Sunday, October 26, 2008

Biden Interview about Barack Obama Campaign: ACORN, Redistrubion of Wealth, Marxism, and Other Impertinent Questions

Barack Obama's campaign has canceled all interviews with Florida TV station WFTV. "...at best for the duration of the remaining days until the election," as the Central Florida communications director for the Obama campaign put it. (Orlando Sentinel (October 25, 2008))

If you're following the campaign, you've probably heard or read that the WFTV interview was "unprofessional." I'm inclined to agree, although not for the reasons that Obama followers would give.


I started writing about Joe Biden, the Obama campaign, and WFTV's interview, this morning. I see that it's now a bit on the long side. Here are the headings: I hope that helps you find your way around.

Joe Biden and Some Impertinent Woman in Florida

Like Joe the Plumber, WFTV's Barbara West asked Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden the wrong questions. Quite a few of them.

Senator Biden didn't, in my opinion, get very "angry." Annoyed, yes, but not what I call angry. And, I can understand Joe Biden's annoyance. Senator Biden was in North Carolina, helping to get out the vote, and had taken time from his busy schedule to do a video interview with some television station in Florida.

The WFTV interviewer, Barbara West, didn't seem to understand how these things are done. She wasn't giving him questions that introduced the favored talking points of Barack Obama's campaign.

In fact, she asked a few questions that were downright awkward. A couple of examples:
Obama and ACORN
The WFTV interviewer asked about the Obama campaign's connection to ACORN.

Joe Biden replied, in part: "We have not paid them one single penny to register a single, solitary voter."

West was somewhat unprofessional, in my opinion, in not challenging Biden's statement, or at least insisting on a clarification. (I'll get back to that.) Perhaps she did not have time.
Barack Obama Wants to Spread the Wealth Around: Is That a Problem?
This is where I think Barbara West began to stray furthest from America's journalistic conventions.

She asked Biden about Barack Obama's 'spread the wealth around' explanation to Joe the Plumber: "Sentator Obama now famously told Joe the Plumber he wanted to spread his wealth around. A gallop poll showed 84 percent of Americans prefer government focus on improving economic conditions and creating more jobs in the U.S., as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth. Isn't Senator Obama's comment a potentially crushing political blunder?"

Biden's reply started: "Absolutely not. The only person who spread the wealth around has been George Bush and John McCain's tax policies...." [!] [verbatim from video]

I see Joe Biden's response as an attempt to pull the interview back to a conventional sequence of openings and talking points.

This is another error of West's part. Obama did not say he thought it was a good idea to "spread his wealth around" - Obama said "...spread the wealth around...." Not just Joe the Plumber: everybody who makes too much money.
Spread the Wealth Around, Redistribute Wealth: What a "Ridiculous Comparison"
I suspect that an 'unprofessional' question about Obama's 'Joe the Plumber' conversation and Marxism is a major reason why the Obama campaign doesn't want Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or anyone else from the Obama camp, talking to WFTV.

Here's a transcript of that part of the interview, taken from the WFTV video:
  • Barbara West:
    "You may recognize this famous quote: 'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist, if he intends to spread the wealth around?
  • Joe Biden:
    "Are you joking? I-is this a joke?"
  • Barbara West:
    "No."
  • Joe Biden:
    "Or is this a real question?"
  • Barbara West:
    "That's a question."
  • Joe Biden:
    "Hahaha. He is not spreading the wealth around. He's talking about giving the middle class an opportunity to get back the tax breaks he used to have. What has happened, just this year, people making one point four million dollars average, the top 1 percent: good, decent American people, are going to get a new 87 billion dollar tax cut, a new one, on top of last year. We think the people should be getting that tax break are not continue to redistribute the wealth up. We think middle class taxpayers should get a tax break. That's what we think. It's a ridiculous comparison, with all due respect." [!] [verbatim from video]
Joe Biden is very clear on this point. In his opinion, it's ridiculous to ask about the philosophy of Karl Marx, in the context of Barack Obama's stated opinion about the distribution of property.

Obama did not use the word "redistribute" when he spoke to Joe the Plumber. Barack Obama said, "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," as noted in another post.

I gather, from Senator Biden's response, that in his mind "spread the wealth" and "redistribute wealth" are two entirely different ideas.

(Back to the top)

No Wonder the Obama Campaign Blacklisted WFTV

I may be just a bit unfair in my treatment of the West-Biden interview, but not by much. I've brought up Biden's response to three of the questions in the interview:
ACORN
"We have not paid them one single penny to register a single, solitary voter." - Joe Biden.

This is, precisely as stated, probably true. The $800,000 that Obama's campaign gave was
  • Paid to an ACORN subsidiary, not ACORN itself
  • Intended to register many voters: not "a single, solitary voter"
At least, that's what CNN reported earlier this month.
Spread the Wealth Around
I think Biden took the correct stand here, from a strictly pragmatic point of view. Barack Obama has stated, in public, that he thinks it's a good idea to"spread the wealth around." The American public doesn't, by and large, want to be penalized for being successful. Under these conditions a strident, simple denial, followed by a counter-claim, was one of the few options Biden had.

And, Joe Biden's statement that Obama "is not spreading the wealth around" is, as far as it goes, true. Barack Obama is still a very junior Senator, and is not President. Yet, anyway. He has not been in a position to have a large effect on American policy.
Spread the Wealth, Redistribute the Wealth: a "Ridiculous" Comparison?
As much as I sympathize with Joe Biden's and Barack Obama's evident wish that the 'Joe the Plumber' conversation would go away, this comparison isn't as ridiculous as Senator Biden seems to think it is.

The difference between "spread" (distribute or disperse widely) and "redistribute" (distribute anew) is real, but it's a subtle distinction.

Again, denial and counter-attack was probably Joe Biden's best option.

But, since Barack Obama has said, "I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," asking if Obama favors a Marxian redistribution of wealth is hardly "ridiculous."

Impertinent, unwanted, intrusive, embarrassing, yes. Ridiculous, no.

(Back to the top)

'We Are Not Accustomed to This Treatment'

I think that Joe Biden and Barack Obama reasonably expect that television interviewers will ask tough, probing questions. Of the other candidates. Like this example from the Situation Room on CNN.

Drew Griffin had pointed out that conservatives were "being hard" on Sarah Palin:
  • Drew Griffin:
    "...'I can't tell if Sarah Palin is incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt, or all of the above.'"
  • "Sarah Palin:
    "Who wrote that one?"
  • "Drew Griffin:
    "That was in the National Review."
Here's what the National Review actually published:
  • "Watching press coverage of the Republican candidate for vice president, it's sometimes hard to decide whether Sarah Palin is incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt, backward, or — or, well, all of the above."
No, despite Mr. Griffen's statement, The National Review doesn't think Sarah Palin is stupid. I wrote more about that interview in "Sarah Palin is 'incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt, or all of the above' " (October 22, 2008).

Now, that's the sort of hard-hitting interview we're used to.

(Back to the top)
The West-Biden interview:


YouTube (October 25, 2008)
video (4:45)

Related posts in this blog: Related posts another of my blogs: In the news and views:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

I really wish I could hit something more productive than my head against the wall.

Oh please, please, please don't let this basket of nuts into the White House.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

I sympathize, but remember the Greek fellow who said something like, "one day, we'll look back on this and laaaugh!" As I recall, they'd been shipwrecked, attacked by a cyclops, or something like that.

And, American has endured everything from the War of 1812 to the Clinton administration.

America will, I trust, endure the next for years, whatever happens.

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