Saturday, October 13, 2012


Demoralized Democrats felt that Joe Biden's performance at the VP debate was a real shot in the arm -- in much the same way that demoralized Democrats in late 2003 felt that Howard Dean's campaign was a shot in the arm.

I say that to point out the risks involved in Biden's approach. Going into the debate, Biden was seen by much of the public as a caricature -- just as Dean, going into primary season, was seen as a caricature. In both cases, the caricatured Democrats were partly responsible for their own public image -- but a lot of what the public believed about them came from the mainstream press and right-wing spin (which were hard to tell apart).

Here's Eric Boehlert writing about Howard Dean at Salon on January 13, 2004. Does any of this sound familiar?
When the Washington Post introduced readers to Howard Dean in a long Page 1 feature July 6, part of a series of "meet the Democrats" candidate profiles, the paper went for the jugular, literally, with a cartoonish, unflattering description to open the article: "Howard Dean was angry. Ropy veins popped out of his neck, blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes, normally blue-gray, flashed black, all dilated pupils."

Six months later, an extended version of that campaign narrative, polished by Republican talking-points memos and echoed day after day by the mainstream media, remains a constant of the campaign trail: Dean is a sarcastic smart aleck with foot-in-the mouth disease, a political ticking time bomb.... Newsweek's critical Jan. 12 cover story, "All the Rage: Dean's Shoot-From-the-Hip Style and Shifting Views Might Doom Him in November," achieved a nifty trifecta that covered anger, gaffes and electability, all three of the main media raps against Dean.

... in just two summertime features the Washington Post managed to use the following words to describe Dean: "abrasive," "flinty," "cranky, "arrogant," "disrespectful," "yelling," "hollering," "fiery," "red-faced," "hothead," "testy," "short-fused," "angry," "worked up," and "fired up." And none of those adjectives were used in a complimentary way. In fact the Post, in an Aug. 4 Is-Dean-mean story, took pains to distinguish him from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whom the paper termed "brilliantly cranky." ...
And that was before the concession speech on the night of the Iowa caucuses that included the instantly notorious "Dean scream."

Here's Verne Gay of Newsday just after that speech. He could be talking about Biden on Thursday night:
Howard Dean? Or Howard Beale? Who exactly was that guy on TV the other night — with rolled sleeves, pumping fists, unusual rhetorical flourishes ("aaaarrrrggghhhh!") and a command of U.S. geography ("Connecticut! ... New York! ... Ohio! ... ")?

And loud. Very loud.

... the former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate gave supporters and viewers a performance late Monday night that was both inspirational and riveting. But also -- let's just get this out of the way right now -- strange....
If Romney wins this election, I think Democrats are going to try to mine the passion and the best arguments from Biden's debate, the way they mined Dean's best arguments (and organizing ideas) in 2006 and 2008. That's the upside. The downside is that when you're a Democrat and you let 'er rip, the mandarins of the mainstream media rarely let you get away with it.

President Obama may yet close the sale with a calm, cool version of what Biden delivered. Let's hope so, because in our system, Biden's style (and Dean's) pump up the base, but are condemned by opinion gatekeepers as just too much.


Unknown said...

Your post inspired this diary at Kos, in which yours is linked linked. It compares media treatment of Joe Biden and Chris Christie:

Unknown said...

(Updated diary)

Victor said...

Angry Conservatives like Chris Christie are ok.

Angry nutjob Conservatives like Allen West are ok.

A Conservative guy running for President can be aggressive, talk over his opponent and the moderator, smile inappropriately, smirk, glare, glower, point his fingers, demand more time, monopolize the speaking time, are also ok, too, since that is what Mitt did last week in the debate with President Obama.

But let a Liberal raise his/her voice above a whisper, and they're a shrieking maniac - possibly homocidal, so you'd better watch out.

Never mind the lawyers - first, kill all the pundits.

I'm am heartily sick and tired of the MSM in this country - they're what's killing this country.

If they were truly "fair and balanced," we'd live in a much different nation.

BH said...

I agree, Victor, and I think the whole institution of Prez/VP debates is of no benefit to anyone except the MSM and vapid entertainment-seekers. I'd abolish them, given the power. If we had a parliamentary system like the UK's, where debating skills can indeed be a crucial part of one's qualifications to become and perform as PM, it might make some sense. But in our system, I can't for the life of me see how being a good debater has f**k-all to do with one's qualifications for the presidency, or ability to do the job. It ain't nothing but show-biz - hell, it's not even done in a true debate framework.

And the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the great progenitor of this bogus tradition? Well, Douglas won that election.

Skip said...

The "Dean Scream" was ginned up nonsense from the same jingoist corporate media that fired Phil Donahue & Bill Maher for being insufficiently patriotic in wartime. They could not abide a viable anti-war message sneaking into the noosphere. They were angling for a sensible house-broken liberal who would not skew the debate outside acceptable bounds.

Joe Biden's debate performance is a wholly different animal. He is fulfilling the traditional role of a Vice President to say all those things to the base in terms that the President can not. Think Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney or even Dan Quayle. It seems more unusual in a Democratic president because we recall LBJ & Clinton whose fantastic egos could not tolerate a dynamic VP and chose neutered mousy twerps Humphrey & Gore (competent men but hardly firebrands). But while Jimmy Carter was pursuing his pro-Military & pro-Business DLC prototype agenda, Walter Mondale was a sop to the pantywaist Liberal/McGovernik wing of the party... which is why he was such a disastrous candidate in '84. He was like the Left's Santorum, a purist who could only appeal to the base. So Joe Biden is doing exactly what he should. He can rally the rank & file while Obama looks all centrist & presidential.