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Biden, like others, has been in office too long

Joe Biden never bothered me that much. Even as one who supports the Romney-Ryan ticket, I often found myself feeling empathetic toward Biden.

The frequent gaffes were excusable for two reasons: people, including public figures, should not be wholly judged on an occasional slip of the tongue, and Biden does exude a certain charm that makes you want to give him a pass.

He reminds you of the uncle whose big personality trumps the incidental nuttiness.

"That's just Joe being Joe," is the frequently heard refrain.

But the vice presidential debate changed that.

Here was a lifelong public figure, the man one heartbeat away from the presidency, behaving like a petulant teenager. He laughed dismissively at inappropriate times, bullied the moderator and his opponent, mugged for the camera and puffed up like a threatened tom turkey.

It's estimated that Biden interrupted Paul Ryan as many as 80 times.

Ryan, by contrast, was measured and respectful.

For 75 minutes of the 90-minute debate, Biden shifted from the charming uncle to the prototypical career politician, the omnipotent official who, by benefit of his years in government, simply knows better than everyone else.

This is what happens to people who have been in office too long. They become used to adoring crowds and sycophantic staff. They talk, others listen - or if the audience isn't paying attention, at least they keep their mouths shut.

After awhile, the politician begins to believe that everything he or she says carries weight. The force of a logical argument is replaced by a contrived earnestness that is supposed to pass for substance.

This is the arrogance of power, hubris that is not unique to Biden.

The late Sen. William Fulbright, writing in 1966 in opposition to the Vietnam War, said the arrogance of U.S. power was, "the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission."

The conceit of the powerful weakens democracy. It undermines the country's fundamental principals of individual freedom and liberty by attempting to supplant our judgment with their flawed view.

This presidential election will not be won or lost based on the outcome of last week's Biden-Ryan debate. In fact, many observers gauged it a draw that simply set the stage for the next two presidential debates.

Still, Biden's off-putting bluster was characteristic of a larger problem in the country, the audacity of unrestricted federal power.

It's enough to transform even an amiable uncle into a strutting blowhard.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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