Mona Charen on VP Joe Biden

Wow, Mona Charen gives VP Joe Biden a lecture — on the basics:

This was not a gaffe. This was a disgrace. In a speech at Sichuan University, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing — of one child per family.” But, he continued, this policy is creating demographic difficulties, such that “one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”

Following criticism, Biden’s spokesperson, Kendra Barkoff, insisted that Biden, along with the entire Obama administration, finds the Chinese government’s population-control regime “repugnant.” But she seemed confused as to what the fuss was about. “He also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable. He was arguing against the One Child Policy to a Chinese audience.”…

Well, yes, but in the most abstract and anodyne way. Saying “I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing” is practically an endorsement — and certainly much milder language than the administration has aimed at Republican budget proposals. Biden didn’t condemn the immorality or brutality of a system of forced sterilization and forced abortion — he merely noted that the demographic consequences of thus drastically limiting the population would lead to problems for China’s version of Social Security. It’s as if, speaking in Damascus, he had told a Syrian audience that the government’s handling of protesters would lead to a decline in tourism….

The Chinese Communist government, which has killed more people than any regime in the history of the world (65 million according to theBlack Book of Communism), regards human beings as widgets to be manipulated or destroyed in the service of the state. Yes, they’ve developed an expanding economy by adopting free-market practices. But the regime remains one of the most vicious on the planet. It is deeply shameful that the vice president needed to be reminded of that.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Kyle J

    Dumb and indefensible. Explainable only in that Biden has a history of saying things that are clearly not well thought out, even in the context of his own beliefs. One can only hope that’s what happened here, perhaps in the context of displaying excessive diplomacy.

  • http://disorientedtheology.wordpress.com Paul A.

    I wonder how many babies Ms. Charen thinks Biden would have saved by delivering the address she would have rathered he deliver. I think “excessive diplomacy” is a good phrase; he clearly didn’t think through the “I’m not second-guessing” phrase, but another American executive excoriating the Chinese for their moral lapses would have made exactly zero progress in convincing them to change their policies.

    If excessively diplomatic appeals to practicality ultimately lead to China doing away with their repulsive system, isn’t that better than a fiery denunciation that does nothing except make Americans feel good about their moral superiority?

  • Jeff Moulton

    So she’s criticizing him for not criticizing them the way she wanted them criticized?

    Molehills…..

  • Asteele

    I think our politicians shouldn’t even try to be persuasive to foreign audiences about their country’s policies the United States disagrees with. I’m sure that when foreign political leaders give speeches in the United States they are being 100% honest about their feelings about the Iraq war, or our treatment of African Americans, regardless of how effective that will make them.

  • Larry Barber

    Maybe Biden thought his audience would be more receptive to a pragmatic argument rather than one based on (western) morality?

  • Witten

    I’m sure when foreign political leaders give speeches critical of the United States to American audiences, they are being 100% honest about their feelings, and not in any way soft-pedaling, or concerned with diplomacy, or care about being effective advocates.

  • Patrick

    Instead of supporting or opposing internal policies of foreign states I wish our leaders would hush. We aren’t the moral police even though we think we are.

    Some of the western pols( don’t know if Biden is this or not) have bought into the Malthusian view of humanity so from that view, China’s policy is understandable and in fact laudable.

    I suspect a lot of people privately would like to see half the global population removed. I really don’t think Biden is like this though.

  • Robert

    Funny how all of the President’s re-election posters just say “Obama2012″ with no mention of the current VP.

  • Witten

    4: Is me too. I messed up my name, but thought I canceled the comment in time.

  • Sean LeRoy

    Just stand back and let him go…Biden’s an unmitigated walking disaster (he does walk, right?)
    And Patrick @7, I wish it were just “private”.

  • http://bradboydston.com Brad Boydston

    Neither side in this row seems to really understand the Chinese policy — which applies only to urbanites, which has many exceptions, and which in a very Chinese face-saving way seems to be on the way out the door through spotty-enforcement or outright neglect. If the vice president fully understood the policy or how the Chinese tend to implement decisions he certainly would not have criticized the government in a public speech. The Chinese are not stupid. They understand demographics. And the current leadership is troubled by the ethical fabric of Chinese society. They’re looking for solutions but they’ve inherited a difficult situation.

    Likewise, Mona Charen, operating with very Western assumptions, doesn’t understand that the current communist regime has little continuity with the previous regimes — but that they have a social obligation to maintain the face of continuity.

    If we’re truly interested in saving lives we’ll carry out the conversation through the back channels — and in a way that turns the current leadership into heroes for coming up with such practical ideas for the new context. If there needs to be a public statement on this issue, as at times there might, we should allow the Chinese people themselves the platform. At least they understand where the landmines are planted.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    i would like to take the lesson here for us. We can get so caught up in the nuance associated with the stufy of religion that we fail to see the big picture of what Jesus was doing.

  • http://danutm.wordpress.com Danutm

    I do not know who Mona Charen is – except that she is a sindicated columnist, and in what exactly is she an expert, but I know communism very well (I was a Marxist and then an opponent, and I have lived for 35 years under Ceausescu’s regime) and I assure you she has no understanding of communism whatsoever.
    Her statements, like most of the comments here have more to do with the US (and a certain displease of Biden’s sometimes less than inspired statements, than with China.
    I also assure you that Biden, who played a very important (and effective) diplomatic role during the conflict in Yugoslavia, understands much better what you can say and what you cannot say to proud communist leaders.
    Although this is not a perfect work, devoid of criticism, I use The Black Book of Communism too in my seminars on a Christian view of communism and post-communism, but that is not a tool to be used by American top leaders addressing Chinese top leaders.
    In my (imperfect) view and from my long-term experience with communism, Biden did much better in this that his critics.

  • Grizz

    Danutm,

    You nailed it. Speak in a way that those to whom you address yourself can receive what you say. Paul called that becoming all things to all men.

    To understand Biden’s comments, one must at least understand the Chinese people and their culture as well as Joe does. The comments reveal that many of the critics of Joe’s word choices have not much understanding of the Chinese people and their culture.

    I am not a democrat and I am not a republican. I am simply a Christian who can see past the idolatry of the day and speak in favor of the unknown. Others would have accused Paul of bowing to idolatry … and would have been as false as some of Joe’s critics.

    My two cents’ worth …

  • http://redemptivethoughts.com John H. Guthrie

    It is inaccurate to state that the current Chinese leadership has no ties to previous governments. It is in their carrying out the policies of previous governments that they caught the attention of their superiors in these previous regiemes and allowed them to rise to power. And as they continue to defend this policy, (if they did not, then Biden would not have felt it necessary to say what he did), they are complicit in the actions of previous governments. It is also inaccurate to say criticism of the 1 child/family reflects a misunderstanding of the Chinese people. The policy is the work of an elite far removed from the lives of the people; this elite cares nothing for the wishes of its people. Their policies no more reflect the Chinese people than the policies of North Korea reflect people of that nation. Reagan certainly criticized the USSR’s human rights record, even on Soviet soil, and he is looked upon by Soviet dissidents today as a hero. Anatoly Sharansky testifies that when the Gulag where he was incarcerated in heard Reagan call the USSR an evil empire, the prisoners felt encouraged that they had a champion.
    What did Biden do to bring the end of communism in Yugoslavia?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    John @ 15.

    I will let others comment on Chinese and Russian leaders, but I believe that the comparison that others draw to the former Yugoslavia, Biden worked to bring peace — though an imperfect one — after years of brutal war between Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians; years in which hundreds of thousands were either executed or dislocated in the name of ethnic cleansing. Please see Mirslov Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace.”
    Peace,
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Jason Lee

    What sounds like an inadvertent endorsement and then mild rebuke in our setting may have been a huge rebuke to the Chinese. In some settings even the smallest nibble is understood as a huge bite. Not throwing pearls before swine comes to mind. Screaming and yelling about the moral catastrophe of one-chile policy may score points with critics, but it may have been counterproductive at actually making policy progress in China.

  • Richard

    @ 17

    Absolutely. To address something like this in a “face-saving” culture requires very little in the way of bold, confrontational language. I guarantee that in a high context culture like China, this hit much sharper and deeper than in a more direct/blunt culture like the United States.

  • Ron Spross

    Yes, I’m sure that Ms. Charen, known for her objectivity and fair mindedness when it comes to people of Joe Biden’s persuasion, is putting the matter as charitably as she possibly can given the facts of the case.

  • http://redemptivethoughts.com John H. Guthrie

    Randy, thanks for the reference, but it does not answer my question, what did Biden do to end communism in Yugoslavia? While “Exclusion and Embrace” is on my “to read” list, I hardly think it worth while to go out and buy it just to check on a reference made to Biden. Surely you can give a brief summary of what Biden’s role was in these events. If Biden did play a role in bringing peace to the countries making up the former Yugoslavia, fine, but communism was not the issue there, but ethnic cleansing, and that ceased with American military action. Would those defending Biden’s remarks have been critical of others who went to South Africa to denounce Aparthied (spelling?)such as Robert Kennedy?

  • Richard

    @ 20

    John, denouncing S Africa would be a Western to Western exchange so I don’t think that gets the point of what some of us are saying regarding cultural differences. Re: “Biden ending communism,” in rereading the thread I only see you making that statement. Is there another reference I missed? Danutm referenced Biden’s role in the peace accords and his experience in working with communist leaders but I didn’t see anyone claim Biden ended Communism in that region.

  • http://redemptivethoughts.com John H. Guthrie

    Richard, I think you are splitting hairs on both points. South Africa’s culture was far different from the culture of the United States, so that in any exchange among leaders, it was a cultural divide.The white South Africans probably took as great offense at remarks on its soil denouncing Aparthied as the Chinese leaders would if Americans denounced the 1 child/family within its borders. Your remarks imply that the West is only justified in criticizing the human rights policies of western nations and that brutal practices by non-western governments are off limits. Would you deny non-western nations the right to criticize the U.S. for such practices such as capital punishment on U.S. soil? The criticism of the Chinese governments 1 child/family policy, with its forced sterilizations and forced abortions, is not an east/west issue; it is a universal human rights issue from a Christian or secular standpoint. Why should we have the U.N. try leaders and military figures for crimes against humanity if such practices are simply a cultural issue. The Nazis tried at Nuremburg defended themselves by claiming they were following orders; under the standards implied by your comment, leaders could justify their actions by claiming they were following their nations cultural imperitives. Besides, as I stated earlier, the 1 child/family policy does not originate from the Chinese people, but was imposed upon the people by an elite who have no right to determine the size of its citizens family. It is a matter of a tyrannical government forcing the people to act in defiance of their own culture. The remarks Biden made endorsed the rationale for the policy which is why Biden’s remarks needed to be criticized. As to Datum’s remarks concerning Biden’s role in the former Yugoslavia, anyone can read them and decide for themselves if I interpret them correctly. The question I asked concerning his role remains.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Quick question to everyone falling all over yourselves to put “context” to Biden’s statements. What would you have said if Dick Cheney would have said the same thing in 2007?

    This shouldn’t be a partisan political talking point. The statement, on it’s face, was reprehensible. The Obama administration went overboard to walk it back the next day, they know a gaffe when they see one.

  • alison

    These comments are so unbelievably partisan. It’s amazing how people will over-reach to defend someone of their own political persuasion. And I mean that on both sides.


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