Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Water Bazooka Joe

Joe Biden has been indefinitely suspended from his position as Vice President of the United States for violating the administration’s zero tolerance weapons policy.  On Saturday afternoon while hosting his annual media picnic for reporters and their families at his residence in Washington, D.C., the VP got carried away and started a water gun fight on the grounds with some of the children in attendance.  According to the OPM Employer’s Handbook for Political Personnel, using any sort of weapon on the grounds is prohibited, even seemingly harmless water pistols and water cannons.  Biden vowed to appeal the suspension. 

The Biden appeal will focus on the administration’s draconian “zero tolerance” policy and he will argue that the policy as written is brutally strict and is biased in favor of harsh punishment over re-education for perpetrators.   In recent years, anxious government officials have relied increasingly on zero tolerance policies as a simple, albeit inflexible, response to perceived threats of violence that relieved them of the need to exercise judgment and make reasoned decisions in response to workplace situations.  Biden’s automatic suspension from the Vice Presidency is required punishment under the policy, and he agreed to abide by the policy when he took the Oath of Office in 2009.

Over time, zero tolerance policies that were originally intended to apply only to serious criminal behavior involving firearms or illegal drugs have been extended to cover many more types of behavior and circumstances.  The prohibition of weapons often now includes toy weapons and objects that appeared to be weapons.   Water pistols and water bazookas, such as those used by the Vice President and the children at Saturday’s family picnic, would fall under this definition.

The media has reported on stories of zero tolerance enforcement across the country for many years.  Some examples include:

  • A five-year-old in California was expelled after he found a razor blade at his bus stop and carried it to school and gave it to his teacher.
  • A nine-year-old in Ohio was suspended for having a 1” knife in a manicure kit.
  • A twelve-year-old in Rhode Island was suspended for bringing a toy gun to school.
  • A seventeen-year-old in Chicago was arrested and subsequently expelled for shooting a paper clip with a rubber band.

Opponents of these policies contend that zero tolerance policies now treat all threats of violence as equally dangerous and deserving of the same consequences.  They make the point that these kinds of policies provide no latitude for authorities to consider the seriousness of the threat or degree of risk posed by the person’s behavior.

The American Bar Association agrees, and passed a resolution back in 2001 condemning zero tolerance:

“ …the ABA opposes, in principle, "zero tolerance" policies that have a discriminatory effect, or mandate either expulsion or referral of students to juvenile or criminal court, without regard to the circumstances or nature of the offense or the student's history.”  While the ABA focused its response on student behavior, Vice President Biden’s behavior can comfortably be classified as ‘juvenile’.

Some liberals applauded the decision.  “The Vice President must be held to the same standard as our elementary school children.  He’s lucky he isn’t getting expelled,” said gun control enthusiast Michael Moore.  “I know the good people of Scranton wouldn’t tolerate his callous disregard for the sensitivities of those children who were targeted by his pressure-propelled stream shot from a water cannon at 186 feet per second from close range.  The little tikes must have been scared to death.”

Biden mother, who was called at home to come and pick up his son at the event, was incredulous.  “Why is my boy being singled out?  He did nothing wrong.  They were water guns, for cripe’s sake.  The last Vice President shot a friend in the face, and he never had to miss a day in office.”

Mrs. Biden was referring to an incident from several years ago when Richard Cheney, whom his enemies called Dick, shot a man with a real gun.  Supporters have argued that Cheney shot his friend during his off hours and not during the performance of any official duties.  Biden, on the other hand, not only had water weapons on the grounds, he encouraged impressionable children to brandish the weapons in a hostile manner as well. 

“If Joe has to miss more than a day or two, he’ll never be able to make up the missed assignments.  He needs the structure in his day,” Mrs. Biden added.

The Obama administration was quick to defend its swift action to suspend the Vice President.  Spokesperson Jay Carney told the press, “We are used to Joe Biden shooting his mouth off, but bringing these weapon-like toys onto the grounds cannot be tolerated.  Someone could have drowned.”

Joe Biden seems to be taking his suspension from his duties in stride.  When asked if he feared being held back to repeat his term in office because of the suspension, the VP just smiled. 

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