“If you were truly smart, you’d know that you are dumb,” explains the family patriarch to his ranch-hand son played by Will Ferrell in Casa de Mi Padre. If only Joe Biden’s dad had engineered such a head-to-head talk, America might not have to worry about a denizen of the left side of the bell curve serving as right-hand man to the president.
“I think I have a much higher IQ than you do,” Biden taunted a voter on the presidential campaign trail in 1987. Smart people don’t say things so stupid. Vain people, the kind who get hair plugs and fabricate academic honors, do. Like an honors student making it up as he goes along on an essay question, politicians can bluster and BS their way to brilliance.
Last week, after informing a Virginia audience that “with you we can win North Carolina again,” the vice president told a predominantly black audience that the Republicans plan to “put y’all back in chains.” The former served as 2012’s “Hello, Cleveland” Spinal Tap moment; the latter; its Ross Perot “You people” gaffe. By reaffirming Joe Biden’s place on the ticket, Barack Obama has doubled down on dumb.
Barack Obama’s first presidential decision foreshadowed subsequent presidential decisions. Selecting Biden, who ventured into politics directly from law school, demonstrated a lack of self-awareness from a presidential candidate whose paucity of real world experience rivals his runningmate’s. Biden claimed during his run for the 1988 presidential nomination, “I participated in sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie houses.” But he didn’t. Professors caught him plagiarizing in law school in the 1960s and the public caught him plagiarizing in politics in the 1980s. British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, former vice president Hubert Humphrey, slain New York Senator Robert Kennedy, and even an obscure legal scholar weren’t safe from his verbal larcenies.
“If I had intended to cheat,” he pleaded with the Syracuse law professors considering his expulsion, “would I have been so stupid?” The question may not be as self-serving as it initially appeared. Joe Biden makes Dan Quayle look like Albert Einstein.
America has become accustomed to the teetotaling vice president’s ongoing imitation of a wet-brained blowhard. “Stand up, Chuck, let ‘em see ya,” Biden implored a paralyzed politician at a 2008 rally. That same year, Biden told an Ohio audience that the top issue facing most voters was “a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs.” He told Katie Couric, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here’s what happened.” FDR wasn’t, you know, president when the stock market crashed, and television signals would not be picked up in American homes for years.
If Joe Biden had an “R” next to his name, pundits would be calling him “stupid,” an “idiot,” and a “retard.” We know this because that’s what they continue to call the last Republican vice presidential nominee for gaffes far less egregious than Biden’s.
“Sarah Palin is a f—ing retard,” Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert opined. “I’d like to see her on just a couple of episodes of Celeberity Jeopardy!,” Chris Matthews quipped on Hardball, “to just see if she knows anything.” Palin perhaps experienced schadenfreude when the TV talker placed last on Celebrity Jeopardy! earlier this year. Last month, CNN played P!nk’s “Stupid Girls” to introduce a segment on John McCain’s runningmate. Even something that a Palin impersonator said—“I can see Russia from my house”—gets carted out periodically to prove how doltish the former Alaska governor truly is.
The magic “D” next to the vice president’s name adds twenty points to his IQ. The best way to appear smart to journalists, academics, and entertainers is to tell them what they want to hear. Joe Biden is more effective at doing this than is Sarah Palin, so he isn’t considered a vacant-eyed dummy. Politicians who reflect the intelligentsia’s politics get the favor returned when the intelligentsia projects its intelligence upon the politician.
The stupidest thing about smart people is their unintelligent overemphasis on intelligence. The Marine Corps 14 Leadership Traits—Justice, Judgment, Dependability, Initiative, Decisiveness, Tact, Integrity, Enthusiasm, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, and Endurance—omits intelligence because, duh, it isn’t one of the fourteen most important leadership traits. Brain matter matters but it’s not the only quality that matters.
In the vice president’s defense, it may be that rather than intelligence, he more accurately lacks judgment, tact, integrity, and bearing. The people who possess intelligence often misgauge it as a catch-all category encompassing traits related and unrelated.
Biden is certainly bright enough for the vice presidency, just not for the presidency. In other words, he’s fit for neither office, a concept that Biden may have a tough time wrapping his brain around.
There are worse things than stupid. Joe Biden isn’t corrupt like Spiro Agnew or a mush-headed fellow traveler like Henry Wallace. He’s just imprudent, unwise, dishonest, and thickheaded. But don’t mention that last part to liberals, who take acceptance of their ideology as the clearest indicator of genius. Being a Democrat means never having to say you’re stupid.