Big Joe Biden: Telling the truth with his foot in his mouth

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On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden attempted to explain why the much-ballyhooed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. The Stimulus) -- has failed to completely fix the American economy in the four months since its passage. Admitting that "We and everyone else misread the economy," Biden said that "there was a misreading of just how bad an economy we inherited." Biden noted that the package hasn't had time to work, and suggested that it is "premature" to discuss a second stimulus.

In some ways, Biden is the perfect person to make this announcement. Initially perceived as a liability, somewhere along the road to election, he morphed into the most valuable of all possible running mates: a truth-telling court jester. Littering his speeches with bizarre critiques of his own position on the ticket and statements that seemed to be thinly-veiled threats against his running mate, Biden appeared to be running a circus sideshow of his own. While Obama kept the focus on the shortcomings of the Bush administration, Biden seemed determined to keep attention riveted upon the failings of a potential Obama administration.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the polls. Even as pundits repeatedly questioned the wisdom of putting a Shakespearean fool on the ticket, Biden began to pay off. By repeatedly putting his foot right into the middle of whatever sensitive issue was on hand, he made it possible for the Obama ticket -- and, later, the Obama administration -- to directly address whatever 800-pound gorilla happened to be stalking them at any given time. A key example is the Hillary Clinton-as-Veep debacle: one could easily argue that Biden helped defuse this issue by addressing it by directly asking the same question that was running through everyone else's mind: why did he get tapped ahead of her?

This isn't to say that every Biden gaffe is similarly helpful. But, there are times when the Obama administration definitely benefits from the ability to raise the very questions that its critics are still trying to verbalize. With regard to the stimulus, there is a fundamental problem: How can Obama explain the time required by a long-term stimulus plan to an American culture has grown accustomed to instant gratification? On a standard timeline, the short lifespan of the stimulus plan hasn't been enough time to build a strip mall, much less engineer the kind of large-scale infrastructure projects that the plan seems to require. However, critics are already sharpening their knives, claiming that the program has failed to accomplish its aims.

In February, Biden wrote a memo to Obama, noting that the stimulus plan provided an unimaginable opportunity for corruption. In response, Obama put Biden in charge of ensuring that the money was spent properly, on projects that would be hard for Fox news to criticize. As surveys are increasingly showing impatience with the stimulus -- one claimed that 45 percent of respondents wanted to abandon it -- Biden has been tasked with justifying its apparently slow progress.

In this context, Biden's seemingly shameful admission could be very politically astute. On one hand, he has addressed the fact that the stimulus plan doesn't seem to be doing its job. On the other hand, his apparently ham-handed presentation has ensured that at least part of the coverage will be eaten up by discussion over whether or not Biden stuck his foot in his mouth again. Moreover, those who somehow manage to make it past the Vice President's questionable delivery may well get tripped up on his statement that the Obama administration "inherited" a bad economy. With pundits and analysts increasingly eager to blame Obama and Biden for the country's economic malaise, this should provide hours of fun argument.

In the meantime, the stimulus plan will just keep chugging along.
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