Double Standard For VP — If Paul Ryan Made Gaffes Like Joe Biden, He'd Be Palin-ized

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at the Spiller Elementary School in Wytheville, Va., Tuesday. (AP)

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at the Spiller Elementary School in Wytheville, Va., Tuesday. (AP)

Vice President Joe Biden did it again. Speaking at a Virginia rally Tuesday that included hundreds of black supporters, he warned that Republican efforts to loosen bank regulations meant, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”

Imagine if Paul Ryan said something so foolish and inflammatory. Surely there would be the kind of indignation aroused by Ross Perot when he said “you people” in addressing an NAACP convention in 1992. Or the indignation caused by Bill Clinton when he noted during the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama won a state primary that Jesse Jackson also won.

But Biden gaffes are treated by most liberals in the mass media as just “Joe being Joe.”

As Democratic leaders try to demonize Ryan, it’s fair to ask if there’s a double standard in coverage of the VP candidates. Biden has a long history of saying things that would have elicited ridicule by the same people who loved to mock Sarah Palin for her gaffes.

Have any prominent Democrats ever publicly warned that Biden is “only a heartbeat away from the presidency”?

Apparently there’s a double standard in judging remarks that seem racially insensitive. When Biden opposed Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination he had to apologize for saying, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Later Biden said his “compliment” was taken out of context, a common excuse in politics.

But now that Biden is on the ticket with Obama he didn’t have to apologize for saying, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said the president would have “no problem with those comments.”

OK, so Biden made two insensitive comments. Surely we can forgive — oh, wait. There was also that candid video on C-SPAN where he told an Indian-American: “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” But apparently he was joking when, during a speech in New Hampshire, he broke into an Indian accent.

At the rally Tuesday where he made the “chains” gaffe, he imitated the sign language woman and said, “You’re gonna have trouble translating all this! That poor lady, she’s gonna have tendonitis by the time she finishes this.”

Again, can you imagine what Democratic leaders would say if Ryan sounded so foolish? Rather than being amused, they’d say it was revealing, disturbing and proof that Romney made a terrible mistake in picking him.

To be fair, many of Biden’s cringe-worthy gaffes were due to ignorance, not prejudice. Speaking at a rally in Missouri, he called on a paraplegic state senator in a wheelchair to “stand up” before acknowledging, “What am I talking about?” In Florida, he called the Everglades the “Ever-gators.”

Sometimes his gaffes are just instances of his being foolishly indiscreet. Speaking to the House Democratic caucus before the 2010 election, he said this about the president’s $900 billion economic stimulus package: “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” The president was dismissive of Biden’s remark at a press conference: “I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly.”

Imagine if Ryan said such a thing about Romney’s economic plan — that “there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Pundits would call it a game-changing blunder.

Three weeks before the 2008 election, Biden was equally candid when he told donors at a private fundraising event: “Remember, I said it standing here, if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

Again, imagine if Ryan said such a thing about Romney: “Remember, I said it standing here, if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

If you are a strong Obama-Biden supporter, perhaps you don’t believe that Ryan gaffes would trigger more negative news coverage than Biden gaffes. That’s understandable.

“Why is this joke funny?” an anthropologist-comedian asked people at a comedy club, in an NPR story last week. He discovered that humor is quite relative. “People’s implicit beliefs, unconscious beliefs and preferences, matched what they found funny.”

The theory of humor relativity is supported by plenty of evidence from the political lab. Partisans laugh at mockery of politicians they hate, but resent mockery of pols they like.

A similar relativity is seen in the way people view gaffes. When Biden says something foolish, liberals will continue to see it as an innocent mistake, just “Joe being Joe.”

In conclusion, as Biden might put it: Remember, if you don’t remember anything else I wrote — watch, Ryan will say something that will be treated like an international crisis. And Biden will be one of those who condemn him for it.

Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • Aaron

    Biden “gets away with it” because he’s got a record to stand on (which Palin did not) and because he wasn’t chosen in an attempt to blatantly pander to the base (which both Ryan and Palin were). With Ryan, Romney is actively hoping people will vote for him because they actually like the veep better. That was clearly not the case with Obama/Biden. Biden was always unquestionably the “number two” man…a direct contrast to his predecessor (Cheney).

    I’d argue that Biden is actually analogous to George H.W. Bush. Chosen to give an impression of statesmanship to a popular but “inexperienced” ticket. Bush the Elder was not without his gaffes while VP either…

    • Sdt

      You are one ignorant LIBERAL!

  • Bluefishpatty

    When I was young and I wanted my first car.. I went to an OK used car lot. There the saleman told me of the virtues of this car and how it would change my life! How, I should shop here because the other dealer was not honest.. He told me that I should trust him and he would take care of me……… Fast forward to Joe Biden…I see the same smile, the same slicked back hair..and the same promise of taking care of me as I did when I was screwed by an unscruptulous car dealer…..  

  • vito33

    What’s wrong with what Biden said? This country is already a plutocracy and the GOP, along with their Wall Street masters, are just trying to put on the finishing touches.

    It was not only a great metaphor, but given that we have only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated, not too far from the actual truth.

    By the way, where was the GOP outrage when Herman “999″ Cain was batting slavery references around every day??

    • Akiva

      Sorry, not to be rude, but whenever someone mentions some variation of “corporate run two-party system”, I have to refer them to this. http://xkcd.com/661/

  • Lindaevans1933

    it sounded horrible. I cringed when I heard Biden saying it.
    It’ s something a Black person can say, including the tone, but it’s not our place for Whites to say it.
    Biden made the mistake of over empathy…got carried away. Way out of bounds. Not said to be mean though, I don’ t think. Just out of bounds and wrong.

    Nevertheless, I feel if Romney gets in they are going to put us all (working class people ) back in chains. His sentiment was true. 

  • BobB

    Biden gets away with his comments because many people know that when you get down to it Joe will do the right thing and money won’t be a main consideration.  If people know you and trust you there’s little you can’t say. 

  • Guest

    Doesn’t it depend on who is being insulted? His comment was not an insult to African Americans – it was a wake up call (voting rights are under attack) evoking history (not too distant Jim Crow laws), saying “i’m with you… y’all”. It is awkward but it’s not a Palin style “you’re not American for whatever reason” insult. Joe Biden has a long history in government, in foreign policy, he is educated, etc. Frankly, he’s many things that Palin is not, and is not interested in being. Compare him to another Republican stateman or woman, not to Palin, to make the point. I recall he wanted to be President and did not get much of the vote in the primaries due to his foot-in-mouth disease, well publicized. He did not get away with his “articulate” comment either.

    In the end, his comment is insulting to the Republicans (read, White people) who push for voter IDs. It is unfortunate that there is an assumption that whiteness = Republicans and that any initiative is racist in nature. It is also unfortunate that there is an assumption that voter fraud occurs at the hands of the poor, minorities, and other constituencies that lean toward Obama.

  • Rob Zeleniak

    Biden’s comments are not all that outrageous. He is plainspoken. I would rather have someone who is honestly offering his opinion without filters than someone like Paul Ryan who say they believe in American values and freedom for all, when they actually mean freedom and equality for religious, white, straight and wealthy men.

  • Joe Egan

    There’s not a double standard, anytime any politicians makes a gaffe it gets taken advantage off. Consider Romney’s trip to Europe.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_67MZCOUXFSLOM257CRHBKW4AL4 wareinparis

    There is no double standard at work here. Yes, Joe suffers from foot in mouth disease, but is a known entity who has labored his whole life at serving this country. We know who he is and we know what he stands for. Sarah Palin? Not so much, at least not 4 years ago. We all have gotten a better idea of who she is.

    What Ryan and Romney suffer from is not foot in mouth disease; they are simply disingenuous.

  • jesse

    The left wingers here trying to explain Biden is laughable and pathetic. And you are the first one’s to complain of other’s partisanship.

  • Brig

    I don’t know…I think people tend to give someone they agree with a pass, while being critical of someone they don’t agree with. The media will cover these kinds of “gaffes” because the talking heads need something juicy to fill the air-time, and they like to treat politics as edutainment, like a sporting event.

    Those who support the candidate will accuse the media outlets  of “liberal bias” or “conservative bias” as necessary. Can we put the whole “liberal media” thing to rest, please? The mainstream commercial media has a ratings-bias, not a liberal one. Fox reinforces the GOP viewpoint because that’s what attracts their viewers, and MSNBC tries to do the same thing with Democrats. And it all serves to propagate the stale, pointless blather that passes for civic engagement in the U.S.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PD2BBZYTLUVF77CRIJT37LBPTE grogan

    A Rasmussen report survey of likely voters asked the question; “Which of the two presidential candidates get more positive press coverage?”  The result?  50% said Obama gets more positive press coverage, 9% said Romney.  A factor of  over 5.5 to 1.  A research report by USC a few years ago agreed with the immense bias.  I’d say to expect the press to report gaffes by Palin and Biden equally is preposterous. That would require journalists to be doing the work.  Journalists no longer exist. 

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