FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Biden in Plain Sight
My take on Obama's New Sidekick
Two sets of thoughts on Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his running mate – more on this to follow:
1. Gaffe-Tastic! The initial gut reaction of essentially every Republican I know was giddiness. Biden’s the most gaffe-prone politician I have ever seen, and if you think about the competition that is a truly impressive accolade. Others have spent more time cataloguing Biden’s taste for his own shoes or the things he has said that are wholly inconsistent with Obama’s message…one thing Obama has going for him, of course, is that it is absolutely impossible for Biden to lose Obama the support of African-American voters if he makes yet another of his famous racially insensitive remarks, which once upon a time brought calls for his head from lefty bloggers. Then there’s his equally famously interminable monologues disguised as questions that anyone who watched the Bork, Thomas, Roberts or Alito hearings remembers well – he has a famous habit of starting sentences without a thought in the world of how he intends to end them. I’ve long described Biden as a sort of Senatorial equivalent to a boy raised by wolves; he entered the Senate at 29 just four years out of law school, and spent all of his 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s surrounded by Senators, and sometimes seems unable to remember how to talk to people who are not Senators. Biden once cracked that a typical Rudy Giuliani sentence was a noun, a verb and 9/11, but a typical Joe Biden sentence starts with “I,” ends with “me” and takes the longest possible route between the two. And sometimes, there’s just….
STEWART: “Is there anything in Delaware the Bidens don’t control?”
BIDEN: “Yes, my mouth.”
In a way, Biden is sort of like McCain: he’s unscripted and unpredictable, and you never know what he’s going to say next. Leaving aside the other dissimilarities between the two – more on which below – I’ve noted in the past that this can be a strength of McCain’s…but nobody in his right mind would pick John McCain as a running mate, because you get the downside of his being constantly off-message, off the reservation or just plain off on his own planet, without the upsides.
2. What He Brings To The Table: All that said, Biden’s fiesty speech on Saturday was a good reminder that while he’s a risky pick due to his inability to stop himself from saying silly things, he does bring some benefits to the ticket. Biden’s an affable, likeable guy; McCain likes him, Bush likes him, even I kind of like him. Despite his bouts of impenetrable Senatitis, he at least doesn’t speak in that horrible robotic Hillaryspeak in which every single thing in his life has to be reduced to a trite sermon on public policy, doesn’t use language that’s focus-grouped within an inch of its life, doesn’t talk like he thinks he’s the only guy in the room who finished the fourth grade; this is a major departure for Democrats. He’s likely to play much better with blue-collar white voters than Obama. (The papers stressed Biden’s Scranton birth, but he hasn’t lived in Pennsylvania since 1952; McCain’s lived in Virginia more recently than that).
Obama had a choice of which of his many weaknesses to shore up with his running mate; clearly his main focus was the charge of foreign policy inexperience. Biden really doesn’t have the ideal resume for a presidential candidate – like Obama, he has no executive experience, no military experience, no business experience. But with 36 years in the Senate, nobody seriously doubts that he’d be capable of stepping into the role of Commander-in-Chief at a moment’s notice.
(BTW, the fact that neither Obama nor Biden has really ever had any responsible job other than lawyer and politician is a major reason why McCain may be leaning towards Romney – for all my well-catalogued dislike of Romney as a presidential candidate, the fact is that a McCain-Romney ticket would contrast their extensive military and business backgrounds before politics with two guys who have basically only been lawyers and legislators – see Dean Barnett’s excellent look at Obama’s career. By contrast, I have to think the Biden pick works against Joe Lieberman – not only does it seem crazy for both parties to pick tickets of two Senators given the awful history of Senators in presidential politics and the historic low approval record of Congress, but with Obama picking a safe East Coast blue-stater rather than a guy who scrambles the map, the case for a high-risk choice like Lieberman seems much weaker).
Biden’s also serious about national security, or at least tries to be; he hasn’t tended to fall into the John Kerry habit of reflexively echoing the talking points of America’s enemies. But his judgment in foreign affairs is also notoriously erratic – just on Iraq, while he supported the current Iraq War, he opposed the 1991 Gulf War; he also spent much of the past two years pushing a crackpot plan to carve up Iraq into three separate countries on the model of 1990s Yugoslavia. Biden is, in short, McCain without the very things that make him attractive as a candidate – the strong and consistent view on national security, the military record, the “maverick” reputation (like most veteran Senators, Biden’s worked across the aisle from time to time but he’s basically a conventional liberal and party man).
On the whole, Obama might have done worse; a Tim Kaine pick would have just been flaunting Obama’s inexperience, for example. But Biden doesn’t help sew up a key state and comes with some extremely well-known warning signs; Obama can’t blame anyone else if he loses a few news cycles as a result of Biden’s mouth firing off again accidentally.