I admit it. I signed up for the text message and the e-mail. I got the e-mail at 3:50 am on Saturday morning and did not read it–as I was asleep. I never got the text message. It would appear that there were problems with the transmission of the text message. Not exactly the best way to show the campaign organization’s competence in the prelude to the rollout of the eventual Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.
If that was the only problem with the introduction of Joe Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate, the Obama campaign would be able to rest easy. But despite various hosannas that have been offered in response to Biden’s selection, he is, in fact, a bad pick on multiple levels.
Biden Messes With Obama’s Message
The Obama campaign’s message throughout the election cycle has been about change. A fresh-faced Senator who hasn’t even completed his first term is promising to fundamentally alter the ways of Washington. He has been asking us all along to sublimate experience to hope, judgment and optimism.
There are a lot of objections that one can have to this argument, but it is, in the end, the argument most closely identified with the Obama campaign. It is part and parcel of their brand. You don’t mess with the brand once it has been established unless things appear to be going wrong. To be sure, this is a close election–closer than a lot of people thought it would be. But there should be no panic in the Obama camp. They should still feel confident in their brand and comfortable with the thought that they can win. They continue to have a good shot, after all, and the fundamentals of the election season continue to favor a Democratic victory.
And yet, Barack Obama decided to undermine his message of change by going ahead and picking a Vice Presidential candidate who has spent 35 years in the United States Senate–and really hasn’t had any meaningful experience outside the United States Senate for the whole of his working life. And Biden’s insider status doesn’t just come from longevity. It also comes from the fact that he is exceedingly well-connected to the lobbying industry and has done well by their generosity:
The Center for Responsive Politics has a thorough analysis of Sen. Joe Biden’s campaign cash intake now that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has selected him as his running mate.
The industry that has given Biden the most cash has been lawyers/law firms ($6,567,404) followed by real estate ($1,297,690). Pro-Israel groups are the 8th biggest contributing industry.
Obama may decry lobbyist cash (or at least federal lobbyist cash), but Biden has taken $344,400 from lobbyists since 1997 — making lobbyists the 10th biggest contributing industry.
That seems a direct contradiction of the Obama message.
Read on, and you will see that Joe Biden is one of the favorite Senators–if not the favorite Senator–of the credit card industry, which is, to say the least, not one of the more popular industries around these days. And there is this as well:
. . . One of Biden’s sons, Hunter, is a registered Washington lobbyist in a year in which Obama has been excoriating lobbyists and the culture of corruption in Washington. The younger Biden is a name partner at the firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair and seems to have specialized in lobbying for just the kind of earmark spending by Congress that Obama has vowed to slash. Republican insiders say the party is likely to make an issue of Biden’s family lobbying ties.
You know, I don’t think that lobbying is, or should be that big of a deal. In politics, lobbying happens–indeed, it is difficult to contemplate politics without lobbying at some level. But hey, the Obama campaign appears to be more than willing to beat up on the McCain campaign whenever it can, over the issue of lobbying. I guess that turnabout is fair play and turnabout can begin with Obama’s own Vice Presidential nominee.
With his insider status and Washington ties, Biden rips asunder Obama’s “change” platform. He is the ultimate DC power player. Obama will no more be able to change DC and national politics with Biden at his side than Paris Hilton will be able to transform herself into a latter-day Aristotle in the public mind.
The Clintons Are Pissed
I realize that it was a tough primary between the Clintons and Obama. But it never pays to be gratuitously offensive towards people whose favor may advance your political cause–and whose disfavor may harm it. The Clintons have been defeated in the primary and caucus fights. But they still attract a strong following and if they are offended, they may–in a show of pique–withhold essential support from the Obama campaign, divide the Democratic Party and cause it to lose a potentially close race.
Hillary Clinton has been relatively loyal to Barack Obama, but we all know that she resents having lost to him and should still be treated as one would treat a time bomb. Bill Clinton, of course, cannot bring himself to say a nice thing about Barack Obama and is still mad about how the primary and caucus season went down. Obama would have done well to calm down some of the anger by at the very least, making a show of considering Hillary Clinton for the Vice Presidential nod.
Instead, he completely dissed her. And while I doubt that Bill Kristol would be listened to, but the chances of that have increased at least somewhat, haven’t they? And again, even if the Kristol Plan is not followed, enthusiasm counts for a lot in the general election fight. The way Hillary Clinton and her supporters have been treated by Barack Obama could very well serve to take away their enthusiasm for supporting him. If that happens, the greatest beneficiary of Obama’s diss of the Clintons will be John McCain. And don’t think McCain doesn’t know it.
What Policy Gravitas?
The Biden pick is supposedly a terrific one because Joe Biden supposedly knows a lot about foreign policy. He is, indeed, said to be a policy wonk.
Really? I know that Biden is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but a Senate chairmanship does not a policy wonk make.
It’s nice to be able to say that you know all of the Trivial Pursuit/pub quiz elements of foreign policy–who is the prime minister of what country, who is the president, who is the deputy finance minister, etc.–but this doesn’t mean that you are a true foreign policy savant. I am sure that Joe Biden can spell “Saakashvili,” but what is his solution to the crisis in Georgia? For that matter, what does a Bidenesque foreign policy actually entail? Biden is not shy about singing his own praises regarding his grasp of foreign policy–more on Biden’s sense of self later–but he gives you no hint whatsoever of his thinking when it comes to the formulation and implementation of American grand strategy. Instead, when it comes to discussing foreign policy, he just mouths the predictable nostrums. When you get right down to it, the foreign policy savant is utterly pedestrian in his thinking and philosophizing.
And he is utterly uncreative. Biden boasts that he came up with a federalism plan to head off sectarian conflict and civil war in Iraq, but the plan actually was the brainchild of people like Leslie Gelb, Peter Galbraith and Ralph Peters. Some called this plan “partition” and gave Biden grief for it. I won’t do so because I wrote this. And this. And if things in Iraq revert to previously hellish levels, I would be open to pushing for my partition/federalization plan anew.
But here’s the thing: Iraq is not currently experiencing hellish levels of violence and sectarian warfare. Far from it. The credit for this change in affairs belongs to the Bush Administration for its implementation of the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy and to General David Petraeus for having shown the skill, the intellect and the moxie to pull off the surge and the counterinsurgency plan so as to strengthen the various national Awakenings and bring a sense of domestic tranquility the likes of which were inconceivable a little over a year ago.
What was Joe Biden’s response to the proposed surge and implementation of the counterinsurgency plan? He opposed it. On December 27, 2006, Biden came out against a troop surge and the next year, he sponsored a non-binding resolution opposing a troop buildup as well. If he has changed his position, I am unaware of it and he joins Barack Obama in the club of Senators Who Are Stubbornly Unwilling To Admit That The Surge And The Counterinsurgency Strategy Worked. If this is foreign policy/national security gravitas, give me less of it.
Biden has flubbed in other ways to when it comes to foreign affairs. Consider the end of this article by Michael Crowley:
At the Tuesday-morning meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: “I’m groping here.” Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we’re not bent on its destruction. “Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran,” Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.
The staffers sit in silence. Finally somebody ventures a response: “I think they’d send it back.” Then another aide speaks up delicately: “The thing I would worry about is that it would almost look like a publicity stunt.” Still another reminds Biden that an Iranian delegation is in Moscow that very day to discuss a $300 million arms deal with Vladimir Putin that the United States has strongly condemned. But Joe Biden is barely listening anymore. He’s already moved on to something else.
If George W. Bush was caught confusing Arabs with Persians, the derision would go on for weeks. The would-be next Vice President of the United States did so, however. He also seems to think that buying off Arabs and Persians as if they were proprietors of a certain sort in a city’s red-light district makes for good diplomacy.
There’s your foreign policy/national security guru for you. Are you impressed?
Seriously? Joe Biden?
For a party that derided and derides George W. Bush supposed cognitive deficiencies, the Democrats appear to be bound and determined to nominate candidates for high office that live up to the very worst caricatures they have drawn up of the President. Four years ago, they nominated John Edwards for the Vice Presidency–despite the fact that Edwards was and is no great shakes, intellectually and substantively.
Now we get Biden. We are promised that when it comes to Biden, things are different. But are they?
Come on. Look at this stuff. Read all of this (yes, I know I linked to it earlier. I am linking to it again. It is important). Read this. Listen to this (and consider the desperate and fatuous excuses for Biden’s comments discussed here if you want to have yourself a good laugh). Take a gander at this. And this. And this. And this:
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), in his first 12 minutes of questioning [Samuel Alito], managed to get off only one question. Instead, during his 30-minute round of questioning, Biden spoke about his own Irish American roots, his “Grandfather Finnegan,” his son’s application to Princeton (he attended the University of Pennsylvania instead, Biden said), a speech the senator gave on the Princeton campus, the fact that Biden is “not a Princeton fan,” and his views on the eyeglasses of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
In an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) asserted that he is more prepared to be president than any other candidate, disputed the notion that governors are better suited for the White House than senators and warned that Pakistan is a potentially bigger threat than Iran.
Biden also stumbled through a discourse on race and education, leaving the impression that he believes one reason that so many District of Columbia schools fail is the city’s high minority population. His campaign quickly issued a statement saying he meant to indicate that the disadvantages were based on economic status, not race.
After a lengthy critique of Bush administration education policies, Biden attempted to explain why some schools perform better than others — in Iowa, for instance, compared with the District. “There’s less than 1 percent of the population of Iowa that is African American. There is probably less than 4 or 5 percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you’re dealing with,” Biden said. He went on to discuss the importance of parental involvement in reading to children and how “half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom.”
Now, ask yourself: Are we really supposed to take Joe Biden seriously as a political figure? Any other figure who made so many gaffes, misstatements, dishonest statements and comments raising serious fears of problems with cognitive functions would be gently eased out of public life–if not laughed out altogether.
Joe Biden, however, may be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Good grief. Couldn’t Barack Obama have done any better than this?
Perhaps we are still supposed to believe, however, that Biden is a serious figure. Fine. Let’s assume that I’m all wet and that he is a serious and substantive figure. Is it possible then that this be taken seriously?
How about this?
I could go on, but I think you get the point. With his insider status, his connections to lobbyists, his complicity in enraging the Clintons, his overblown foreign policy/national security credentials and his plain, goofy demeanor, Joe Biden is precisely the wrong choice for the Vice Presidency of the United States. And what’s more, he seems to like John McCain more than he likes Barack Obama when it comes to choosing Presidents–or at least he did, before the Vice Presidency came calling.
And given that this was Barack Obama’s first chance to make a Presidential decision, his flubbing of that decision says a lot about his candidacy for the Presidency, now doesn’t it?