That loquacious chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who launched his presidential campaign today -- Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. - may be experiencing an ailment not entirely unknown to him: foot in mouth disease.
Biden is today taking some heat for comments he made to the New York Observer, in which he says of a rival for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
Immediately the conservative media establishment -- Rush Limbaugh, the Drudge Report, bloggers -- publicly pounced for what seemed to many to be insensitive if not racist. And, notably, Obama himself didn't do much to knock the story down.
"You'd have to ask Sen. Clinton, uh, Sen. Biden what he was thinking," Obama said when he was asked about the comments at a press conference this afternoon, initially stumbling by mentioning the name of the Democratic frontrunner for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "I don't spend too much time worrying about what folks are talking about during a campaign season."
When he was asked if Biden meant to be complimentary, Obama said: "I'm not going to parse his words that carefully."
In a conference call just a few minutes ago, Biden said his comments were being misunderstood.
"Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that either the Democratic or Republican party has produced at least since I've been around," Biden said. "He's fresh, he's new, he's insightful."
Biden said he regretted that "some have taken totally out of context my use of the word 'clean.'"
"My mother has an expression 'clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack,'" Biden said. "He's crisp and clear….. Look, the idea is: this guy is something brand new no one has seen before."