Man With A Plan

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I remember taking the train to Wilmington to interview Joe Biden during a Senate recess in the mid-1990’s. Most of what I knew about him at the time I’d gleaned from Richard Ben Cramer’s outstanding book about the 1988 presidential campaign and the men who waged it, What It Takes. For those who haven’t read it and don’t know, Biden overcame a terrible stutter as a young man. Ever since, he’s loved to speak. And speak and speak and speak. After my interview that day in Delaware, one of Biden’s policy aides joined me and the senator’s press secretary in the elevator. “Ah, were you subjected to the river of words?” the aide asked with a smile. Indeed I had been. I spent an hour with Biden that day; I think I managed to ask four questions, maybe five.

Biden’s penchant to talk too much can get him in trouble (see the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Sam Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court.) But he’s likable enough that he tends to get away with it. And on Iraq at least, whether you agree with him or not, Biden has tried hard to have something substantive to say, unlike many of his Democratic colleagues. Since last Spring, Biden has been promoting a plan for Iraq he co-authored with Les Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. The plan calls for a kind of loose partition of Iraq between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds under an weak federal government. It may not be the answer, but it is a serious plan. And Biden is clearly hoping to distinguish himself among the Democratic 08 contenders as the candidate who can fix Iraq. He’s a long shot, of course, in a field with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But he’ll force the star candidates to deal with Iraq in more than hindsight and sound bites. That alone makes Biden’s candidacy worthwhile. – Jay Carney