So Joe Biden has caused an uproar, and forced a White House correction/retraction, by his remarks on China’s draconian one-child policy while touring China.

Is anyone surprised by this?

Our vice president regularly produces gaffes that cause uproars and force White House correction/retractions. This is just par for the course.

So what did he say this time?

According to this news story, he began commenting on China’s one-child policy in response to a question when the vice president said:

“You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand—I’m not second-guessing—of one child per family,” Biden said, according to the official transcript of the event. “The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.”

If all you heard was a press report saying that Biden had defended or refused to second-guess the policy then quite a bit of outrage would be warranted. You might well react by saying something like,

“Really, Mr. Vice President? You’re not second-guessing a policy that has resulted in untold numbers of forced abortions, forced sterilizations, outrageous fines or even jail time for families that dare to defy the law, and a gender imbalance crisis?” the Susan B. Anthony List said on its blog.

Yet it is clear if you read the actual vice presidential quotation that there is more going on here than a simple defense or endorsement. Biden is actually, in his own, clumsy, gaffe-tastic way, criticizing the policy.

Look at the core of his statement:

“You have no safety net. Your policy has been one ... of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.

That’s clearly criticism. And criticism that is rather blunt, impolitic, and undiplomatic at that!

In other words, the criticism is not the kind of thing a high government official says in public when touring a foreign country, especially a touchy, totalitarian one where this will be perceived as an insult of the highest order and possibly even an incitement to rebellion.

Here in low-key America, wouldn’t have anything like the reaction that the Chinese government would to such a statement, but imagine how ticked off people here would be if the Chinese vice president (or whatever the equivalent office is) came to America and then said things like:

“You have no environmental concern. Your policy has been one ... of allowing indiscriminate breeding in each family. The result being that you’re in a position where you are consuming an unacceptable share of the earth’s resources. Not sustainable.

There would be a lot of irate responses to such a comment, as there certainly would be to Vice President Biden’s criticism of China’s one-child policy.

And so ‘long about the time that he was finishing the statement “You have no safety net,” several million neurons in the vice presidential prefrontal cortex (or wherever) began firing vigorously, desperately trying to signal the brain system as a whole that a serious gaffe was in progress.

This time the little guys managed to carry it off and get other neurological modules out of their usual torpor so that they began flailing about for some way to prevent, or at least blunt, the effect of what the vice president was saying to the Chinese.

And so, after a valiant struggle, the following words were inserted into the second vice presidential sentence:

. . . which I fully understand—I’m not second-guessing—

Does he mean those words?

Of course not! He clearly is second guessing the policy. He is in the very act of audibly, publicly second guessing the policy.

He’s just blabbering some backtracking politeness to soften the blow of what he is otherwise committed to saying because he can’t think of a better way out of the situation.

And everybody knows that.

Including the Chinese.

So, I find it hard to get mad at the vice president over this. In fact, I actually like the fact that he put the Chinese government on the hotseat regarding its one-child policy in the overly blunt, gaffe-omatic way that he did.

Now if only he and his political allies would wake up to the dangers of lowered birth rates here in America.

What do you think?

BTW, here’s Wikipedia’s entry on the Chinese one-child policy.