Joe Biden’s greatest (and not-so-greatest) debate hits

October 10, 2012

It’s no secret that Vice President Joe Biden has a tendency to stick his foot in his mouth. And looking ahead to Thursday’s debate, one of the big questions has to be whether Biden will steal the spotlight for saying something controversial.

But before looking forward, it’s worth looking back at Biden’s previous debate performances -- of which there are plenty to choose from. There are moments Biden can reflect on with pride, and others he might want to forget. Below is our rundown of his five most memorable debate moments (and for more on Biden's debate tendencies, check out this video from the Post's Karen Tumulty): 

* 2008: Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman stumbles on foreign policy

Viewers were greeted with a Biden who appeared careful, so as not to come across as a bully in his 2008 vice presidential debate against Sarah Palin. Both candidates escaped without any huge headline-generating gaffes. But Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stumbled when he said that the United States and France had "kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon”.

The Post’s Fact Checker noted the radical Islamic fundamentalist group had run militias in Lebanon since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and enjoyed strong Shiite support in the southern part of the country.

* 2008: An emotional Biden

Moments of genuine emotion are rare in politics. In his debate against Palin, Biden choked up when he talked about his ability to relate to Americans’ struggles, as he mentioned the tragic death of his wife and daughter in a car accident and discussed what it's like to be a single parent.

* 2007: “A noun and a verb and 9/11”

While Biden is often seen is a one-man gaffe machine who has often hurt his own standing, he’s also capable of unleashing colorful zingers against the opposition. Case in point: A 2008 Democratic presidential primary debate in which he had this to say about then-GOP presidential contender and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani: “There only three things he mentions in a sentence: A noun and a verb and 9/11, I mean, there’s nothing else.”

Biden also called Giuliani “probably the most under-qualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency.”

* 2007: A (rare) dose of Biden brevity

Perhaps no one’s more aware of Biden’s knack for droning on about a subject or getting in trouble for speaking a little too candidly than the vice president himself. When asked by NBC News’s Brian Williams in a 2007 Democratic primary debate whether he could reassure voters he has the discipline he would need to be president on the world stage, Biden replied simply: “Yes.”

* 1987: Something borrowed

Biden’s 2008 run for president was his second attempt. Twenty years prior, he made his first White House bid, and during a 1987 forum he offered some inspirational words about being the first in his family to go to college and the importance of having a platform on which to stand. The problem was he was channeling (virtually verbatim) British politician Neil Kinnock, and while Biden had credited him in the past, he didn’t do so on that occasion.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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