Friday 23 March 2018

Joe Biden says he has been able 'to literally meet every major world leader in the last 38 years'

US Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Getty Images
US Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Getty Images

Toby Harnden

Vice President Joe Biden may have managed to cure his own stammer but he still appears to be pathologically incapable of speaking of his own accomplishments without exaggerating.

In an address he made today to students at Sichuan University in China at the weekend he stated that he has had “an opportunity to literally meet every major world leader in the last 38 years”.

The statement came in response to a questioner who praised him as an “accomplished public speaker” and asked him about the role public speaking had played in his life. First, Biden compared himself to King George VI, apart from ”the royal blood and the money”:

I don’t know whether you’ve had an opportunity to see a movie that has gotten worldwide circulation called “The King’s Speech”. Well, but for the royal blood and the money, that could have been me. I was a serious stutterer when I was in school as a child, as a high school student, and even into college. And I practiced very, very hard by myself, standing in front of a mirror, trying to annunciate without contorting my face.

Having promised to “order my thoughts here to make this as brief as I can”, Biden went on a rambling meditation about how ”the most important thing to look to in a leader’s speech is not the elegance or the rhetorical flourish of his or her comments, but the judgment of whether or not you believe they are sincere in what they’re saying”. Which could sound to some like a veiled shot at Obama.

Next, Biden provoked laughter by imitating a stammerer and then says that it is offensive to laugh. Then he professed himself to be embarrassed that he cannot speak Chinese:

And so the thing that I’m most embarrassed about in my career of 38 years of having an opportunity to literally meet every major world leader in the last 38 years. I was elected as a 30…29-year-old, young man from modest means. And I’ve had that opportunity. The thing that always embarrasses me is – and in the back of my head, I’m embarrassed in front of you – I’m embarrassed I can’t speak to you in Chinese. I would – seriously – I would rather be able to honour you and show my respect for you by speaking your language, as you honour me by speaking mine.

Biden was a senator for a staggering 36 years and it’s true that he’s hob-nobbed with many world leaders. But “literally…every world leader?”. He prefaced the claim with “opportunity to” but it’s clear that he meant that his political career has enabled him to meet “every world leader” in the past almost four decades.

Biden’s problem is not so much that he can’t speak Chinese but that he has no filter and can’t speak English without exaggerating for effect and blurting out, as he puts it himself, what’s “in the back of my head”.

Sometimes Obama must wish that his veep had never managed to get rid of that stammer.

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