Jean Edward Smith And Joe Biden
Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
I shall use this post to do something I don’t believe I’ve done before: to comment – relatively briefly – on two things I saw on Book TV over the weekend. One of the two things relates to a matter that was on my mind last week. The other relates to something on my mind for a long time.
Last week a post here related to historian Jean Edward Smith. More precisely, it related to the vitriolic reaction to his suggestion that the Democrats could expand the size of the Supreme Court in order to curb its reactionary decisionmaking if they win the presidency and Congress in 2008. Over the weekend, Book TV televised a talk by Smith at the FDR Library about his new biography entitled, simply, “FDR.” I had the book in my briefcase to read next (and indeed started it soon after hearing Smith), so I listened to his talk. He was impassioned about what FDR did for the country. The talk seemed at least an implied rebuke to the longstanding conservative-to-reactionary attempt to paint FDR a political blackguard.
Upon beginning to read the book, I realized the talk seems to have been taken, in major part word-for-word, from Smith’s preface. No matter. Smith’s passion was evident in the talk, and, based on what I know from prior reading, he seems to have his facts right, both those pro FDR and those con FDR. After about 70 pages, I still find it very readable -- and some of the end notes fascinating. (Reading end notes because they often have interesting stuff in them is one of my weaknesses.) For long books to be fascinating is not an easy trick for an author to pull off. Viz. the fact that recently I’ve stopped in the middle of a couple of long books about two subjects of great interest, one being the relationship between two arch criminals of American government and the other being about the constant derelictions since midcentury of a major American governmental institution. (As so many know, stopping a book in the middle is somehow contrary to a veritable law of nature that oozes into us somewhere along the line. Critics even write of how they manage to do this. It ain’t easy bub, and the fact that one nonetheless does it says something about a book.)
Anyway, the passion, apparent accuracy and, most of all, the extensive historical knowledge evident in Smith’s remarks at the FDR library made me think that his obvious competence is yet another reason why the vitriol directed at him in the letters-to-the-editor column was mistaken, or, as someone recently put it when implicitly commenting on the ignorant speech patterns of the Great Decider, “misunderestimated” Smith. One is tempted to say that his critics are the ignorant savaging the knowledgeable -- a common human phenomenon -- but who knows if the critics are in fact as ignorant as one might think, not to mention that the re are a horde of occasions (although this doesn’t seem one of them) when we of the rabble get it right and our supposedly knowledgeable betters are all wrong. (Viet Nam and Iraq being cases in point.)
The other matter concerns Joe Biden. Book TV showed a talk he recently made at a National Press Club luncheon. (The speech was occasioned by a book he recently wrote.) Among other matters he stressed the need to constantly get up off the floor when one is knocked down (be one a person, a nation, or anything else) and the need to keep one’s word. He also talked about his long-held view that a tripartite division of Iraq into virtually independent Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite areas in a federalized state is the o nly possible “solution” to a problem that in reality has no good solution. (The need for a tripartite division has been the view in this space, as the columnists used to say, ever since my posting began.) He gave quite reasonable sounding responses to criticisms of the suggestion for a triple division. And, time after time, he responded to questions with brevity, with succinctness (and with wit). Joe Biden brief? Joe Biden succinct? Is this a new Joe Biden?
For a long time it has seemed to me, and has been written here, that this country desperately needs a new third party. It also, of course, is at this point wholly uncertain whether a third party can arise. Of all the people currently running for the Presidency as Republicans or Democrats, it has seemed to me that all the Republicans are no damn good as human beings, at least they are no damn good as human beings in their political personas, however they may be in private life, and that several of the Democrats are the same. One of the few Democrats whom I’ve thought well of is Biden (notwiths tanding, one must say, his now nearly two decade descent into plagiarism and his oh so Senatorially typical, incompetent diarrhea of the mouth -- as was true of all the senators – instead of asking short sharp pertinent questions when “questioning” the unethical, hide-the-ball Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and Roberts’ fellow hide-the-ball nominee Samuel Alito in hearings on their nominations.
Biden’s talk at the National Press Club set one to wondering anew. The man is very intelligent generally, his foreign policy views are quite intelligent, his heart is in the right place, (like Jean Smith) he has passion. Maybe electing Joe Biden would be a very good thing. Is it even possible that a new or nascent third party could assist this, thereby avoiding both an at least conceivable inability to attract its own sufficiently viable candidate and, very importantly, avoiding the charge that, like Nader, it is making it possible for some political Neanderthal from the Republican Party to win the presidency yet again?
What one has in mind is this. A third party could support Biden as its candidate too if he were to win the Democratic nomination. Hasn’t something like this, or identical to it, been done in New York, with the Liberal Party adopting a candidate of one of the two major parties? My recollection is that this has been done. Is the recollection mistaken?
I doubt that Biden would even have to formally agree to be the third party’s choice as well as the Democrats’ choice. A simple “benign neglect” by him toward the third party adoption of his candidacy would do. He would not forget, if elected, that the third party insured he would go over the top. The third party itself would benefit, of course, because it will have established itself as a future serious competitor to the two major parties - - a competitor that might one day replace one of them as the Republicans replaced the Whigs in the mid nineteenth century -- and in 2012 or 2016 could put up its own candidate.
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