- - Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“You can observe a lot by just watching” — Yogi Berra or Joe Biden?

The media fixation on the largest Republican field of presidential candidates in history misses the very real crisis Democrats are facing as their slam-dunk nominee’s campaign unravels before their eyes. A year ago virtually everyone agreed that Hillary Rodham Clinton would not only be easily nominated, but was the odds-on favorite to succeed President Obama. Now with the FBI on her tail, a string of less than inspiring appearances and interviews and polls showing her fading, Democrats are faced with the question of what to do if her campaign collapses.

Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders has been the main problem for her until recently. He’s surged in the polls on the strength of his populist-socialist message and closed the gap to just a few points in some early state polls. With Hillary’s approval ratings, especially on the issue of “trustworthiness,” in the tank, some in the Democratic Party, and especially the Obama White House, have been casting about for a more viable candidate. Many of them liken Mr. Sanders’ challenge of Mrs. Clinton to Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s crusade against Lyndon Johnson in 1968. By demonstrating that, in essence, the emperor wore no clothes, McCarthy opened the door to more serious alternatives to the failed president.

Vice president Joe Biden’s name is now being discussed as a potentially viable alternative — and not just by Joe and his friends. It is even believed by many in Washington that Mr. Obama’s political team which, like their boss, has never held Mrs. Clinton in high regard, have been periodically fueling the Biden speculation. Mr. Obama’s spokesperson has said that picking Joe Biden was the best political decision the president had ever made; better, one can only assume, than selecting Mrs. Clinton as his secretary of state. It has even been reported that the president has given Mr. Biden his “blessing” to run.

If he runs and wins both the nomination and the presidency, Joe Biden would be the oldest American ever elected president, but to do that he would first have to overcome his well-earned reputation for political foot-in-mouth disease. Although Mr. Biden himself has been unusually restrained, he has made it clear that he is at least contemplating getting into the race.

The late Arlen Specter, who served with Mr. Biden in the Senate for years and rode the Amtrak train to Washington with him, used to quip that he didn’t get to start talking until after the train left Wilmington where Mr. Biden departed. It’s not just that Joe Biden talks. He’s the Yogi Berra, the loveable king of malaprops, of American politics. He’s a perpetual gaffe machine.

Remember, it was Joe who famously observed, “The number one job facing the middle class happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs — J-O-B-S.”

It was Joe who said, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed.” Of course Franklin Roosevelt didn’t become president until long after the stock market crashed and television wasn’t even available to the public in 1929.

Not all of Mr. Biden’s verbal miscues have been as humorous. It was Joe Biden who said, “Stand up and let ‘em see you,” to a wheelchair-bound state senator. His famous lifting of a speech from a British Member of Parliament Neil Kinnock to use as part of his own biography made him a laughing stock and helped put an end to his presidential hopes in 1988.

Like Yogi, for all of his famed verbal hiccups, Mr. Biden still comes across as affable, even likeable. It’s easy to see voters voting him the candidate with whom they’d most like to share a beer, but harder to envision them voting to put him in the Oval Office. Still, he might, like Donald Trump, be able to parlay his lack of verbal polish into electoral success this year with voters fed up with tightly scripted, vocally perfect candidates reading other people’s words.

The fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton won’t answer reporters’ questions and is at her best only in prepackaged video pieces has become a real problem for her. Ultimately, voters will see the real Hillary and wonder who the heck she is.

Voters are looking for authenticity, and Mr. Biden’s shoot-from-the-lip style may be appealing. Maybe he’ll even be tempted to plagiarize from Yogi who once claimed, “I never said most of the things I said.”

Especially his famous, “Make no mistake about this — Hillary Rodham Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America … and, quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me.”

There’s an old Chinese curse, popularized by Robert F. Kennedy and Junior Soprano, “May you live in interesting times.” The most interesting of political times will be 2016.

As Yogi — or maybe Joe — would say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Charlie Gerow is a political and public relations consultant in Harrisburg, Pa.

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