Posted on October 14, 2008


"Vice" Versa

If Biden's answer had been Palin's


Daniel Clark



If you have any doubt as to who won the vice president debate, all you have to do is look at the transcript, and ask yourself how many minutes longer Sarah Palin's political career would have lasted if she'd said some of the things that Joe Biden said.

Reinforcements from Scranton

In particular, if Palin had given the answer that Biden gave about the role of the vice president, it would now be treated as a national scandal. Not only did Biden's remarks reveal a lack of knowledge about American civics and history, but they suggested that he doesn't even understand the role of the office he's running for.

"Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the Vice President of the United States," Biden lectured. "That's the executive branch." Well, not quite. It's Article II of the Constitution that deals with the executive branch; Article I defines the legislature. Both articles mention the vice president, but only Article I specifies one of his functions, by identifying him as "President of the Senate."

Biden acknowledged this clause, but didn't seem to understand it, when he said that the vice president's role is, "to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote." Actually, the vice president may preside over the Senate anytime he wishes. It's just that he is only allowed to vote when needed to break a tie. Nobody seems to be bothered by Biden's misunderstanding of Senate rules, though. After all, it's not like he's a six-term senator, or anything.

It's been a fairly recent development that vice presidents have taken on executive initiatives, like Dan Quayle's overseeing the Presidential Competitiveness Council, Al Gore's ambitiously titled "reinventing government" project, and Dick Cheney's ruling the universe from a hidden bunker with his evil cat. Early in our history, vice presidents like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson regularly presided over the Senate, since it was the only thing the Constitution explicitly authorized them to do. Adams, in particular, used that position to protect presidential powers from legislative usurpation.

Hammering his pointlessness home, Biden directly contradicted himself by saying, "The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to Congress." Does the senator not realize that Congress and the legislature are one and the same? He strangely continued, "The idea he's part of the legislative branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive."

The purpose of this demented harangue was to support the senator's fatuous claim that "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history." Far be it for the network "fact checkers" to point out that America once had a vice president by the name of Aaron Burr.

Aaron Burr, not an evil Republican

Any viewers who had been trying to follow Biden's logic must have felt like the AFLAC duck after an encounter with Yogi Berra. The president of the Senate, who casts tie-breaking votes in that body, has no role in the legislature, just as the Constitution says when it entrusts him with that power. Now, let's all go to Katie's Restaurant for a bite to eat. It's not nearly as busy as it used to be, now that it's closed.

Had Gov. Palin made such a series of uninformed, contradictory and just plain silly statements, we would have seen them looped on every network and cable newscast, perhaps underscored with captions like, "Say goodnight, Gracie." Roundtable pundits would be joking that she thought the vice president was the person who held the key to the White House liquor cabinet. Some wobbly-kneed conservatives might even notice that liberals were mocking her, and suggest on that basis that she step down. (Oh, wait a minute. That last one has happened anyway.)

Since these words came from the Democrat candidate, however, media analyses simply credited him with having "command of the issues." In truth, Biden does not command the issues so much as scold them. The poor issues don't even understand what they've done to incur his wrath.

Ironically, one of the few statements from the debate that has drawn some criticism to Sen. Biden was his claim that he spends "a lot of time" at Home Depot. This was undoubtedly one of the truest statements he'd made all night. Where else would he go, whenever he finds himself in need of a pair of foot pliers?

-- Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.



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