Tuesday night he made the speech of a...

POOR JOE BIDEN.

August 25, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

POOR JOE BIDEN. Tuesday night he made the speech of a lifetime, in behalf of the crime bill, and nobody paid any attention.

He didn't get a mention in the next day's coverage of the crime bill story in The Sun, the Washington Post, the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. The Wilmington News Journal, his hometown newspaper, quoted from Biden's speech in its crime bill reporting, but featured not the speech but the refusal of his Delaware colleague, Sen. William Roth, to join 41 other Republicans in opposing the bill.

However, C-SPAN II, which carries Senate debates live, reaches about 188,000 Delawareans -- or is that Delawareites? -- so maybe plenty of his constituents saw him shine after all.

A Sun colleague who watched Senator Biden on C-SPAN (as I did) said he was mesmerized and hated to have to leave in mid-speech for an appointment. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of the few senators who heard most of the speech (typically, senators drifted in and out) said it was "a ten."

I'd say it was about the best Senate floor speech I've heard in terms of command of the facts and passion and thinking-on-your-feet since some of the great Hubert Humphrey speeches in the early civil rights legislation days back in the 1960s.

I'd even put it up there with the likes of Webster and Calhoun and Clay. They debated in what historians of the Senate refer to as its "Golden Age," 1829-1861. Pre-C-SPAN, of course. Even pre-Theo.

(Senator Biden does not have a reputation as an able orator. Recently, rhetoric-wise, he has been best known for rambling, endless, pointless questions to Supreme Court nominees before the Judiciary Committee. In 1988 his presidential campaign went down in flames when it was revealed that his staple speech was lifted from someone else.)

Maybe C-SPAN ought to re-enact some of the great old Golden Age of the Senate debates, the way it is now doing with the Lincoln-Douglas debates. There was a lot of drama and conflict in those pre-Civil War Senate battles.

Actually, it would make pretty good commercial television. No sex -- women couldn't vote and there were no women senators, of course -- but violence:

Once Mississippi Sen. Harry S. "Hangman" Foote pointed a pistol at Missouri's Sen. Thomas Hart Benton (foolishly, since Senator Benton was a deadly duelist). Another time Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina came on the Senate floor and beat Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts so severely with a cane that he was out three years convalescing.

Wouldn't you love to see that re-enacted ? For that matter, wouldn't you love to see it happen today -- live on TV! -- to your least favorite senator? Sure you would. Admit it.

* * * *

For such a small state, Delaware is playing a big role in the debate on the crime bill.

Next Thursday: Castle and Roth.

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