Biden on Negative Tone: 'You Don't Want to Encourage Fringe People'

Sen. Joe Biden tells Terry Moran that some attacks are "really off the wall."

October 13, 2008, 12:01 PM

Oct. 13, 2008— -- Sen. Joe Biden claims that some of the personal attacks against Sen. Barack Obama are "really off the wall" and warned his Republican rivals that such vitriol can sometimes be "stuff you can't control."

In an interview with "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran in Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa., the Democratic vice presidential nominee said it was "fair enough" for Republican presidential candidate John McCain to raise questions about Obama's relationship to 1960s anti-war radical Bill Ayers.

Last week, McCain told ABC News' Charlie Gibson that Ayers, a co-founder of a Vietnam-era group that plotted attacks on the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, "wasn't a guy in the neighborhood. [Obama] launched his political career in his living room, in Mr. Ayers' living room."

"I'm not saying they shouldn't [raise the issue], but they should put it in a context," Biden said. "Hey, this guy Bill Ayers, Barack was 8 years old when this guy did these bad things. Barack serves on a, you know, board or he lives in his neighborhood. What do you think about that? We think that's awful. That's OK. But to run an ad and saying Barack Obama -- I forget the exact word -- consorts with terrorists, and put this guy's picture up? Come on! That's over the top."

Watch the story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights hero, said Saturday that the McCain campaign was sowing the seeds of hatred and division. Biden called the reaction of some members of the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies "scary stuff," but said that he isn't concerned for Obama's safety on the campaign trail.

"I'm no more concerned about it, as long as … John pushes it back in a box and Gov. Palin pushes it back in a box, because what you don't want to do is encourage -- I don't think they intentionally do it -- encourage people who really are fringe people."

"That stuff you can't control," he said. "I don't think John McCain believes that, but you know, when you fool around, like these ads … now the average person probably looks at that picture they put up there and think it's an al Qaeda guy or something. … So I don't know. John seems to have figured it out. He looks like he's trying to tamp it down."

McCain Campaign Doesn't 'Know What to Say About the Economy'

Virginia GOP Chairman Jeffrey M. Fredericks was quoted by Time magazine as telling campaign volunteers to draw connections between Obama and Osama bin Laden.

"I don't believe it … I can't believe it," Biden said. "I'm surprised John McCain hasn't gone down and whacked the guy with his fist. I mean, I don't think there's a prejudiced bone in John McCain's body. But that kind of stuff is really off the wall. I refuse to let myself believe John McCain has anything to do with any of that."

In the Gibson interview, Obama attributed the personal attacks as an attempt to "change the subject" from the struggling economy, and Biden concurred that "it's all about just not wanting to talk about the issues."

"They don't know what to say about the economy, for God's sake," he told Moran. "I mean, look, the economy's going to hell in a hand basket, $2 trillion of people's retirement just blown away in a week of bad judgment. You know, eight years of economic mismanagement are coming to a head, and what do they say?"

Biden called the McCain campaign's proposal to make cuts in the capital gains tax rate "the sixth, or fifth, you know, new iteration of John."

When asked if his vice presidential opponent, Gov. Sarah Palin, is qualified to be president, Biden said "that's really for the public to decide." Biden said that he finds her to be "engaging."

"She's obviously captured the imagination of millions of Americans. And what I make of her is she seems to agree with John McCain on his notion of governance, the role of government, everything from taxes to foreign policy. … And I have fundamental disagreement with she and John on -- as Barack does -- on the major [issues.]"

"It seems to me a pretty open and shut case," Biden continued. "You may not like our ideas, but it's clear, the ideas they continue to cling to have been of no value, no value in us avoiding getting dug into this very deep hole economically and internationally."

Joe Biden's Scranton Roots

Biden often cites his childhood years in Scranton as a formative influence on his life and political career. He told Moran that he can recall when his father came home to Scranton from World War II.

"After the war we came home, he came home, my mom's home. And they planned on settling [in Scranton], but there was no work," he said.

After the family moved to Wilmigton, Biden said they returned to Scranton "all the time."

"All these folks are like the folks I grew up with," Biden said, and he isn't the only politician to use Scranton to exemplify hard-working, middle-class America. At an Obama rally in Scranton on Sunday, Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke of her family's roots in northeastern Pennsylvania, where "people are tough."

"It starts right here in Scranton where my father was raised and where he's buried," she said. "The people in Scranton and northeastern Pennsylvania are like people I've met across America. The kind of people who get up every single day and work hard. You don't ask for much. You never give up. You soldier on for your families and your communities. "

The Catholic Bishop in Scranton, Joseph F. Martino, has said that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be denied access to the sacrament of Holy Communion.

"No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion," Bishop Martino told The Scranton Times. "I will be truly vigilant on this point."

"Look, that's the bishop's right under our Church, to make that judgment," Biden told Moran, adding that the central issue is making abortions "less desirable."

Biden said he supports health coverage for the "costs and concerns of poor women about to deliver," health coverage for children, as well increasing aid to adoption. "We should be doing a lot of things that make -- give greater choice to women -- and to be able to carry to term."

"I'm a practicing Catholic," he said. "My religion matters a lot to me. I agree and accept the Church's position that there is a human life at the moment of conception. But I -- there's a lot of other equally religious, equally devout Christians who have a theologically different view. And I don't think it is my role as a government official to impose my faith-based judgment on the rest of the population. And I think that's for them to decide, not for me."

Biden on Latest Polls: 'I Think We Win'

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Obama leading John McCain 53-43 percent among likely voters, largely attributed to economic concerns. No presidential candidate has come back from this large a deficit at this point in the race in polls dating to 1936. On "Good Morning America" today, Sen. Hillary Clinton predicted a "very big win" for Obama.

Biden cautioned that the race is "not over" but said that "I think we win."

"Look, as you and I know, three weeks in a presidential campaign is three lifetimes," he said. "But I think that unless Gov. Palin and Sen. McCain start to engage head-on the debate about what to do about the economy, about how we're going to change things … I think it's going to be uncomfortable but I think it's -- I think we win.

"But there's a lot to debate," Biden added. "There's a lot at stake, and people make up their mind later and later and later, as you know. You've been covering presidential elections. So I don't think it's over. But we feel good."

Biden said that while "race is an issue in America," he doesn't think that it will affect the election.

"I think whatever negative flows from the fact that Barack Obama's the first African American to be elected president, I think that it is more than made up for by the overwhelming counterenthusiasm to the fact that this guy is a uniting figure. So I think the end of the day politically, I don't think it's going to -- I don't think it's going to have any effect in the outcome of the election."

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