Introducing the Joe Biden Gaffe-o-Meter

October 2, 2012

Whoops, he did it again.

Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at a campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina today, had this to say about the policies supported by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan: "How they can justify … raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years?"

Yes, that's right, it was President Obama who was in charge when the middle class got buried, according to Biden's formulation.

And, yes, Republicans quickly seized on the gaffe. “We agree!” Ryan said at a rally in Iowa. “That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States.”

And, double yes, Biden sought to clean up the mess he had made at a subsequent appearance on Tuesday, telling an audience in Asheville, N.C. that "the middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan have supported."

For anyone who has followed Biden's career -- and it has been a remarkable one -- is aware that the vice president tends to make a few more verbal missteps than the average politician.  So, rather than write about each one without any context, we decided the best way to approach Biden gaffes from now on is to categorize each in comparison to the best/worst verbal miscues he has made during the course of his political life.

We call it the Joe Biden Gaffe-o-Meter.  The premise is simple; we rank each of Biden's gaffes from 1 to 10.  A "1" is a minor gaffe without any long-term (or even short term) political impact and that any of us could commit; think Biden asking the man in the wheelchair to "stand up".  A "10" is a gaffe that did real damage either to Biden or to the president; think Biden describing Obama as "articulate...bright...clean" on the same day that he formally entered the 2008 presidential race.

So, where does "buried" fit in?  

On the bad side for Biden:

* It comes 24 hours before the first general election debate and hands the Republican ticket a place to play offense in the race -- something they have struggled mightily to do since the Democratic National Convention.

* It allows Romney a cudgel with which to hammer Obama with middle class voters, a constituency where the Republican nominee is currently losing -- and losing badly. (A September NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed Romney down 19 points to Obama on the question of who is looking out for the middle class.)

On the not-so-bad side for Biden:

* His defenders insist that the full context of the quote exonerates him from this being categorized as a gaffe. Here's that full context for what it's worth:

"How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years?  How in the Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts. So look, folks, we've seen this movie before -- massive tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating restrictions on Wall Street, let the banks write their own rules.  We know where it ends.  It ends in the catastrophe of the middle class and the Great Recession of 2008.  Folks, we cannot go back to that.  The President and I have a different way forward."
 

* With the first general election debate set for tomorrow night, it's hard to imagine the "buried" line being a story on Thursday or anytime after that. Gaffes have an incredibly short shelf life in this modern media-political environment and circumstances seem likely to conspire to make this one shorter-lived than most.

Biden Gaffe-o-Meter rating for "buried": 3. Would the Obama campaign rather Biden not have said it? Oh, you betcha. But, context and intervening events lighten the load on the veep somewhat and keep this on the lower end of the spectrum.

Agree with our rating? Have one of your own? The comments section awaits.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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