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: