A Heartbeat Away

This is the part when I write “imagine if a Republican said something like this“:

Vice President Joe Biden drew fire from a prominent Jewish group on Tuesday after he described unscrupulous bankers who prey on servicemen and servicewomen deployed overseas as “Shylocks” a term frequently condemned as an anti-Semitic caricature.

“Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The Vice President should have been more careful,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said.

Shylock, the villain in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” is a Jewish moneylender who mercilessly demands a “pound of flesh” from the merchant who defaults on a loan. Whether the 16th-century play is anti-Semitic or reflects the anti-Semitism of the time is a subject of frequent, bitter debate, but the term Shylock is offensive enough that Florida stripped it from state law back in 2009. (Not everyone has gotten that memo).

If you’re a Biden fan who is concerned that this latest case of foot-in-mouth disease might wreck the vice president’s career, stop worrying. Biden has gotten away with making so many gaffes, that it is hard to believe that yet another one will sink him. The common media reaction to Biden’s statement will be the same one that follows any of his verbal blunders; reporters will sigh, roll their eyes, and say something along the lines of “oh, there goes Joe, being Joe again!” And then, they will move on to something else.

Which of course, is precisely the problem. Never has Biden had to pay any kind of serious political price for having issued any of his patented bigoted and offensive comments. He might have watched his mouth more carefully if he ever did suffer politically for any of his oratorical disasters, but no one in a position of power or prominence–either in the media, or for that matter, in the political world–ever holds Biden’s feet to the fire and really makes him pay for not having any kind of filter between his brain and his mouth. Biden likely believes that he can afford to play fast and loose with his statements because he’s never been punished for having strayed off the territory of respectable discourse.

Do I think that Joe Biden is an anti-Semite? Of course not. But I do believe that he has poor impulse control, and that when he opens his mouth, the chances that the United States of America will be made to look bad go up exponentially. Kind of makes you wonder why selecting Joe Biden as a vice presidential running mate was Barack Obama’s first presidential decision.

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