and once forgot to attribute him--a quote he used often. Dukakis's aide brought it up and Dukakis later fired him for it. Because of that we ended up with an unelectable candidate and had to suffer through Bush I. Do you want to suffer through another Republican administration? Well then Dems, we better nominate Joe Biden.

Posted by: willey | October 25, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Lighten up on the Senator from Hairweave, you guys! Not only is he faithful to his state's antebellum views, he obviously lifted those words from Neil Kinnock!

Posted by: sawargos | October 25, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

What a joke. Joe Biden is the farthest thing from a racist, and the media knows it!! For Gods sake, one of the biggest reasons Joe Biden started in politics was because he wanted to help the Civil Rights Movement. He has the best civil rights voting record in the Senate. When this bunk comes up it makes me furious. I'm one person who's not going to stand by and let this man get slandered and misrepresented. In politics, when you see the slightest opening where you can spin reality to hurt someone else, people will do it. It makes me sick to my stomach. Joe Biden is the best candidate we have running today, and if you support the man don't let this ridiculous media attention sway you. Sure, the media reports this so called "stumble", but where are they when Joe Biden passes legislation that helps the American people and people around the world? NO WHERE! But if Hillary Clinton got her teeth cleaned, it be all over the news 24/7. Ridiculous.

Posted by: kad7777 | October 25, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

This is nothing more than an attention-getting headline. Joe Biden IS the most knowledgable and "real" of all the candidates, one who is able to rationally apprise all the issues facing our country, to provide solutions and knows how to work with others in Congress to achieve concensus. To accept the pie-in-the-sky promises of many other candidates and to vote for them is, an another commentator wrote, to get what you vote for, another incompetent. Joe Biden is the real thing: On all levels he's worthy of being President.

Posted by: elizabethjarrard | October 25, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

What's written above sounds vaguely Soviet, as if Biden were someone who'd momentarily strayed from Soviet ideology and who just needed to be corrected (rather than sent to Siberia).

Perhaps the WaPo would consider asking the candidates detailed questions about the flaws in their policies rather than simply seeking to play ThinkProgress-style gaffe games.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | October 25, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

As a Canadian who follows American politics very closely, I have to wonder where in God's name Americans stand by not supporting people like Joe Bidon or Chris Dodd more than is being evidenced. One would think that after electing a catistrophic President like George Bush twice now, that lessons would have been learned. I truly believe that the current front running canidates of both parties do not have the experience or wisdom of people like Bidon or Dodd. However, they do have the money and this is where the American system fails it's people.

Posted by: odell.bob | October 25, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the comment by mark_in_austin that the country is not well served by the media's rush to crown Sen. Clinton as the Democratic nominee. I, too, believe that others who are running may have more to offer, but they are not getting fair consideration.

The political parties definitely need to reform the system for selecting the presidential candidates. Of course, it is too late to salvage this election cycle. Perhaps the parties need to have executive selection committees, chosen as impartially as possible, who will do in-depth analyses of the hopefuls before the most qualified are submitted to the voters in primaries.

Posted by: cpaustin408 | October 25, 2007 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I continue to send JB periodic small contribs.

I try not to become discouraged by polls and his inability to raise big bucks.

I try not to become gloomy when I read that Americans think HRC is "experienced".

Biden and Dodd are experienced and smart. Richardson is experienced and successful.
These three have worked across party lines, probably none so much as JB.

Obama is a bright constitutional law prof, who has surrounded himself with experience, and who has proven able to talk across party lines.

Yet press and polls anoint HRC, who does not compare well.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 25, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

An honest mistake by a man who has spent his lifetime fighting for Civil Rights. His first job was as a lifeguard at an all black pool and he couldn't reconcile why there had to be separate pools...elected to the Senate ousting a popular "good ol' boy" who fought against Civil Rights. He just picked up the endorsement of a former Richardson Co-Chair in South Carolina (who is African American) who commended Biden not only for his Plan for Iraq and Civil Rights career but for coming from a similar background being an Irish Catholic from the poor side of the tracks and facing discrimination himself, overcoming it and getting to where he is today, as the most qualified person running for President of these United States. (joebiden.com/southcarolina) has the words from Fletcher Smith. Let's hope Iowa pulls through for Joe, America needs him.

Posted by: willey | October 25, 2007 2:24 AM | Report abuse

While I, too, believe Biden is the most qualified of the candidates to be president, I would remind smheart that he first got elected by opposing busing students out of their district to achieve integrated schools. If you go back far enough into Maryland politics, Steny Hoyer was propelled by that issue, too.

Posted by: imaj5807 | October 24, 2007 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Biden slips on SCHOOLS?! Well sh*t....it's dejavu and 1978 all over again.
The man has always been a dyed in the wool CREEP.

Posted by: CM1515 | October 24, 2007 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Senator Biden IS the most qualified individual running for president.

Apparently, people like dbkiaer prefer to believe the ridiculous promises made by other candidates and pretend that those promises will actually be kept! There are two things I ask when I hear political promises: how are you going to pay for them? How are you going to get 218 Representatives, 60 Senators, and 5 Supreme Court Justices to agree with you?

Facts are facts and it is unfortunate that people fault a candidate who speaks them.

We deserve the government we vote for.

Posted by: risejugger | October 24, 2007 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Who cares? Biden the Plagiarist will never be President.

Posted by: dbkiaer | October 24, 2007 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Considering that the main (and continuing) reason for him entering into politics in the first place was for civil rights, I think some of his comments are taken too sensitively.
He is proud of were he stands on the racial issues and is very comfortable speaking his mind on the subject without the fear of oversensitivty many in the media and in politics posess.
Consider what he does in is current residence in Wilmington, DE, and his ongoing efforts on crime,drugs and education, and review the debate hosted by Tavis Smiley. He is the strongest proponent on many racial issues, especially the continuing uneqaul divide in education.

Posted by: smheart78 | October 24, 2007 7:07 PM | Report abuse

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