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Des Moines Register: Biden's Vote For War Funding a Profile In Courage

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Des Moines Register: Biden's Vote For War Funding a Profile In Courage

By DAVID YEPSEN

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden is the only Democratic presidential candidate to have voted for the recent supplemental war-funding bill.

That's not a very popular thing to do in a party where anti-war passions run high. Biden was already struggling to break into the top tier of candidates, and his vote could cost him dearly with some on caucus night.

(Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd voted against the measure.)

Biden's vote brings to mind a story John F. Kennedy tells about Ohio Republican Sen. Robert Taft in Kennedy's book "Profiles in Courage." In 1946, Taft appeared to be the likely Republican presidential nominee in 1948, yet he spoke out against the Nuremberg war crimes trials in Germany.

Talk about bad politics. The United States had just come through a costly and bloody struggle to bring down the Nazi regime, and here was a leading U.S. senator suggesting it was wrong to hang people under rules approved after the fact.

Taft took a public-relations beating for the speech, and, while Kennedy says it wasn't the only reason he didn't get the Republican presidential nomination in 1948, the fact remains the GOP opted for Thomas Dewey as its nominee that year.

"What is noteworthy is the illustration furnished by this speech of Taft's unhesitating courage in standing against the flow of public opinion for a cause he believed to be right," Kennedy wrote.

Right now, public opinion inside the Democratic Party runs hot against the Iraq war. Candidates are falling all over themselves to show their opposition.

Biden said during a meeting with Des Moines Register reporters and editors on Tuesday that he voted for the funding bill largely because it contained funding for new armored vehicles that will better resist roadside bombs. He said 70 percent of U.S. deaths and casualties are caused by these explosive devices, and the new vehicles could reduce that by two-thirds.

"I find it absolutely unconscionable that I would delay, to make a point, a week to two to a month, the construction of these vehicles," he said.

Biden said, "I knew the right political move. I didn't have any doubt about the right political vote, but there are some things worth losing elections over, for gosh sakes. I could not remotely, in good conscience," vote to delay production of the vehicles.

As a result of the vote, Biden said he "anticipated it was going to be a rough weekend here in Iowa." Instead, he finds his meetings are well attended and people are respectful.

So, Biden trudges on in the 2008 campaign. Many in the political community don't take him seriously. He ran for president in 1988 and had to drop out of the race after a flap over using quotes from a British leader without attributing them.

He talks too much, and he gets ridiculed. But he often has something to say, and Iowans seem willing to listen. After all, the man has been in the U.S. Senate for 34 years, and long-windedness is not a crime in politics. He understands the details of just about any problem you want to discuss with him and has solutions for them. (He has some expertise on civil liberties, crime and education, although those issues are often eclipsed by Iraq and terrorism these days.)

He also serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Had John Kerry been elected president, he probably would have been his secretary of state. The ideas he suggested months ago for getting out of Iraq are slowly being copied by other candidates and the administration.

What Biden has to hope for is that during this long caucus campaign, Iowa Democrats look beyond the money, staff and flash of the three leading contenders to give him a chance.

Such things do happen. At this stage of the game in 2003, candidates like Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt were leading the pack of Democrats in the polls. By January, they'd collapsed, and the winners were John Kerry and John Edwards.

So let's not be too dismissive of any contenders right now, especially one as experienced, smart - and courageous - as Biden.


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