DENVER--After a somewhat shaky debut alongside Barack Obama last Saturday in Springfield, Ill., Joe Biden made his first solo appearance as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tuesday at a roundtable on Economic Security for American Families. Flanked by a quartet of struggling women preselected by the campaign, Biden offered a preview of what's sure to be his central role on the campaign trail from now until November: using his own trials and tribulations to reach out to working-class voters who are still wary of Obama. "My mom says, you have to walk a mile in someone's shoes to understand them," he said. "Now, I haven't walked a mile in the shoes of these incredible women, but I think I understand them."
By asking Biden to pull a Bill Clinton and feel voters' pain, Obama is betting that his running mate's straight-shooting style will pay off. But what was clear from Biden's initial performance as empathizer-in-chief is that the only thing more important to the Delaware senator than speaking his mind is letting everyone in the room KNOW that he's speaking his mind. Typically, Biden accomplishes this feat by prefacing everything he says with a word or phrase meant to emphasize his own honesty. Although his supply of such qualifiers seems limitless, his favorite is clearly "literally." During his speech in Springfield, for example, Biden used the word a grand total of eight times, including twice in a row (while testifying to Obama's ability to "literally, literally change the direction of the world"); Tuesday in Denver, he one-upped himself, exclaiming that "your children's futures" are "literally, literally, literally at stake." Remarkably, Biden managed to pack six other "I'm being candid now" catchphrases into his brief 12-minute debut. His attack on McCain's tax cuts was "literally factual." (A twofer.) "I'm not making this up," he added, in case there was any confusion. Praising Michelle Obama's eloquence, Biden informed the audience that "I mean this sincerely," and before addressing the cost of health care, he tossed off an "I'm serious" or two. Other statements were qualified with "I'm not joking" and "this is not hyperbole."
If at all possible--and that's a big if--Biden might want to curb his verbal tic before November. His tendency to constantly repeat that he's being sincere runs the risk of undercutting, rather than underscoring, his sincerity. That said, McCain also indulges in a similar shtick, and so far he's only been able to come up with one slogan: "here's a little straight talk, my friends." At least Joe gets points for creativity. Literally.