Sunday, April 17, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Leave Vice President Joe Biden alone. He is one of us.
President Barack Obama gave a speech Wednesday on the budget deficit and how to fix it. It was an important discussion because it laid out the president’s ideas about how to tackle a growing debt load while investing in a future for the young people in America who are depending on us to make good decisions on their behalf.
Not surprisingly, there is a Republican position on the deficit that doesn’t quite match the priorities and remedies that were evident in the president’s discussion. How we square those two different visions, how we compromise in this country of great compromises and how we manage to navigate all this important work in the middle of a presidential election cycle may be the challenge of our generation.
In short, this budget mess and how to fix it without destroying what America stands for is the great political theater in which we will all play a part over the next year. And how we answer the call will define us as a country as we move forward in a century in which power, respect and financial success will, by necessity, be shared.
We have a lot at stake. These questions and their answers are important, even crucial. So, how does the media and its pundit class cover these most important events surrounding the president’s speech and the competing visions?
They focus on the vice president of the United States taking a brief nap in the middle of Obama’s speech. That’s right, while the president is focused on deficit reduction, Joe Biden was focused on being unfocused. In a world in which there are no longer any secrets and everyone’s life is an open book, here was Vice President Biden catching 40 winks. Let’s admit it, he should have had his eyes wide open.
To all of that I say, so what?
The vice president and I are contemporaries if not co-generationists. He is just a few short years ahead of the leading edge of the Baby Boomers. What that means to me is that for a number of years he and most of the rest of us aging Americans have probably enjoyed an afternoon nap, or a short “resting of the eyes,” or a moment of concentration in which closing the eyes, while listening to what was going on, was an essential part of the day.
In fact, as I look back on my life, there have been plenty of times when I sat through meetings listening to stuff, which I either knew or didn’t want to learn, when a nap would have been a far more preferable and health-advancing course of action.
Biden is not the first person of advancing age who has succumbed to the great pleasures of a short nap. For as long as we have had videotape, we have amassed pictures of leaders stealing a few winks at the expense of whatever else they were supposed to be doing. It is not wrong, it is not unusual and it is not something about which we should make fun, especially from the young people. It will happen to you one day, sooner than you think.
The problem, of course, is that the vice president did it while the president of the United States was speaking. Whoops!
So, instead of focusing on what deficit reduction, budget cutting and vital forward investing should look and feel like, the American people have been distracted onto a course of comedy routines that have little to do with educating us adequately enough to allow us to make a meaningful contribution to the debate.
So, who loses? We do, of course.
As for the vice president, I have a theory about why his eyes were shut for a few seconds during the president’s almost hourlong treatise. It is widely known that the president includes his second in command on every major decision. He trusts Joe’s wisdom and advice — maybe because he knows the vice president gets plenty of sleep — and therefore relies on his input.
Given that, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Biden has heard the speech and its components more than once. Probably a half dozen times over the past week or so. If Biden is like the rest of us AARP-eligible Americans, his mind has become inured to the facts and figures, and figures of speech, that Obama used last week. The only defense to yet another hearing of the same is to shut the eyes and seek a moment’s surcease.
It is either that or something much worse. Biden could have simply been exhausted because he has spent too many sleepless nights worrying about this great country and the misguided rhetoric thrown our way by those whose agenda is not in sync with Joe’s American dream. If that is the case, we have both an overly tired second-in-command and a man upon whom the president relies, who just can’t stay alert because the thought of losing the American people’s support scares him awake every night of his life.
I prefer the former reason. Joe had heard it all before and was just taking a short break.
The real danger in all of this much-ado-about-not-very-much is that so many other Americans, both within leadership and without, who disagree with the president and use the Biden distraction to make a point, have more than just their eyes closed.
Joe Biden has a long and distinguished career in which multitasking has not been an issue. I suspect he, like many of us, is perfectly capable of closing his eyes and actually hearing what is being said. No one has suggested otherwise.
What concerns me far more than a few needed winks in the middle of the day are those who claim to know so much — because they tell us so on a 24/7 basis — who can keep their eyes wide open and their minds so tightly shut!
Give me a man who gets enough sleep that he can engage his brain on a moment’s notice, and I will feel comfortable with his leadership. When you give me a man who refuses to hear the logic of the argument, I become very concerned.
Especially when his eyes and his mouth are all that is open.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.