Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden was explaining the administration's efforts to work with local governments to distribute stimulus money. The law doesn't give the federal government the authority to force cooperation between states and municipalities, he said, but the administration was trying to—well, best to let Biden's statement speak for itself:
"I have not bent the law, but I have let imagination take hold in some places where I think it's consistent with the spirit of the law. … Is that the best way of saying that? Yes, … I should stop."
Thus did the vice president add another entry to the growing collection of Bidenisms. The precise definition of Bidenism, like a Bidenism itself, is murky. Some Bidenisms are the sort of miscellaneous verbal or policy gaffes that are made by every politician. But the best ones—the statements that are uniquely Bidenistic—exemplify the bluster, excess verbosity, and fake charm of dumb-politician stereotypes, yet they come from a seasoned politico who can also be clever and self-effacing. In general, Bidenisms have one or more of the following characteristics:
—They are awkward, inappropriate, or both.
—They are often followed by a self-deprecating joke, intended to placate anyone offended, which is just as cringe-worthy as the original statement.
—They frequently are self-aware—that is, the vice president knows he is committing a Bidenism as he says it.
Jacob Weisberg, author of the authoritative compilation of Bushisms, notes that George W. Bush's gaffes were often the result of unintentional incompetence, which made them endearing. They could make Bush seem like a lovable dimwit, a kind of presidential version of Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson. Biden's lapses are more akin to those of Michael Scott (who, like Biden, is a native of Scranton, Pa.). A statement becomes Bidenesque when his over-the-top attempts at folksiness fail. Unlike their distant cousins, Bushisms and Palinisms, Bidenisms generally stem more from arrogance or obliviousness than from difficulty with the English language or ignorance.
Today Slate inaugurates a new feature cataloging the vice president's Bidenisms. Whenever he says something that fits the definition—and the definition itself, remember, is subject to refinement—we'll record it here. Send your own nominations (with a link, please) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, here are some of our favorite Bidenisms, in no particular order:
''I exaggerate when I'm angry, but I've never gone around telling people things that aren't true about me.''—Responding in the New York Times to uproar over his telling a campaign event questioner that he was smarter than said voter (around that time he released a statement admitting much of what he had said about his academic record was not true), Sept. 21, 1987
"Since 1994 with the Gingrich revolution, just take a look at Iraq, Venezuela, Katrina, what's gone down at Virginia Tech, Darfur, Imus. Take a look. This didn't happen accidentally, all these things."—Blaming Republicans for having "wallowed in the politics of polarization," New York, April 19, 2007
"A successful dump!"—Explaining his whereabouts (dropping deadwood at the dump) to the reporters outside his home, Wilmington, Del., Aug. 20, 2008
"Stand up, Chuck, let 'em see you. … Oh, God love you! What am I talking about? I tell you what. You're making everybody else stand up, though, pal. … Stand up for Chuck!"—Telling Missouri State Sen. Chuck Graham, who is bound to a wheelchair, to rise at campaign event, Columbia, Mo., Sept. 9, 2008
"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. … She is qualified to be president of the United States of America, she's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America, and quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me."—Nashua, N.H., Sept. 10, 2008
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.' "—Revising history slightly in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, Sept. 22, 2008
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."—Discussing Barack Obama during an interview with the New York Observer, Feb. 4, 2007
"Am I doing this again? For the senior staff? My memory is not as good as Chief Justice Roberts'."—Mocking Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' botched effort to swear in Barack Obama as Biden was set to swear in White House senior staff one day after the Inauguration snafu (the president did not look pleased), Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2009
"I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. … When one person sneezes it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me. I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway."—Dispensing handy tips to protect against the swine flu in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, April 30, 2009
Click here to see video of Biden's comments. The Bidenism is at 2:36.
"You know, I'm embarrassed. Do you know the Web site number? I should have it in front of me and I don't."—Failing to remember name of the Web site Recovery.gov in an interview with CBS's Maggie Rodriguez to promote the Web site Recovery.gov, Feb. 25, 2009
"The truth is, we and everyone else misread the economy."—Contradicting own administration's economic message in an interview with ABC's This Week, July 5, 2009
Click here to see video of Biden's comments. The Bidenism is at 6:06.
"Barack Obama ain't taking my shotguns, so don't buy that malarkey. … I've got two, if he tries to fool with my Beretta, he's got a problem."—Issuing a warning at a campaign event, Castlewood, Va., Sept. 20, 2008
"Israel can determine for itself as a sovereign nation what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran or anyone else, whether we agree or not. … If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice."—Appearing to give Israel the green light to bomb Iran in interview with This Week, July 5, 2009
"They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years. They're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable."—Forgetting about the reset button with Russia in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2009
"A man I'm proud to call my friend. A man who will be the next president of the United States—Barack America!"—Springfield, Ill., Aug. 23, 2008
"You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."—Not joking around in C-SPAN's Road to the White House series, June 17, 2006
"All you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me, where I spend a lot of time."—Referring to one of his favorite hangouts, along with a restaurant that had been closed for more than a decade, during the 2008 vice presidential debate, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 2, 2008