No one cares about Joe Biden’s gaffes except media and politicos
If you read my periodic columns in The Hill, you know I am a Joe Biden supporter. I believe that the former vice president is a decent, honorable man who possesses the right values for America and cares deeply about all people. I am certain he would restore rationality and decency to the American presidency. But I would write this column regardless of who I was supporting in the 2020 presidential election, because I believe it must be said.
Though I don’t have an estimated number, and I’m not sure if anyone really tracks this, there are thousands of us in America who closely follow politics on a daily basis. That includes members of the national media, and some in local media organizations, and those of us who make our living from politics. To us, gaffes by candidates are huge news; sometimes they wind up featured on the front page of newspapers. But often, average Americans don’t think that what we insiders consider a gaffe truly is a gaffe — or they really don’t care whether candidates are prone to gaffes.
An example of the former was when the media made a big deal about Biden saying, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” which he immediately corrected by saying, “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.” If you played an excerpt of his comments to an average voting-age American, he or she likely would say, “Okay, tell me what was wrong with that?” Yet, we political elites made a big deal about it.
The best examples of Americans not caring about gaffes can be found in the electoral success of Ronald Reagan, who was prone to telling stories that were confusing and often inaccurate, and George W. Bush, on whom we could count for at least a gaffe a week. As I recall, President Reagan carried 49 states in his landslide election, despite his many gaffes, and “W” twice was elected president.
When it comes to Biden — to use the hot phrase of the month — it’s “baked in” with the American people that he makes gaffes. They see it as a reflection of his passion, emotion and the fact that he doesn’t utilize prepared remarks when speaking publicly. It actually makes him appear genuine, authentic. And his gaffes are not outright lies; they’re likely the result of a faulty memory or some confusion about the facts.
If Biden becomes the Democratic Party’s nominee, let’s remember he would be running against a “Liar-in-Chief” who probably makes misstatements two or three times a week, at least. And just for contrast, compare Biden’s gaffe about the “poor kids” to President Trump’s performance on the Fourth of July, when he said: “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.”
Trump’s gaffe about taking “the airports” during the Revolutionary War was astounding. Though he blamed a broken teleprompter, we asked, is he the stupidest man ever to become President of the United State? But the president did not suffer any lasting consequences from his ridiculous statement. His approval rating didn’t deviate because gaffes simply don’t matter to the average voter.
And all of us smart, smug media members and politicos should face up to the fact that we are gaffe-prone, too.
Some people made a big deal when Trump said he was sorry about the “shooting in Toledo,” describing the tragedy in Dayton, and when Biden mentioned the “shooting in Houston” when he meant El Paso. But just before I began writing this column, I was watching MSNBC correspondent Garrett Haake, an astute political reporter, talk about Biden’s war story that the Washington Post said contains misstated facts. Haake signed off by saying, “Well, that’s the mood of the people here in Iowa” — but he was actually in South Carolina.
He later Tweeted: “I said I was in Iowa. I am in South Carolina. I have been for days. I will do this 100 more times before November 2020.” Were he the presidential candidate, you can bet his slip of the tongue would have made the front page.
Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Follow him on Twitter @GovEdRendell.