Biden: A Great Pick in Spite of the Concerns

My TMV colleague, Tony Campbell, says that Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his running mate is the death knell of the Democrats’ once-vaunted chances of taking the White House. Tony writes:

If I were a Democrat, I would be really worried about this choice for two reasons:

1. Biden probably will not give up his bid to be re-elected to the United States Senate. The question, of course, is how committed are you to being the Vice-President if you are hedging your bets.

2. The Republicans are sure to love the fact that the candidate of change has selected the ultimate Washington insider for his running mate…

Tony may be right with regard to the public perception of the Biden pick. And public perception, in some ways, is far more important than reality when it comes to political campaigns. But, two points:

(1) It’s pretty much standard operating procedure for senators who are vice presidential candidates to remain on the ballots for re-election to the Senate while campaigning for the higher office. Lyndon Johnson did it in 1960, as I recall. Hedging bets? Yeah, maybe. So what?

(2) It’ll be interesting for the McCain camp to try to argue that Biden’s tenure in Washington–thirty-six years–means he can’t bring change to the government. McCain, by my reckoning, has been there for twenty-six years, hardly making him a babe in the Washington woods.

I think instead, that there may be other problems with the Biden pick:

1. He doesn’t moderate Obama politically. Biden is a conventional liberal pol. Obama, I think, needed to pick more of a centrist to broaden his appeal and to reassure moderates and conservatives who want to boot the GOP out of the White House this year that he isn’t too liberal.

2. He doesn’t help Obama get a state he wouldn’t otherwise get or help him in a region where he isn’t otherwise competitive, namely the South.

3. It’s not clear, for all of his experience with foreign policy and national security, that Biden helps Obama in those areas with the electorate. In governing, Biden’s experience would help Obama mightily, no doubt. But the public has little or no perception of Biden in these areas.

4. Finally, it must be said that while Biden displayed great discipline throughout most of his campaign for the nomination, he is still prone to gaffes. (To be fair, I imagine that I would be too, if I were in the white hot spotlight of national politics.) Though Biden is a refreshing straight-talker, his penchant for shooting from the hip must concern the Obama camp.

During the pre-convention process, I thought that Joe Biden was not only, along with Bill Richardson, one of the two most credentialed of the candidates in the Democratic presidential field, but also the most impressive campaigner. His performances in the debates were sterling. A Biden-Obama ticket would have been far more potent, I think, at least in terms of governance after January 20, 2009.

Overall though, Obama has given us an important window into his thinking as well as his self-esteem. The guy willingly chose, irrespective of the red flags mentioned above, the best possible running mate in his party. That’s impressive.

The Biden selection also is a challenge to John McCain. With Obama having picked someone as obviously prepared to be president as Biden, McCain will have to choose someone of equal gravitas. He cannot make a flippant political choice. Already, owing to what I think are unfair and inappropriate concerns about McCain’s age, the GOP candidate had to have been feeling pressure to pick someone obviously prepared to be president. Now, those pressures will be intensified. That, to my mind, leaves out people like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, two swell fellows both lacking in gravitas or the chops to face off with Biden in debate. McCain cannot slip up here.

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