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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roads, High and Low

By BOB HERBERT, Op-Ed Columnist

On Friday morning, Joe Biden gave us an example of a leading national politician exhibiting decency and class. Later in the day, Hillary Clinton gave us an example of something else.

Senator Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. He spoke insightfully about the complexity of dealing with Iran, moving the discussion beyond the tedious and simplistic argument over whether to meet with certain foreign leaders.

He defended Barack Obama against the searing attacks by the Bush administration, John McCain and Joe Lieberman, and said:

“I refuse to sit back like we did in 2000 and 2004. This administration is the worst administration in American foreign policy in modern history — maybe ever. The idea that they are competent to continue to conduct our foreign policy, to make us more secure and make Israel secure, is preposterous. ... Every single thing they’ve touched has been a near-disaster.”

Mr. Biden was then asked about the dispute that Senator Obama and Senator McCain have been having over Senator Jim Webb’s proposal to increase college tuition benefits for men and women who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001. Senator Obama supports the bill. Senator McCain does not and has introduced a less-generous measure of his own.

When Senator Obama criticized Senator McCain’s position on this issue, Mr. McCain responded angrily and gratuitously mentioned that Mr. Obama had not served in the military. (This is especially weird when you consider that Senator McCain is a fierce supporter of the war in Iraq, which was fanatically promoted by an entire barnyard of chicken hawks.)

Said Senator McCain: “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lecture on my regard for those who did.”

Dick Cheney never served in uniform. George W. Bush was assigned a uniform, but he spent a lot of time hiding from active duty. Bill Clinton never served in uniform. Hillary Clinton never served in uniform.

Senator Biden became emotional as he began his response to the question. “This is tough for me,” he said, “because John’s been my friend for 35 years, and I’m disappointed. Because, as you all know, there is a difference between an ad hominem argument and a logical response.”

Senator McCain had taken the ad hominem route, said Senator Biden, and he was saddened by it. That kind of behavior, he said, should be “beneath us.”

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