The perfect marker that the press doesn’t take Joe Biden seriously as a potential presidential candidate came earlier this month when he addressed members of the firefighters union, comparing labor’s foes to “blackshirts,” “intent on breaking” unions.
The blackshirts, for the historically challenged, were Benito Mussolini’s fascist shock troops who, during El Duce’s climb to power, were dispatched against his many foes, including trade unionists, often with murderous results. Ordinarily, the press would slobber at the sound of a sitting vice president comparing his political opponents to armed violent fascists. Yet with the exception of coverage in Politico, a Washington Post blog, Commentary and in a CNN.com item, Biden’s political provocation drew slim attention. The near-universal newsroom response seems to have been, It’s only Uncle Joe going off again.
Biden gets a pass from reporters, but why? Vice President Dan Quayle, equally prone to the loopy comment and awkward gesture, and similarly a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, was punished for his gaffes. My colleague Timothy Noah grappled with this double standard three years ago, deciding that Biden gets the breaks Quayle didn’t because journalists understand that Biden is “not a stupid man. He’s a smart man who often says stupid things.”