So hacktastic and ahistorical that I can't help but wonder if Uncle Joe might be pulling our legs with this grand pronouncement:
“I’ve watched him make decisions that would make another man or woman’s hair curl,” Biden told the crowd of 150 inside the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee, according to a pool reporter on scene. Biden, who has said he’s the last man in the room with Obama before a tough call, often attests that his boss has a “backbone like a ramrod.”
And today he said that mettle — and the “serious problems” Obama faced upon taking office — put the president in a class of his own. “I think I can say … no president, and I would argue in the 20th century and including now the 21st century, has had as many serious problems which are cases of first-instance laid on his table,” Biden said. “Franklin Roosevelt faced more dire consequences, but in a bizarre way it was more straightforward.”
First off, making really tough decisions defines the job of the presidency. Most people don't want the weight and pressure of constant "hair-curling" decisions on their shoulders, so they don't seek the office. President Obama wanted the gig and attained it, so chest-beating about the difficulty and stakes of Obama's decisions in office is a little strained. That said, it's not unusual; crowing about "steel backbones" and the like is fairly standard boilerplate in American politics. Where Biden wildly strikingly off-course is his assertion that Obama has faced the toughest set of circumstances and choices of any president in the last 112 years.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Biden references, inherited the longest and most devastating depression in the history of our country. Although it has been persuasively argued that FDR's subsequent program of massive government expansionism actually delayed a recovery, today's nagging recession-like conditions don't even hold a candle to the entrenched economic despair America faced when he assumed office. He was also thrust into the role of wartime Commander-In-Chief when a foreign power "suddenly and deliberately attacked" US forces at Pearl Harbor. Thus began a dual-theater, full-scale state of total global war. The notion that President Obama's set of challenges exceeds Roosevelt's, and the suggestion that Roosevelt's calls were generally more "straight-forward," are patently ridiculous. Ordering the bloody D-Day invasion was a no-brainer? Please. Here are just a few additional modern-era examples that Biden might want to consider before shooting his mouth off again:
- President Truman's call to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to end World War Two.
- President Kennedy's agonizing decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which the world was pushed to the brink of nuclear war.
- President Reagan's defeat of the Soviets, which entailed walking away from a treaty he desperately wanted at Reykjavik in order to preserve a key program that contributed significantly to our enemy's eventual downfall.
But Biden doesn't even have to crack the history books to identify another president who faced a string of searing and defining challenges on his watch. Within months of Barack Obama's predecessor entering office, the United States suffered the deadliest terrorist attack in our history. Those responsible for the atrocity represented a fanatical and asymmetrical threat, the likes of which no other president had been forced to seriously combat. Then, at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, the American economy teetered on the brink of total collapse, due to a sudden crisis that his administration had warned about and tried to head-off. Both 9/11 and the 2008 meltdown presented President Bush with a host of high-stakes and very complex challenges. Historians will debate the effectiveness of his responses (the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, enhanced interrogation, Gitmo, drone strikes, TARP, and auto bailouts), but each and every one was harrowing in its own right.
It's true that President Obama was swept into office by a whirlwind of profound crises. Others have cropped up during his term. His decision on the Bin Laden raid, for instance, was the right one, and every American is grateful for his leadership on that day -- even as we acknowledge that his decision was made possible by the hard choices of our 43rd president. Let's also recall that President Obama chose to devote the first two years of his presidency to a massive (and possibly unconstitutional) government intrusion into healthcare, even as millions of Americans were suffering from the ill-effects of a terrible economy. A "bold move," perhaps, but a questionable priority to say the least. It's fine for Vice President Biden to brag about his boss and attempt to fire up Democrats' core supporters with political happy talk and bravado. That's what politicians do. But Biden does himself -- and the man he's trying to lionize -- no favors by misappropriating history in order to make absurd and grandiose claims.
UPDATE - Good grief, I had missed this gem from Biden just last week:
"You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48% probability that he was there."
USA Today contextualizes:
Biden's analysis would place the bin Laden raid "above the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, the surprise landing at Inchon in 1950 that turned the tide of the Korean War or, going back a bit further, George Washington's daring night-time crossing of the Delaware River before the Battle of Trenton in 1776."
This is an embarrassment.