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Biden's Exaggerations By: Karl Rove
The Weekly Standard | Monday, September 01, 2008


THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION exposed the central defect of Senator Barack Obama's candidacy: the absence of compelling evidence he is up to the job of president. The exposé comes courtesy of a bad habit of his running mate, Senator Joe Biden. When in doubt, Mr. Biden exaggerates. And in the past week, he did a lot.

Voters expect candidates to embellish, but only so much. Go beyond acceptable stretching and a candidate may squander his most precious political possession: credibility. Mr. Obama may be on this perilous path.

Last Saturday, America heard Mr. Obama's new running mate exclaim, "I watch with amazement as he came to the Senate. I watch with amazement!" Mr. Biden's hyperkinetic praise is what we expect a running mate to offer his benefactor at the top of the ticket.

But Saturday and again Wednesday night, Mr. Biden also praised Mr. Obama for three specific legislative accomplishments. One of them was an ethics bill, called by Mr. Biden in his acceptance speech "the most sweeping in a generation." However, many critics--including Hillary Clinton--criticized it as weak. For example, under Mr. Obama's bill, lobbyists may buy politicians meals if they are eating standing up but not if they're sitting down. Mr. Obama's bill didn't ban privately funded travel for congressmen or authorize an independent investigation office. But Mr. Obama did help draft, negotiate, and push the legislation that passed. The other two supposed accomplishments are more problematic.

Saturday, Mr. Biden asserted Mr. Obama "made his mark literally from day one, reaching across the aisle to pass legislation to secure the world's deadliest weapons," a claim similar to one Mr. Obama made earlier in the campaign. Wednesday night, Mr. Biden was more expansive, claiming Mr. Obama was a leader "to pass a law that helps keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists." This implied a big, important controversial measure, passed with difficulty after the intervention of an extraordinary leader.

In reality, the Lugar-Obama Bill was passed on a voice vote on December 11, 2006. It was so routine, there was no recorded vote. The media didn't consider it important or controversial. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported its Senate passage, though the Post ran a 798-word op-ed by Senators Lugar and Obama the week before it was approved. It was not the subject of a story on the CBS, ABC or NBC evening news--not when it passed, not when it was signed, not ever. No story about it appeared in Roll Call or The Hill, the daily newspapers that cover the minutiae of Congress. It drew only one squib in Congressional Quarterly--and that story didn't mention Obama, just Lugar. The Bush administration supported it. The legislation required the administration to report to Congress within 180 days "on proliferation and interdiction assistance" to secure the mostly conventional weapons stocks littering the nations born from the collapsed Soviet empire. It created a new State Department office to support the Bush administration's "Proliferation Security Initiative" aimed at interdicting weapons of mass destruction and conventional weaponry. And the bill authorized $110 million in funding. But this legislation didn't require a profile in courage to co-sponsor or hard work and powerful persuasion to pass, as Mr. Biden implied.

Saturday, Biden proclaimed: "But I was proudest, I was proudest, when I watched him spontaneously focus the attention of the nation on the shameful neglect of America's wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Hospital." The problem for Mr. Biden (and the object of his praise, Mr. Obama) is the problems at Walter Reed were revealed in articles in the Washington Post, starting February 18, 2007. Unless Mr. Obama writes for the Washington Post under the nom de media of Anne Hull or Dana Priest, he didn't "spontaneously focus the attention of the nation." The two reporters did. The legislation to correct the shortcomings emerged from a Senate committee Mr. Obama doesn't serve on and he played no significant role in drafting or pushing it through the legislative. Mr. Obama is not the real hero of the Walter Reed turn-around, despite Mr. Biden's extravagant claims.

Like Mr. Biden, Michelle Obama's speechwriter could not resist hyping her husband's work. Monday night, Mrs. Obama talked about "what he's done in the United States Senate, fighting to ensure that the men and women who serve this country are welcomed home not just with medals and parades, but with good jobs and benefits and health care--including mental health care." This is an apparent reference to the Dignity For Wounded Warriors Act, a bill Mr. Obama introduced that never made it out of the Senate Armed Services Committee, despite its Democratic majority. Americans missed the spectacle of Mr. Obama "fighting to ensure" because he was missing for that particular battle. And if he was fighting, he must have been ineffectual because fellow Democrats didn't think this bill was worth passing.

When candidates lack real accomplishments, they and those around them exaggerate what they have done, puff their performance, hype the difficulty of their activities and depict their work as far more substantial than it really is. But if you describe yourself as something you're not, or as having done things you haven't, a critical press corps may be aroused and the contrast with what people believe to be true may be jarring.

Mr. Obama should be way ahead in the race for the presidency but this week has seen five polls showing the essentially race dead even. Deep doubts remain about whether Mr. Obama is up to the job. His running mate and his handlers know this. So they are puffing his résumé, padding his accomplishments and claiming the work of others to reassure voters he is up to the duties of the Oval Office. It may work. But the American people are particular about who they elect as president. And voters do not tolerate candidates whose opinion of ordinary citizens is so low they think they can get away with misleading them.


Karl Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.


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