D-I-S-Q-U-A-L-I-F-Y-I-N-G. That's what the behavior of former President Obama's Vice-President should be.
Imagine yourself a Democratic nominee aiming to win a seat on the town council and play a role in flipping the governing body from Republican to Democratic, only to learn that a fellow Democrat and former mayor has given a de facto endorsement to your opponent. You might not be amused.
Alexander Burns of The New York Times reports
Joseph R. Biden Jr. swept into Benton Harbor, Mich., three weeks before the November elections, in the midst of his quest to reclaim the Midwest for Democrats. He took the stage at Lake Michigan College as Representative Fred Upton, a long-serving Republican from the area, faced the toughest race of his career.
But Mr. Biden was not there to denounce Mr. Upton. Instead, he was collecting $200,000 from the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan to address a Republican-leaning audience, according to a speaking contract obtained by The New York Times and interviews with organizers. The group, a business-minded civic organization, is supported in part by an Upton family foundation.
Mr. Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans by praising Mr. Upton while the lawmaker looked on from the audience. Alluding to Mr. Upton’s support for a landmark medical-research law, Mr. Biden called him a champion in the fight against cancer — and “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.”
Mr. Biden’s remarks, coming amid a wide-ranging discourse on American politics, quickly appeared in Republican advertising. The local Democratic Party pleaded with Mr. Biden to repair what it saw as a damaging error, to no avail. On Nov. 6, Mr. Upton defeated his Democratic challenger by four and a half percentage points.
These words would be understandable at a farewell dinner for a member of Congress who had announced his retirement. Similarly, they would be understandable if Vice-President Biden were aggressively courting the congressman's vote for an initiative of President Obama (were President Obama ever to have fought aggressively for a progressive initiative). Instead, they were a de facto endorsement of Upton's re-election bid.
This did not go unnoticed. Eric Lester, chairperson of the Berrien County party during the midterms, said
he viewed Mr. Biden’s supportive remarks about Mr. Upton as a betrayal. Mr. Lester, who attended the speech, said he had confronted an aide to Mr. Biden in the hallway, telling him the former vice president had badly damaged the Democratic cause.
“It just gives Fred Upton cover and makes it possible for him to continue to pretend to be a useful, bipartisan fellow,” Mr. Lester recalled saying, adding, “I entered the hall with positive feelings about Mr. Biden and felt very frustrated.”
Frustration about a disloyal act is unavoidable. Still
Several people involved in planning the event said Mr. Upton, 65, had no role in arranging Mr. Biden’s appearance, and Mr. Upton said he was not involved. There is no evidence Mr. Biden was motivated to praise the lawmaker by anything other than sincere admiration, stemming from Mr. Upton’s role in crafting the 21st Century Cures Act after the death of Mr. Biden’s elder son, Beau, from cancer in 2015.
But Mr. Biden wants to be President and may seek the Democratic nomination for the office. A far better play would have been to praise Representative Upton at some other time and venue. He still would have expressed his gratitude, yet done so without undercutting his own party's candidate.
And Biden probably would have done that, had his sole purpose been to express his appreciation for a kind response to the death of the Vice-President's son. Evidently not, for
The greatest impact of Mr. Biden’s speech, however, was outside the lecture hall. His remarks about Mr. Upton ricocheted through Michigan’s Sixth Congressional District. Mr. Upton alluded to Mr. Biden’s praise in a debate with Mr. Longjohn the next day, and his campaign sent out a mailer stressing Mr. Upton’s bipartisan streak, including Mr. Biden’s description of him as “the reason we’re going to beat cancer.”
A business-backed Republican group, Defending Main Street, ran digital ads on Facebook showing a grinning Mr. Biden and the crucial quote — “Fred Upton is one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with” — above a mock version of the former vice president’s signature.
With Biden's help, Fred Upton, after facing "the toughest race of his career," won his 17th consecutive term in the US House of Representatives. His opponent, Matt
Longhohn, the former national health officer of the YMCA, said in an interview that he had been disappointed to see Mr. Biden “clap Mr. Upton on the back in an establishment political way.” He said his campaign had reached out to Mr. Biden’s staff through an intermediary, seeking to discuss his involvement in the race.
“There was nothing but silence,” Mr. Longjohn said. “We had just requested a phone call and there was no response.”
Longjohn was disappointed but should not have been surprised. Five female members of Congress in 1991 believed that Senate Judiciary chairperson Biden may not have shared their concerns about Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who appeared to have engaged repeatedly in sexual harassment. One of the women, Senator Pat Schroeder of Colorado, later recalled
We went to see Biden. And he literally kind of pointed his finger and said, you don’t understand how important one’s word was in the Senate, that he had given his word to [Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), Thomas’ chief sponsor] in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.
Joe Biden is still Joe Biden (Cenk Uygur's relatively generous take, below), tails you win, heads I lose Democrat. He should not be disregarded because he's an old, straight, non-Hispanic white male. He should be disqualified because Democratic voters must select a Democrat to run for President.