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Biden's Contempt

5:37 PM, Oct 13, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Joe Biden showed us just why Washington isn’t working, why politics has become so nasty, why stalemate is the order of the day: The Obama administration have contempt of anyone who respectfully offers ideas that challenge theirs -- or would challenge them if given even the slightest consideration.

Joe Biden official portrait crop

That is what is important about what the ever-loyal New York Times describes as Vice President Biden’s “wide grin and aggressive demeanor” -- to be fair, they do mention “smirking” -- and Republicans see as rudeness, which is too mild a word for this occasion. Biden’s demeanor and his treatment of “my friend” Paul Ryan tell us why we are careening towards the fiscal cliff. Politics may not be beanbag -- the all-purpose excuse for television ads that skirt the truth and border on character assassination -- but neither is it supposed to be beanball, in which you behave in a way that prompts retaliation rather than reconciliation of competing views.

Biden showed that Democrats not only disagree with the Romney-Ryan views of the role of government in domestic and foreign affairs: They have utter contempt for such views, cannot even conceive of the possibility that the other side has a credible point of view, one that warrants thoughtful consideration and response rather than derision. That’s one reason President Obama did so poorly in the Denver debate: Certainty of his own virtue and wisdom relieves him of the necessity of considering the merit in the arguments of political opponents, and the structure of the White House shields him from criticism.

When faced with opposition his chosen battlefields have been venues in which the other guy never gets a chance to respond. Attack the Supreme Court when delivering a State of the Union speech; all the justices can do is sit there and take it. Don’t like Paul Ryan’s proposed reforms of Medicare? Invite him to a talk you are to give at a university, and then attack him from the podium -- a set-up in which no response is possible. Don’t like any of the proposals for modification of Obamacare? Don’t try to find some merit in them that might bring reluctant members of the opposition on-side, just muscle it through using a Senate majority and rather unusual procedural tricks.

And if even that seems too much like beanbag, issue executive orders: Don’t enforce laws to nab illegal immigrants; or dilute Bill Clinton’s signature achievement, welfare reform, by granting waivers although the law prohibits them; or effectively repealing a congressional act that gives workers an opportunity to prepare for impending lay-offs. The heir to Woodrow Wilson shares his predecessor’s view that the separation of powers and checks and balances are annoying relics of the very different era in which our Founding Fathers lived.

Biden’s eye-rolling, dismissive laughter and what all observers agree were smirks were his way of telling his opponent that the Obama administration finds opposition views worthy only of derision, and unnecessary to consider because we have the muscle to do as we damn please -- “We won,” as the president put it in his best Chicago-style hardball manner when negotiating with Republicans.

That’s why we are where we are. Of course Republicans seem stuck in their no-new-taxes rut: Any ideas they might have to offer as part of a compromise deal will produce smirks from the Vice President, distortions from the Senate Majority Leader, and “We won” from the President.

Anyone who is wondering about America’s future should consider just what our fiscal condition will look like with a man in the White House who thinks it’s “terrific” that his Vice President treated his opponent with unconcealed contempt. And anyone with a sense of history must be wondering whether Alfred E. Smith, the great, four-time Democratic governor of New York and presidential candidate in 1928 who was his party’s original “Happy Warrior”, is spinning in his grave as the title his affability earned him is passed on to a man whose debate smiles reflected no such thing.

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