Thursday, October 02, 2008

All the news that’s fit to print. . . and some extra crap we had lying around

Here we go again.

That was my first thought, anyway, when I saw this headline on the front page of today’s New York Times: “An Everyman on the Trail, With Perks at Home.” It is an article written my Mike Mcintire and Serge Kovaleski that, at first blush, appears to be yet another one of the type of which we’ve seen so many this long election cycle—one that brands a Democrat as somehow dishonest or insincere because he proclaims concern for the working or lower classes of American society while enjoying a higher standard of living himself (I use but one pronoun, I know—I don’t recall seeing an article like this about Hillary Clinton, though it certainly could have been written).

The opening paragraph did not disabuse me of this notion:

For the millions of voters getting to know him, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, portrays himself at times as an average guy who takes the train to work, frets about money and basically has led a middle-class life.

“Portrays” of course is a loaded word—it implies the lie, and no more need be said. So, of course, you expect more to be said.

And so, there it is: Joe and Jill Biden have a house, and it is a nice house. Sixty-eight hundred square feet, and on a lake, too. It is half the size, and one-quarter the value of one of John and Cindy McCain’s former mansions (sold and no longer counted toward the 8-12 others the Republican couple has), but still most certainly a nice place to live.

The Biden home is not his first—he sold his previous home of twenty years. . . and, after major renovations, at a profit, too. In fact, get this, the guy who bought it paid the listed price for it! And then the Bidens went and bought another parcel of land—and they paid the listed price for that after trying to get it for less. And then the Senator borrowed $500,000 to build his new home on that land.

And then there is the matter of the train rides. Those would be the Amtrak commutes that Biden makes daily between his Delaware home and his Capitol Hill office. Apparently, those rides—for Biden and his staff—cost money (probably not as much money as the private plane or the fleet of cars maintained by the McCains, but the McCains are rich, after all, so its only natural), and some of that money came from Joe Biden’s campaign fund.

That sounds a little dodgy, no doubt something illegal there, or some sort of nefarious deal with that whole house thing, right?

Uh, not right:

There is nothing to suggest Mr. Biden bent any rules in the sale, purchase and financing of his homes. Rather, he appears to have benefited at times from the simple fact of who he is: a United States senator, not just “Amtrak Joe,” the train-riding everyman that the Obama-Biden campaign has deployed to rally middle-class voters.

Forgive me, but I now must employ the cliché: Shocked, shocked! Honestly folks—is this news? A multi-term senator has benefited from his station, but has not broken or even bent any rules.

The article will later reveal that while Biden’s commuter costs are higher than others in the Delaware delegation, they are justified by simple math. Payment of these expenses from campaign funds might not seem completely legit, but in fact, legitimate is exactly what it was.

So, again, I ask: Why is this news? Why is this on the front page of the paper of record?

This is not to say that I endorse the extra privilege accorded Senator Biden because he is in a position of power. Indeed, I have often felt uneasy with the relationships between Biden and the financial institutions that have made Delaware their home. Much in Biden’s Senate record makes his nickname—the Senator from MBNA—ring true. But nothing in today’s Times story reveals anything illegal or particularly untoward. . . beyond, of course, this shocking revelation that Senators are treated nicely by interested parties.

Really, if I am shocked by anything in the article, it is by how relatively little Senator Biden seems to have profited from his position. He owes over $700,000 on his mortgage, he carries five figures of other debt, and his retirement account holds between $15,000 and $50,000. For the US Senate—often called “the millionaires’ club”—this is downright pathetic. It actually makes me believe he does lie awake nights worrying—worrying why he isn’t as good at profiting from his position as his colleagues.

But back to the Gray Lady. In a campaign where both men on the Democratic ticket come from quite humble beginnings, where both are among the least wealthy members of the Senate, what is the point here? That they are insincere? That they have no right to challenge Republicans on issues of importance to lower- and middleclass Americans? That certainly seems—yet again in this campaign—to be the implication.

If it is, I have news for Mcintire and Kovaleski—and all the journalists who have feigned similar outrage: we don’t live in a country where a lot of people of simple means get to be president. . . or even United States Senator, for that matter. That would be something worth writing about—especially now, in this time where the merely wealthy are voting to bailout the superrich. We could have a conversation about how we might finance campaigns differently to get candidates perhaps more in touch with the plight of working Americans.

Or, we could just talk about that plight—the struggles and needs of most of our population—and how each ticket’s proposals might address the situation.

However, in a time when the sitting president and the Republican candidate are both wealthy sons of privilege whose actions, decisions, orders, and votes have proven they have little real concern for the less well-off, to run a front-page story such as the one on Biden borders on the absurd—and gets in bed with the irresponsible.

Is it really the contention of the Times that it is more sincere to be a rich man from a privileged family acting in the service of his class while paying lip service to the needs of the less fortunate than it is to be a rich man, who was once a poor man, not forgetting from whence he came? If not, someone there should say something, because that’s the message they keep sending.

If the New York Times is not willing to pull back the curtain on this bias, then might I suggest that they actually stick to news for their news pages?

Then again, as I have come to realize, their motto isn’t “Only the news that’s fit to print.”

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger guy2k said...

Oh, one more thing, who coined the term “Amtrak Joe?”

I don’t recall getting a text message announcing Obama’s running mate, Amtrak Joe. I don’t expect if I met Senator Biden, he would say, “Just call me ‘Amtrak Joe.’” It’s the friggin’ establishment media that uses the term that they now imply is insincere!

6:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home