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“Joe Biden.” With the exception of “broken teleprompter,” these are the scariest two words in the White House communications shop.
One advantage Biden has over Obama is he can always claim he was “just being Joe” whenever he says something controversial. In this way, Biden reminds me a bit of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who would say “nice” things in English and evil things in Arabic. The press would largely ignore the Arabic and take him at his word in English.
Biden gets away with a similar technique, only it’s all in English. It’s just that when he’s “just being Joe,” he gets a pass.
It would be one thing if all Biden did was offer the occasional Washington gaffe (i.e., accidentally telling the truth), or if he merely talked as if he learned history from Monty Python skits, as when he claimed that FDR went on TV to reassure Americans after the 1929 stock market crash. (FDR wasn’t president. No one had TV). But that’s not how he rolls.
Earlier this month, Biden spoke to the European Parliament in Brussels. “As you probably know, some American politicians and American journalists refer to Washington, D.C., as the ‘capital of the free world.’ But it seems to me that this great city, which boasts 1,000 years of history and which serves as the capital of Belgium, the home of the European Union and the headquarters for NATO, this city has its own legitimate claim to that title.”
Now, as Biden said after the passage of Obamacare, this is a big (expletive deleted) deal. Sure, you can downgrade it to mere diplo-flattery, but that’s just the geopolitical equivalent of giving Biden the same free pass he always gets.
Still, I’d give him a pass, too, if this was crazy Joe talking. We’d all just roll our eyes if he came in there reciting Irish limericks in Klingon and claiming that we can switch from fossil fuels to Grape Nuts cereal.
But this wasn’t Joe just being Joe. How do we know? Because these were prepared remarks, and they fit perfectly with the White House’s approach to foreign policy.In speeches around the world, Obama has offered apologies, confessions, and indictments of his own country. Save for the Afghanistan surge, Obama’s foreign policy has pointed toward the idea that America needs to downgrade its sense of exceptionalism. What better way to do that than to concede the title of leader of the free world, without a fight, to a Belgian backwater known for its absurd European regulations, urinating statues, and excellent beer?
In 2003, Don Rumsfeld’s talk of “old Europe” ignited an international firestorm. But when Biden suggests that the lamplight of liberty shines most brightly from Brussels, the collective response is either quiet nodding from the Left or “there he goes again” from the Right.
How about we take Biden seriously instead?
Let’s look at Biden’s case for Brussels as Freedom Command Alpha. It’s 1,000 years old! Okay. But for most (all) of that time, Brussels was hardly synonymous with “freedom.” Beijing is twice as old as Brussels, Cairo older still. Does that burnish their liberty-loving street cred?
Aha, but Biden adds that Brussels is the capital of Belgium! While I’m sure that’s a huge matter of pride in high-school ping-pong competitions against Antwerp, does anyone else care?
It’s true that Brussels is the headquarters for NATO, but NATO takes its orders from a different capital–Washington, D.C.
Then there’s the fact that the EU has set up shop in Brussels. Surely this was really Biden’s only point. He was telling the unaccountable Lilliputians of the Eurocracy that Gulliver sees them as equals now.
We’ve gone through the looking glass. Brussels has no love for freedom as we define it in the American sense, and it has little to no power to promote it in any sense. The pencil pushers in Brussels have almost as much contempt for democratic sovereignty and free enterprise as they do for common sense. Indeed, in the endless quest to ratify the EU’s constitution, the leaders of the effort insisted that the voters’ opinion didn’t matter.
Brussels doesn’t stand for freedom, it sits for its own self-aggrandizement, social engineering, the tyranny of legalisms, and diplomatic argy-bargy.
It’s not just offensive that Biden thinks Brussels might deserve the title over Washington, it’s terrifying that he might actually think Brussels is in the freedom business at all.
Jonah GOldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI.
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