Straight talk from Joe Biden

National Public Radio had a remarkable report Monday morning about the reactions of two members of Congress– a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat– to a recent visit they made to Libya.

To those used to thinking of Republicans and Democrats in stereotyped ways, those reactions may come as a surprise.

Libya’s dictator Moammar Qadaffi is, of course, scrambling to improve relations with the West after decades of hostility.

Congressman Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said Qadaffi was admiring the American flag lapel pins his US visitors were wearing.

“Qadaffi… asked if he could have one, one was put on his lapel, and through all the interviews and pictures, here was the American flag along with the Libyan flag.”

After the visit Smith is calling for “agressive cooperation” with Qadaffi.

Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware– who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite members of Congress– managed to curb his enthusiasm and cut through the crap about the Libyan leader and his new eagerness to establish ties with the US.

Biden said, “Some people think this is other than a pure unadulterated deal. They think that this is historic speech, a new beginning, a gateway to the Arab world, [Qadaffi] could be a major, positive force. Malarkey.”

Biden said Qadaffi is “a fascinating man with not an ounce of democracy in him.”

Said Biden:

“He starts talking about the Green Book, like Mao’s Little Red Book. And he said, ‘We’re an Athenian democracy, the people make the decisions in the neighborhoods, in the streets, in the dah-duh-dah-duh-dah.’ And I said, ‘That is really fascinating. That means they can vote you out of office then, right?’ And that was the only time there was any animation. He said, ‘No, I started the revolution.’ And I said, ‘You know, we had a revolution. We had a guy like you. His name was George Washington.’ And I said, ‘We kicked him out after eight years.'”

Qadaffi asked Biden why US-Libyan relations had gotten off on the wrong foot.

“And I said, ‘That’s easy. You’re a terrorist. You killed people we like. And I said, ‘For example there’s 35 kids in the school I went to [Syracuse University in New York] you blew up over Lockerbie.’ And he looked at me and he said, quote, ‘That’s logical.'”

I was pleased and reassured, then, to learn that Biden is among those with whom Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry speaks regularly about foreign policy, and is among those under consideration for Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in a Kerry administration.