Saturday, August 23, 2008So it's Biden. Not my first choice, but a ton better than Bayh or Kaine - the other two apparent frontrunners (who the hell is Chet Edwards?). There's a lot to consider about Biden. I'll start by saying that I've always had a soft spot for him. He's got a down-to-earth quality I like, and he's a wicked good orator. I used to leave CSPAN2 on the TV in part hoping he'd show up and hold forth eloquently for an hour or so (yes, I am a titanic nerd).
Which means that if anything, Biden's selection means that we have two very talented public speakers running together. I bring you: the Windbag Ticket! I mean that in a nice way.
Biden is generally a good liberal. His vote for the Iraq War is annoying (although he did try to scuttle the effort before hand) as is his vote for the bankruptcy bill (which can be chalked up to home-state politics in Delaware, the capitol of the credit card industry). Other than that he's a pretty reliable middle of the party Democrat. Actually, he's quite a bit like John Kerry - only with more charisma and middle class appeal.
As Vice President, Biden would provide thirty years of Washington experience, and I can think of few people who would be better prepared to step in to be President. Which frankly is why I suspect Obama chose him. There's always the possibility something terrible could happen, and Biden would be perfectly capable of stepping in to take over.
That's the substantive analysis - he's a perfectly good choice. The political considerations are much more mixed.
On the plus side, Biden is experienced (particularly with foreign policy), and is 66 years old - which might put some older voters at ease. He's quite witty and is a very good debater, and is one of the most effective "attack dogs" in the Democratic Party. He'll be quite good in going after McCain. He's also Catholic, which might help a bit there, and was born in Pennsylvania and lives in the Phillie media market - which might bring a few votes. Finally, Biden is a "regular guy" - he's not a millionaire Senator, which would allow the Democrats to continue their assault on McCain's elitism.
The minuses are pretty serious as well. First, Biden has said some very positive things about McCain and had criticized Obama (in the primaries), so there's the potential for a lot of opposition research. I'm not terribly worried about that, since the Republicans aren't going to win this election by beating Joe Biden, but there will be a cost. Some might argue that putting him on the ticket will in fact exacerbate the perception that Obama lacks experience, and Biden's vote for the war will make it harder for Obama to attack McCain on it (although it looks like the salience of the Iraq issue is fading, and the real questions are about what happens next). Biden also has a tendency to say stupid things, which might prove distracting. But his worst comments have been racially insensitive ones, which I have a suspicion will have slightly muted effects due to who's on the top of the ticket. Just a guess.
Biden's selection also brings with it the risk of losing a Senate seat. He's up for re-election this year, and while he can run for VP and Senate at the same time, if he doesn't the Republicans could run Mike Castle (former Gov and now Rep), who's old and sick but could steal the seat. So it's a risk - but not the automatic loss the way Bayh's selection would be.
Electorally, Biden doesn't bring a big or swing state in tow. He's from Delaware, which is safely Democratic, and the selection of a northern liberal might hurt the ticket a bit in the South.
The bigger question is - why not a woman? I was for Sebelius, because 1) she was a great governor, 2) she was a fresh face, and 3) it's time for a woman. Perhaps she didn't vet (we'll never know), or the chemistry between the two of them wasn't good. Or maybe focus groups indicated that older female Clinton supporters would view it as a slap in the face. But my suspicion is that Obama and his advisors just thought that breaking 2 precedents at once was too big a risk. It's not an evaluation I agree with, but it's an understandable one.
The biggest potential vulnerability this selection creates is if McCain selects a woman running mate - particularly if he tells his party to go screw and selects a pro-choice woman. If he was still 8 points down I suspect he might - it's what I would do. But luckily there aren't that many anti-choice women Republicans elected at the state level, so perhaps we'll dodge a bullet. But watch for a consideration of Kay Hutchinson, Senator from Texas.
So on balance, I think the selection of Biden is okay - but just okay. Not great, but not a major disaster. But we'll see.