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Biden: A Reassuring Pick

I am not sure whether Senator Barack Obama made the best political move in choosing Senator Joe Biden as his vice-presidentHillary Clinton would have probably helped more; and, perhaps, the bland Evan Bayh, too, in the battleground Midwest. And choosing Biden will force Obama to retool his political message of anti-Washington outsider and will make it more difficult to attack John McCain’s judgement for supporting the Iraq War, since Biden did as well. And, finally, I am not sure whether a white working class Catholic in Cleveland’s Eastern exurbs will be more likely to vote for Obama because he picked Biden, a pro-choice Catholic, as his VP. So, all in all, I reserve judgment about the sheer electoral value of this pick.

What I like about it is that it shows that Obama recognizes his own weaknesses. My chief reservation about supporting Obama for president was his lack of experience in Washington, which would show up in foreign policy (see the first years of John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush) and in managing Congress (see the first years of Carter and Clinton). Perhaps Obama could overcome his lack of experience by appointing effective White House managers. Reagan’s appointment of Jim Baker enabled him to achieve considerable success with Congress. But that was a question mark.

By appointing Biden, Obama shows that he recognizes he needs someone with foreign policy and Congressional experience. Biden has it--as much as any Democrat Obama could have chosen. And if Obama wins the presidency, Biden could help him--and I use the word “help” in a morally neutral manner--in much the same way that Dick Cheney helped George W. Bush. Only in this case, one would assume that Biden would help Obama get what he wants rather than get him to do what he, Biden, wants. So from that standpoint, it is a brilliant choice, and perhaps the best choice Obama could make. And that could pay some political dividends with the media--and indirectly with the public--as Bush’s choice of Cheney did in 2000.

But Obama will have to retool his message for the fall. That’s all to the good, because he wasn’t going to be able to run on a government reform plank against McCain, the co-author of the campaign finance bill, or focus inordinately on his opposition to the Iraq War, which elevates foreign policy as a campaign issue. He will have to use Biden to neutralize McCain’s experiential advantage on foreign policy, while attempting to focus attention on Republican economic failures. That will be his challenge in next week’s Democratic convention and in his acceptance speech. 

--John B. Judis