The Necessity of Joe Biden
As V.P. nominee, the senator brings foreign policy muscle.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
And the winner is: Joe Biden.
It did not take a newfangled text message, just an old-fashioned leak, to identify Barack Obama’s running mate. Word of the Biden selection spread late Friday night, barely 12 hours before the event in Springfield, Ill., at which the presumptive Democratic nominee for president was to introduce the presumptive Democratic nominee for vice president.
Ultimately, Obama went with the guy who suggested most pointedly during the race for the Democratic nomination that Obama was not quite experienced enough for the presidency. It was Biden who suggested in an August 2007 debate that “I think [Obama] can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.” Challenged on that statement, the senator said he stood by it.
Expect to see those comments featured in a lot of ads for Republican John McCain– and universal talking points by the Republican machine: One rolled out just a few hours later. At 1:22 a.m. (ET), a Republican campaign press release stated:
“There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing– that Barack Obama is not ready to be President.”
But don’t expect McCain’s attempts to use Biden against Obama to do much damage.Democrats, and ultimately Americans, should be able to reconcile themselves to the comments of Biden as No. 2 suggesting Obama was not ready to be No. 1.
How? By recognizing that in the modern era, political party tickets really do blend into a whole. For all the silly talk about vice presidential nominees being irrelevant, the truth is that they have always mattered– either to party unity or to the broader electorate. Presidential and vice presidential candidates run as a team, complementing one another and guarding against the vulnerabilities of their running mates.
Obama had tried to suggest that the 2008 race was a contest between his judgment and John McCain’s experience. But that sounded a little too much like Democrat Michael Dukakis peddling the notion that his 1988 race with Republican George H. W. Bush was all about assessing the relative competence of the contenders. That line didn’t work in 1988 and it wasn’t working in 2008.
With a new Cold War in the offing and a host of global conflicts and challenges brewing, Obama really was facing questions about whether he was ready. He needed some foreign policy muscle. That knocked out contenders who might have complemented Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In” campaign theme, such as Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.
It is true that Obama might also have gotten what he needed by adding New York Senator Hillary Clinton to his ticket, just as it is true that Obama might have been able to run with Clinton. But he could not run with Bill Clinton, and that was that.
So Obama was left with Biden. And that made for an acceptable, perhaps even satisfying conclusion to the great veep search. For all of Biden’s imperfections– a charge of political plagiarism 20 years ago, a reputation for verbosity, a record of gaffes and a wrong vote to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq– the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gives Obama what he needs.
And there is the added bonus that Biden loves politics. He enjoys the sport of it. He’s good on the stump. He’s good in debates– indeed, when he was competing for the nomination during the primaries, Biden won several of the debates. And he’s comfortable campaigning in industrial cities and rural regions.
After a weak mid-summer performance by Obama, the scale was tipping McCain’s way. But when Joe Biden takes Barack Obama’s side, the scale may well tip back in a Democratic direction.
Biden may not have been the perfect choice. He may not even have been the preferred choice. But he was, at least to Obama’s view, the necessary choice.