The name is finally out, via text message and every talking head on television. Barack Obama has picked as his running mate Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, his former rival for the Democratic nomination. A seasoned, gray-maned, long-winded Washington insider will now be joining the smooth-talking avatar of hope and change as the Democratic National Convention opens in Denver and the party prepares for an historic fight for the presidency.
One lingering question has been answered, then, but most Democrats probably have an urgent second question in mind: Will it help?
National polls have shown the race between Obama and John McCain tightening to a virtual dead heat in recent weeks. Something clearly needs to change for team Obama, and the selection of Biden definitely has the potential to help. On many of the issues where Obama has proven most vulnerable to attack, Biden offers either a strong additional defense or a direct refutation to charges that McCain has been lobbing lately.
Take the question of Obama's relative inexperience. Biden, who has served six terms in the Senate and is currently chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, offers not only a strong boost to the ticket's experience quotient but an object lesson is the flimsiness of the current attack on Obama's experience. Biden was first elected to his post at age 30. Before that, his only previous experience had been a stint as a county councilman in Delaware. His political biography, then, is a near-perfect antidote to all the McCain campaign talk about how Obama can't be president because he's just too young and anyway was a state legislator in Illinois just four years ago.
True, jumping from county council to the Senate is different than jumping from state legislature to the presidency in four years. But one can imagine Biden going to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he's from, and saying to a crowd of those working class whites who are so skeptical about Obama: "People told me I was too young and inexperienced, too. They said I had only been on the county council. But I was far younger and far less experienced than Barack Obama is now, and I did just fine for the people of Delaware."�
On the war, which is another favorite topic for McCain, Biden offers a highly respected foreign policy voice that can be pressed into service to beat back attacks. His line during the primaries about Republican Rudy Giuliani only having one type of sentence construction--"a noun, a verb, and 9-11"�--is an example of Biden's sure-footedness on issues of national security and his willingness to go for the jugular in ways Democrats usually don't. It will be pointed out that Biden was for the Iraq war, unlike Obama. But that's not necessarily a negative. Biden has made no secret of his disappointment with how the Bush administration conducted the war, and he can now spend a lot of time talking about how Obama was right all along--and how the Bush administration was really wrong in the way it conceived and implement its war strategy.
A war-related bonus: Biden's son is set to be deployed to Iraq in October. Cue the dramatic, heart-string-pulling media stories in the weeks before Nov. 4. All of which can only add to Biden's worldly gravitas while also providing the connection to military sacrifice that people say is an Obama blank spot.
The realm in which Biden can refute charges against Obama has to do with race and race-relations. Biden famously got in trouble early in the Democratic primary fight for calling Obama "clean"� and "articulate,"� which is hardly the worst type of thing he could have called Obama, but certainly wasn't smart politics. Obama's willingness to invite Biden onto the ticket despite this sends a clear message that Obama isn't overly-sensitive and, despite the McCain camp accusations, really doesn't play the race card--to such an extent that he'd have a guy who maybe crossed some language lines as his VP. Message: You can be a white guy who says dumb, insensitive stuff sometimes and still support me without fretting that you'll be made to grovel and feel guilty or be forced to enroll in diversity training.
And finally, in the visual realm: Biden is an old white man (but not too old!) with shiny gray hair. The image of the two of them together could, by itself, be very helpful to a candidate who looks a lot younger and very different than a huge percentage of the voting public.
There are clear downsides to Biden, though. Conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh have been salivating at the prospect of having him on the ticket. Limbaugh, citing Biden's reputation for a kind of gas-baggery that can easily be cast as pomposity, said this week that an Obama-Biden ticket would be "the arrogance factor times two."� He went on: "Biden and the Messiah would just be delicious."�
Could be. And the downsides certainly don't stop there. Biden, in his 1988 run for the presidency, was sidelined by a plagiarism scandal and Obama faced his own plagiarism kerfuffle during the primaries. It doesn't take a high-paid political consultant to imagine the coming Republican attacks on the "plagiarism ticket."� Additionally, Biden has been in Washington a very long time, offering decades of statements, hearing transcripts, and political talk show appearances for oppo-researchers to mine. More recently, when he ran against Obama in the Iowa caucuses, he flatly stated in one debate that Obama was not ready to be president. That clip is sure to see a lot of air time in the coming weeks.
Indeed, it was a key part of the first statement the McCain campaign issued after Obama made his choice.
"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden,"� the McCain campaign said. "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."�
Here we go.