When the job numbers for May were announced back in early June, I felt like my favorite Uncle Joe had just sucker-punched me in the kidneys. It wasn’t the disappointing numbers alone—411,000 of the new jobs were temporary Census jobs—but that Joe Biden had, once again, been so confident and so wrong, this time for predicting that the May numbers were “going to be well beyond” the previous month’s. If you counted the temp work of the Census, he was technically correct, but the 41,000 reasonably permanent private-sector jobs created in May were in fact a big disappointment after April’s creation of 218,000 private sector jobs. (The later revised numbers show an even larger discrepancy.)
The problem is, Biden just keeps on saying stuff like this no matter what happens. Even after the June jobs reports showed a net loss of 125,000 jobs, Biden went on to boldly tell Politico, “We’re going to range—on average, by the time we get to Election Day—probably between 100,000 and 200,000 job creations a month.”
In fairness, Biden’s jobs forecasts have occasionally been right, and sometimes he’s merely echoing analysts’ overly optimistic forecasts. He does know that his monthly forays onto weak limbs can really piss people off: "Even some in the White House said, ‘Hey, don’t get ahead of yourself,’" Biden relayed this spring. But Joe just can’t help himself—and his lunchbucket Nostradamus act goes far beyond jobs alone:
On the chances that U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan when Obama promised: “In July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out,” he told Jonathan Alter last fall. “Bet on it.”
On how the rest of the planet would treat the new Obama presidency: “Mark my words: It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” he said shortly before the 2008 election. “Remember I said it standing here if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.… As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it’s gonna happen.”
And, perhaps most important, on the Democrats’ chances in the midterms: “I think we can beat Rand Paul—absolutely,” Biden said recently. “I do not see this grand debacle,” he added, laying odds that Senate majority leader Harry Reid would beat Sharron Angle in Nevada with “a 55 percent chance or better.”
Well, some folks say the home team will win every game as they switch on the set, even when they’re Cubs fans. I think Biden’s likely way off on Afghanistan (though his idea of targeting Al Qaeda with special forces and drones may eventually prevail), but can anyone tell me if Joe ever identified the international “generated crisis” that tested Obama in his first six months? And I’d love to think he might be right on the Dems’ chances overall—if not specifically about Reid and Paul—but his track record on jobs and wars makes me think he’s whistling past a Democratic graveyard.
Joe’s frequent forecasts are clearly a subset of his outsized need to tell whoever he meets what they want to hear. But they are not at all “gaffes”—and they certainly don’t fit Michael Kinsley’s much-quoted definition of a political gaffe as “when a politician tells the truth." These hardcore predictions may or may not have anything to do with truth. Rather, they’re part of the popular parlor game that politicians, pundits and journalists play nonstop, both in order to reassure themselves of their insiderish importance and to sway public opinion. At their most malevolently propagandistic, you have predictions like those of another former vice president who divined that American troops would be ”greeted as liberators” in Iraq and that the insurgency there was “in the last throes.”
Biden, on the other hand, is more like the gassy uncle who’ll reassure a niece who’s put on an extra 20 pounds, “Whaddya mean, sweetheart?! You’re beautiful! You’re gorgeous! It’s just more to love!” My sneaking worry is that Joe applies the same gusto to administration policy decisions: Don’t sweat it, kid! Half a loaf is better than nothing! I mean, can’t everybody see we have their best interests at heart?
You gotta love the guy, just for his downright convivial garrulousness. He’s in your court and that is a big f**king deal. But like most absolute certainties—and, let’s face it, we all have them—Biden’s are less about the issue at hand than about himself: “I guarantee you,” “I promise you,” “Bet on it.” He has, as his late mother, Jean Finnegan Biden, might say, that Irish grace to lead with his chin, and he really doesn’t seem to care how many times he gets cold-cocked.
Let’s just hope his election predictions are better than his jobs predictions. The worry is that they are pretty much the same thing and that Joe is walking into another punch this fall.