Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden’s statement predicting Sen. Barack Obama would be tested if elected with an international crisis has created a Republican feeding frenzy, playing into Sen. John McCain’s claim that the 47-year-old Democrat is unprepared to be president.
Obama brushed off his running mate’s comment during a Wednesday news conference as an example of Biden’s “rhetorical flourishes.” But since the Delaware senator uttered the words during a Sunday fundraiser in San Francisco, McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have been using them to hammer Obama, while others are defending or guessing at Biden’s meaning.
“Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” Biden said, according to a transcript from ABC News. “The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”
Biden added that he could give four or five scenarios where a crisis might originate and asked the donors to use their influence in the community to stand with Obama because “it’s not going to be apparent that we’re right.”
While Republicans are portraying the comments as an “admission” specific to Obama, others say Biden was being honest about the realities facing any new president, even if his comments were inartfully phrased.
“I think Joe Biden’s lack of precision in what he specifically said created an opportunity for McCain, which obviously McCain is trying to take advantage of,” said Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for President Reagan. “But the broader point is that all presidents, all new presidents, regardless of party are tested as we’ve seen certainly in the last 50 years.”
Early in Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency, the North Vietnamese stepped up pressure on the United States, leading to an increased presence of U.S. forces. Reagan saw increased conflict in Nicaragua and both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had terrorist attacks during their first terms.
Given the history, Biden would say the same thing about McCain, said Les Gelb, president emeritus of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.
“It’s the kind of honest realistic conversation that leaders ought to be having with the public but that gets turned into hysteria,” said Gelb, who partnered with Biden in 2005 on a proposal for a political solution in Iraq.
Both McCain and Palin have mentioned Biden’s comments in speeches, with McCain portraying them as Biden’s guarantee of an international crisis if Obama is elected.
More troubling, McCain said during a rally in Bensalem, Pa., is that Biden told the donors they would have to stand with them because it wouldn’t be apparent that Obama would have the right response.
“Forget apparent,” he said. “We know Sen. Obama won’t have the right response.”
At a rally in Findlay, Ohio, Palin said, “I guess we gotta say first, thanks for the warning, Joe.”
Republicans argue Biden’s comments reinforce his assertion as a presidential candidate that Obama was unprepared. A spokesman would not say whether the McCain campaign plans to use this in advertisements.
Biden’s spokesman David Wade said Wednesday that McCain and Palin are “distorting and distracting to create a contrived controversy.”
Duberstein also said people are worried about the economy and are deciding they are comfortable “with the steady leadership of Sen. Obama and that’s the challenge for John McCain.”
He added, “I do not think this fundamentally erodes the confidence that has been developing in Sen.Obama.”