This is a ridiculous but telling debate over the semantics of race.

Last week I wrote (speaking of Barack Obama):

" African American candidate, for the first time in our history, enters the contest as a serious contender to win the biggest prize in American politics."

Joe Biden said this week: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

I bet we meant just about the same thing. I used fewer words, which is always a good policy in that it is safer as well as better form.

But to the bigger point--and my question for you: With what set of facts within Biden's statement, exactly, do you disagree?

Barack Obama responded that he was not offended. I suppose that is the bright side. But Obama noted that Biden's statement was "obviously...historically inaccurate." Obviously?

Obama also asserted: "African American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Mosely Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."


Obama's rejoinder is, first of all, mostly a non sequitur; Biden did not call the enumerated African American notables inarticulate. Secondly, Obama's statement, dripping with political correctness, is true enough on its face--but a howler if it were intended to refute Biden's primary political assessment.

One more time, Joe Biden said: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Shirley Chisholm and Carol Mosely Braun were not "nice looking guys." In fact, they were not especially attractive women. Okay so far.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are articulate only in the broadest sense of the word. Their oratory, in fact, is actually quite narrow in its appeal and flows from a specific cultural milieu that is inarguably out of the mainstream. Jackson and Sharpton are both preachers and entertainers. But politically speaking, they are not especially "articulate" or persuasive in an orthodox sense of the term. Joe Biden is still right on the money.

Is Obama "bright" and "clean"?

By this I presume any rational listener would conclude that Biden meant that Obama is a fresh face, unsoiled by past public errors, poor decisions or scandal.

My view: Those who distort "clean" into some sort of racial epithet are beneath contempt.

Obama is a "storybook" figure. He is a dream candidate. He is absolutely unique in the purest sense; that is, he is completely unlike any previous candidate for president of the United States. Biden was absolutely right. This feeding frenzy is completely unwarranted and lacks any sense of proportion or decency. Having said that, if this were a prominent Republican public figure, the story would be a wall-to-wall media event, which would only gain steam until the dastardly Republican was driven from the field of play.

But what about Biden? His biggest problem is that he generally uses too many words. Most of the time, he is too clever by half. He is too confident in his modest intellect and too fond of the sound of his own voice. None of this comes as a revelation to any one who has watched more a minute or two of C-SPAN2.

And he is out (or will be soon enough). Again, not a big surprise and probably for the best. Having said all the bad about Biden, he really is an immensely talented senator and fairly competent and useful when he is not running for president. We will all be better off when Joe Biden reconciles himself to the overwhelming probability that he will never be president of the United States.

I welcome the inevitable: his announcement that he is fishing his hat from the ring.

Just for fun: Who is the next irrelevant senator who doesn't have a chance that is soon likely to see the writing on the wall?

I don't want to say his name, but his initials are Chris Dodd.