It might seem like a bad time for a reporter to marvel over Joe Biden’s political gifts, after the load of gaffes this week, but not for Politico reporter Jonathan Martin. He wrote a story headlined “Mission Impossible: Managing Joe Biden.” But he meant that to be positive.
Just days after slamming Paul Ryan’s background driving the Wienermobile and “slinging cheap margaritas,” Martin began the story in awe of Biden’s campaign prowess:
The most emotionally powerful minute of Joe Biden’s two-day swing through rural Virginia almost didn’t happen.
After the vice president paid a solemn visit Wednesday to the memorial honoring the victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting here, reporters asked him about his feelings upon seeing the site.
As Biden began to answer, his aides intervened, yelling “Let’s go,” and trying to shoo reporters back to the motorcade.
Only when it became clear that the vice president wanted to express himself did his entourage stop interrupting to let the candidate speak.
When he did, Biden recalled his own family tragedy — losing his young wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident — and paused repeatedly to keep his composure.
It was the side of Biden — comfortable with his emotions, and with a gift for human connection — that makes him appealing to many voters. And the moment never would’ve taken place if he had not effectively overruled his would-be handlers.
Martin knows Biden is a gaffe king, but the Politico spin machine has been turned on. There’s no reference to how Joe “Human Connection” Biden mocked Paul Ryan for quoting his dad without noticing he passed away when Ryan was a teenager. No, Biden’s tendency to get into gaffe trouble is somehow an “exquisite” challenge:
All candidates live with the contradiction — a media culture that implores politicians to seem authentic but is ready to punish them when they really are — but the challenge is especially exquisite in Biden’s case.
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He is an irrepressible, garrulous and emotive politician, who’s flourished and fumbled through 40 years in national office by practicing politics the old-fashioned way — from the gut and without much script. He’s as fine a one-on-one politician of any officeholder of his generation, a talent especially prized because it is not a particular gift of Obama’s.
But his penchant for off-message moments regularly sends aides in the West Wing and at Chicago reelection headquarters into orbit....
The attempt to control Biden, or limit visibility to a natural politician practicing his craft can often seem especially self-defeating.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine Obama convincingly tell a NASACR [sic] owner that he’d rather have won Daytona than be vice president, as Biden did in Stuart, Va. Nor is it likely that Romney would, after hearing of the death of a woman’s father, instinctively put his hand on her cheek in sympathy, as Biden did during a stop in Radford.
Martin concluded by marveling over Joe Biden’s human touch, when your average political reporter would think this looked like, ahem, Politico 101:
Yet what the campaign doesn’t seem to realize is that Biden is at his best when he’s not being minded.
“The thing that people really like about Joe Biden is he says what he thinks,” explained former Sen. Ted Kaufman, the Delaware Democrat who once served as Biden’s chief of staff and replaced him in the Senate
After much of the elementary school gym had cleared out following a Tuesday night rally in the southwest Virginia town of Wytheville, the vice president was still working the remaining people left. Most of his staff and much of the press corps had already gone.
A father was trying to take a picture of his two children and wife with Biden, but the vice president had a better idea.
He grabbed the camera, whirled around and handed it to his security man. Then Biden reached out and made sure the dad was in the photo, too.
They were all beaming. But Biden didn’t stop with a photo op, he also bent down and had a word with the two kids.
Afterword, the dad, a Wytheville resident named Mark McHayle, said he found Biden “down to earth” and had his 13-year-old son recite what instructions the vice president had given him.
“Keep the boys away from your sister and make sure your mother is happy,” the adolescent repeated.
It was a genuine moment, pure Biden. But, in his campaign and others, it’s becoming more difficult to witness such authentic exchanges. The artifice of teleprompters and talking points is becoming the rule. It’s not a system that the Joe Biden of 1972, the year he won a Senate seat at age 29, would recognize.
Awww, isn't it sad that reporters have ruined campaigning, requiring candidates to be artificial? Wait, a reporter wrote that?