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Biden's Exaggerations

Inflating Obama's record will not resolve doubts.

2:30 AM, Aug 28, 2008 • By KARL ROVE
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THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION exposed the central defect of Senator Barack Obama's candidacy: the absence of compelling evidence he is up to the job of president. The exposé comes courtesy of a bad habit of his running mate, Senator Joe Biden. When in doubt, Mr. Biden exaggerates. And in the past week, he did a lot.

Voters expect candidates to embellish, but only so much. Go beyond acceptable stretching and a candidate may squander his most precious political possession: credibility. Mr. Obama may be on this perilous path.

Last Saturday, America heard Mr. Obama's new running mate exclaim, "I watch with amazement as he came to the Senate. I watch with amazement!" Mr. Biden's hyperkinetic praise is what we expect a running mate to offer his benefactor at the top of the ticket.

But Saturday and again Wednesday night, Mr. Biden also praised Mr. Obama for three specific legislative accomplishments. One of them was an ethics bill, called by Mr. Biden in his acceptance speech "the most sweeping in a generation." However, many critics--including Hillary Clinton--criticized it as weak. For example, under Mr. Obama's bill, lobbyists may buy politicians meals if they are eating standing up but not if they're sitting down. Mr. Obama's bill didn't ban privately funded travel for congressmen or authorize an independent investigation office. But Mr. Obama did help draft, negotiate, and push the legislation that passed. The other two supposed accomplishments are more problematic.

Saturday, Mr. Biden asserted Mr. Obama "made his mark literally from day one, reaching across the aisle to pass legislation to secure the world's deadliest weapons," a claim similar to one Mr. Obama made earlier in the campaign. Wednesday night, Mr. Biden was more expansive, claiming Mr. Obama was a leader "to pass a law that helps keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists." This implied a big, important controversial measure, passed with difficulty after the intervention of an extraordinary leader.

In reality, the Lugar-Obama Bill was passed on a voice vote on December 11, 2006. It was so routine, there was no recorded vote. The media didn't consider it important or controversial. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported its Senate passage, though the Post ran a 798-word op-ed by Senators Lugar and Obama the week before it was approved. It was not the subject of a story on the CBS, ABC or NBC evening news--not when it passed, not when it was signed, not ever. No story about it appeared in Roll Call or The Hill, the daily newspapers that cover the minutiae of Congress. It drew only one squib in Congressional Quarterly--and that story didn't mention Obama, just Lugar. The Bush administration supported it. The legislation required the administration to report to Congress within 180 days "on proliferation and interdiction assistance" to secure the mostly conventional weapons stocks littering the nations born from the collapsed Soviet empire. It created a new State Department office to support the Bush administration's "Proliferation Security Initiative" aimed at interdicting weapons of mass destruction and conventional weaponry. And the bill authorized $110 million in funding. But this legislation didn't require a profile in courage to co-sponsor or hard work and powerful persuasion to pass, as Mr. Biden implied.

Saturday, Biden proclaimed: "But I was proudest, I was proudest, when I watched him spontaneously focus the attention of the nation on the shameful neglect of America's wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Hospital." The problem for Mr. Biden (and the object of his praise, Mr. Obama) is the problems at Walter Reed were revealed in articles in the Washington Post, starting February 18, 2007. Unless Mr. Obama writes for the Washington Post under the nom de media of Anne Hull or Dana Priest, he didn't "spontaneously focus the attention of the nation." The two reporters did. The legislation to correct the shortcomings emerged from a Senate committee Mr. Obama doesn't serve on and he played no significant role in drafting or pushing it through the legislative. Mr. Obama is not the real hero of the Walter Reed turn-around, despite Mr. Biden's extravagant claims.