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Why Biden is the Perfect Pick

Why Biden is the Perfect Pick

By Reid Wilson - August 23, 2008

Barack Obama's campaign took far longer to pick his vice presidential nominee than many had anticipated. But after the wait, Obama realized the true importance of choosing a running mate: It is the only truly presidential decision any candidate gets to make before they are elected. By picking Joe Biden, Barack Obama passed that test.

Obama, a candidate of freshness, newness and change, picked a Washington insider who first ran for president when Obama was 26 years old, who makes ill-advised statements about the necessity of Indian descent when entering a 7-11, and who has never seen a camera he doesn't love or a personal pronoun for which he has no use. Take those weaknesses into consideration and choosing Biden seems a foolish move.

But Biden meets the standard for a vice president. No one could credibly argue that the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the current chair of the Senate Foreign Services Committee and the American Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called upon to help mediate an end to the crisis with Russia is unprepared to be president. Biden is one of the few who compares favorably with John McCain's Senate resume -- the Delaware Senator's two committee chairs were much more prominent than McCain's stints atop the Commerce and Indian Affairs panels.

Clearly, Biden's experience in Washington ensures that he cannot adopt the same outsider mantle Obama owns. But Obama's brand, like McCain's, is so strong on its own that it doesn't need to be augmented by further change. Instead, Obama had weaknesses and gaps to fill, and he chose a candidate who did just that.

In fact, as McCain cleverly makes the argument that his brand of moderate change is safer than Obama's brand of more extreme change, Obama's choice of an experienced Washington insider tempers that criticism. Too much change can be a bad thing, and Biden, unlike other candidates for the number two job, curbs stories about naivete and a lack of depth.

In a sense, Biden is to Obama as Al Gore was to Bill Clinton. The outsider candidate needed an insider to serve as an ambassador to official Washington, the cadre of lobbyists, bureaucrats and even denizens of Capitol Hill. Biden, like Gore, is the insider who makes the Obama-Clinton outsider acceptable to fellow insiders.

That Biden is a foundation, though, is not to say he is a wet blanket. After overcoming a stutter as a child, Biden's reputation as a locquatious -- verbose is another word for it -- orator exhibits his quick mind (After McCain, Biden has been on more Sunday morning shows in the past decade than anyone else).

He will guarantee a good debate performance as well. Of the zingers from the primary debates, Biden owned one of perhaps the two best lines -- that Rudy Giuliani's sentence structure consisted of "a noun and a verb and 9/11." (The other great shot would have been Mike Huckabee's shot at John Edwards' $400 haircut). Biden will not follow in tbe footsteps of Joe Lieberman or Edwards, both Democrats who were criticized for their weak debate performances, and McCain will be hard-pressed to find a running mate who can clearly beat Biden toe-to-toe.

Perhaps most notably for the chattering classes, Obama went against a developing storyline in picking Biden. Two other finalists, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, might have brought electoral benefits; Virginia is a top Obama target, and Bayh, who represents farther-out-of-reach Indiana, could have nonetheless been an ambassador to Midwestern voters who can prove crucial to building a winning coalition. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, reportedly the third unlucky finalist, might have ameliorated -- or exacerbated -- a perceived rift among women in the Democratic Party, and certainly picking her would have marginalized Hillary Clinton to some extent.

Instead of picking a candidate who helps him in a tactical sense, Obama eschewed political calculations and picked someone viewed as ready to be president. As the media begins to focus on Obama's perceived arrogance and calculating nature, choosing Biden goes against that emerging narrative.

But choosing Biden does help Obama in one important political regard: Many Clinton backers seemed poised to criticize Kaine as inexperienced, Bayh as politically ineffective and Sebelius as a borderline insult. But Clinton supporters cannot criticize a committee chairman. And while she would have issued a similarly magnanimous statement about any vice presidential hopeful, Clinton's effusive praise for Biden will further blunt agitation of supporters who wanted the New York Senator on the ticket.

Again like Gore, who helped Bill Clinton make inroads with Democratic heavyweights, Biden can do the same. At the Democratic National Committee, many who backed Clinton or others will be more comfortable with a part of the ticket they've known for more than thirty years.

Joe Biden is one of a few people, along with Ted Kennedy, George Mitchell, Sam Nunn and perhaps a handful of others, who can be called a senior statesman in the Democratic Party. Experienced, intelligent and savvy, Obama's choice, in retrospect, could not have been anyone else.

Reid Wilson is an associate editor and writer for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at reid@realclearpolitics.com

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