Joe Biden — he's the vice president — popped up in the news the other day, saying in effect that more people will be raped and murdered if Congress doesn't pass President Obama's jobs bill. He specifically referred to crime statistics in Flint, Mich. — stats that, as it turns out, do not back up his case.
That got a lot of attention. This was hardly the first time that the rhetoric of Biden, who has a history of making gaffes, went beyond the facts. The vice president, in the words of Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's Fact Checker, "should know better than to spout off half-baked facts in service of a dubious argument." Here's more of what Kessler wrote:
Even if one believes there is a link between crime and the number of police—which is debatable and subject to many caveats—there is no excuse to make the dramatic claim that more people will die or be raped without additional funds for police. When making such a breathtaking charge, you had better have your facts straight.
What got much less attention is Biden telling CNN on Oct. 23 that he is "not closing" the door on a run for president in 2016.
Biden, who prior to being picked as Obama's running mate made two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nomination — in 1988 and 2008 — will be 74 years old in 2016 and will have been in public office for 44 consecutive years. No one that old has ever been elected president. Ronald Reagan was 73 when he ran for a second term in 1984, a campaign where his age became a key issue. John McCain was 72 when he ran against Obama in 2008.
A better example might be the case of Alben Barkley. The vice president under Harry Truman and a former Senate majority leader, Barkley made himself available for the nomination after Truman surprised the nation and took himself out of the running in 1952. But Barkley, who was also 74 years old and in office for four decades, was dismissed as "too old" by many in the party, and that was the judgment from organized labor as well. The Democrats ultimately chose Adlai Stevenson.
It would be a mistake to cite age as the reason why Biden is unlikely to make it to the White House in 2016. Who knows what Obama's popularity will look like by then, assuming he wins reelection next year. And if he doesn't, I don't think Democratic voters would turn to Joe Biden four years later to help them recapture the presidency.
Herman Cain. There's a memorable moment in television comedy history I want to run by you. The late Andy Kaufman, appearing on NBC's Saturday Night Live for the first time, shows up on stage with a record player. He puts on the Mighty Mouse Theme Song. He stands there, nervously, as the song goes on, doing absolutely nothing other than fidgeting with his fingers. But when we hear the words, "Here I come to save the day," Kaufman mouths them with great emotion and flair, gesturing with his left arm. Then, when those seven words conclude, he goes back to awkwardly standing there. He gets the opportunity to be animated for just three times in the 1:44 routine. As a watcher at home, I remember being flabbergasted, not knowing if he's nuts or pure genius. (If you've forgotten it, you can watch it here.)
I thought of that after watching two Herman Cain ads this week, both of which have gone completely viral. One is called "Smoking Man," in which Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, appears on camera making the case for the Hermanator's candidacy, and then, at the end, taking a drag from a cigarette. I stare at it and don't know what to think. Watch it here:
The other one, called "He Carried Yellow Flowers," is impossible to describe. You have to watch that one too (both ads courtesy YouTube):
Again, I don't know if we're looking at something that makes absolutely no sense or is a private joke, which were my initial reactions, or watching why Herman Cain has catapulted to the top of the Republican field. I have long found many problems with the Cain candidacy ... everything from what feels like an unthought-out understanding of his own 9-9-9 tax plan to his calling for an electrified barbed-wire fence between the U.S. and Mexico (a "joke," he later said), to his hesitation about having Muslims in his Cabinet. He has spent little time in Iowa or New Hampshire, seemingly more interested in promoting his book and giving speeches than doing the necessary grunt work to win the nomination. Then came an interview on CNN when Cain, famously known for his opposition to abortion — even in the case of rape or incest — essentially endorsed a pro-choice position, saying the government should not tell a woman whether or not to have an abortion.
And yet, it is, at least as of now, working. Last week a New York Times/CBS News poll showed him leading the pack nationally. On Saturday, a Des Moines Register poll had him one point ahead of Mitt Romney in the crucial first-state test of Iowa, leading 23-22%. There apparently is an "everyman" quality about him that fits perfectly in this era of Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street anger. I still shake my head at the thought of all this. And in my heart of hearts, I still think this whole Cain thing is going to blow up, with someone coming out and saying yes, we were only kidding. But it hasn't happened yet.
(Politico reported on Sunday that while Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, "at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group." We'll see where that story goes.)
Candidates 2012. Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.), who has been in the House since winning a 1991 special election for the seat left vacant by the death of Silvio Conte (R), announced last Wednesday that he will retire after his term. He is 75 years old and his wife has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Population changes in Massachusetts mean that the commonwealth loses a congressional seat in the next round of redistricting, going from 10 seats to nine. The problem? While Democrats control the process, all 10 incumbents are also Democrats. Olver's decision to retire saves them from a difficult decision ... Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.) has reversed course and will run for the Senate seat held by Bill Nelson (D). Back in March, Mack — son of former two-term Sen. Connie Mack — said he wouldn't run for family reasons; he's married to fellow Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and they have two children and two stepchildren. But with Republicans fretting about the race, with no candidate seemingly able to raise enough money or attention to appear credible, Mack changed his mind. Among the GOP hopefuls in the race is former Sen. George LeMieux, who was appointed to the seat by his then-close friend, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, to fill the remainder of the term vacated by GOP Sen. Mel Martinez. Crist's name is dirt in GOP circles, which will be a tough barrier for LeMieux to overcome. Other Republicans running are former state Rep. Adam Hasner and businessman Craig Miller. Nelson, who first won the seat after Mack's father retired in 2000, has a huge financial head start over all his would-be opponents ... Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, considered the best shot for the Democrats against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), announced he won't run. Matheson is still considering a bid for governor, an office his father once held, or re-election to the House.
Political Updates. I will post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
From the mailbag:
Q: The rise of interest in Chris Christie make me ask, have we ever had a president or vice president from New Jersey, either born or bred there? — Michael Madorsky, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
A: Woodrow Wilson, the nation's 28th president, was governor of N.J. when he won the presidency in 1912. He was, however, born in Virginia. In 1902 he was elected president of Princeton University, his alma mater, and eight years later won the governorship.
Grover Cleveland, who went from governor of New York to the presidency in 1884, was born in Caldwell, N.J.
Q: As you know, WBEZ in Chicago made the [adjectives deleted] decision to stop carrying Talk of the Nation, so now I'm deprived of Political Junkie. How quickly can I get a podcast of Political Junkie, and where's the best place to get it? — Jan Bowers, Evanston, Ill.
A: The audio for the show, which airs at 2 pm ET every Wednesday on, um, many NPR stations, can be heard on the TOTN web site usually by 6 or 7 pm that evening. You can also subscribe to the Political Junkie segment for free on iTunes. And of course, there are always links to the segment in this column.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. This week's show focused on the redistricting wars around the country; special guest: Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). You can listen to the entire segment right here:
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Wednesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter last week's contest. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt! DON'T FORGET TO CHECK BACK HERE ON WEDNESDAY FOR THE NEW PUZZLE.
By the way, a few ScuttleButtons back — see the Sept. 29 puzzle, the solution for which was "Dallas Cowboys" — I had a button of a cow with the words, "This is Kemps Town." I had no idea where it was from. Steve Fay of Cuba, Ill., writes that Kemps "is a big dairy company that originated in Minnesota in 1914. Buttons might have been some sort of marketing promo."
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. This week: Still trying to figure out Herman Cain's commercials. You can listen to it here:
50 Years. Congratulations to member station WAMU in Washington, D.C., for a half-century on the air. There was a big gala on Saturday night at the National Building Museum that I attended. A big highlight for me: a really nice conversation with Lynda Bird Johnson about her father and his own relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt.
In Memoriam: Former Rep. Howard Wolpe of Michigan, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1994, died Oct. 26 at the age of 71. Wolpe was a college professor at Western Michigan Univ. when he ran for Congress in 1978, narrowly unseating GOP Rep. Garry Brown on his second try. As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, he was a leading opponent of South Africa's white supremacist (apartheid) system. In 1992, faced with redistricting and having to choose to run either in a Republican-heavy district or take on fellow Democrat Bob Carr in another CD, he decided to retire. Two years later he ran for governor, defeating (now-Sen.) Debbie Stabenow in the Democratic primary and then naming her as his running mate. But they lost in a landslide to the GOP ticket led by Gov. John Engler.
Also: Former Rep. Perkins Bass (R-N.H.), 99, the father of current congressman Charlie Bass (also R-N.H.), on Oct. 25. Bass was elected to the House in 1954, winning the seat vacated by Norris Cotton (R), who was elected to the Senate that year. Bass served until 1962, when he won a tough four-way primary for the Senate seat of the late Styles Bridges (R). But the fissures inside the GOP cost Bass in November, when he lost to Democrat Tom McIntyre ... Ex-Rep. Matthew Martinez, 82, a nine-term Democratic congressman from California who, in a fit of pique, switched to the GOP after he lost the 2000 Dem primary to now-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, on Oct. 15 ... Virginia Knauer, 96, the director of the Office of Consumer Affairs under Presidents Nixon, Ford & Reagan, and a former GOP city councilmember from Philadelphia, on Oct. 16 ... and Robert Pierpoint, 86, the longtime CBS News correspondent who covered politics, the JFK assassination and Watergate, on Oct. 22.
ON THE CALENDAR:
Nov. 8 — Election Day. Top races include gubernatorial contests in Kentucky (Steve Beshear, D, seeking 2nd term) and Mississippi (Haley Barbour, R, term limited). Also: primaries in Oregon's 1st CD (to succeed David Wu, D).
Nov. 9 — GOP presidential debate in Rochester, Mich., 8 pm ET (CNBC).
Nov. 10 — GOP debate, Exeter, N.H.
Nov. 12 — GOP debate, Spartanburg, S.C., 8 pm ET (CBS/National Journal)
Nov. 15 — Advocates of recall of Wis. Gov. Scott Walker (R) begin signature petition; must reach 540,000 within 60 days.
Nov. 19 — GOP candidate forum, Des Moines. Also: Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Des Moines.
Dec. 7 — Virginia Senate debate, Univ/VA at Charlottesville.
Dec. 10 — GOP debate, Des Moines (ABC News).
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This day in political history: President Bush nominates Judge Samuel Alito of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to succeed retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Bush's previous nominee, White House counsel Harriet Miers, was withdrawn in the face of widespread criticism of her lack of credentials (Oct. 31, 2005). On January 31, 2006, the Senate will confirm Alito on a 58-42 vote.
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