Channeling Cheney: Did Obama Overcompensate with Biden?
It was one of the interesting anomalies of the 2008 Democratic race. There were three Washington veterans with decades of experience who went absolutely nowhere during the campaign. Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson failed to get any traction, despite decades of governing and countless days and nights of hobnobbing with Beltway insiders. The three frontrunners, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had far better claims to outsider status – Edwards served only one term in the Senate, Clinton was just starting her second term, and Barack Obama was the most famous Senate freshman in decades.
Biden was a particular embarrassment on the campaign trail, shaming himself and his institution with his awkward, seemingly condescending remarks describing Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” After winning 9,000 votes and finishing fifth in Iowa, Biden left the race, proving how little American voters are impressed by a three-decade Senatorial resume. Obama’s ability to forgive Biden’s gaffe suggests a personal grace and generosity that is nice to see in politics; but this choice may fuel questions about Obama’s political and policy judgment.
Beyond this stunning – and recent -- political failure, Biden’s supposed foreign policy experience may alienate both liberals and conservatives. Liberals will note that, unlike Obama, Biden voted for the war in Iraq - -just as Hillary Clinton and John McCain did. Thus, in the future, Obama will have to be a little more cautious when he mocks McCain’s judgment about initially supporting the war. At the same time, conservatives will note Biden’s failure to support the surge. This suggests that for all the media hype about Biden’s brilliance in overseas matters, he is just a conventional, finger-to-the-wind type, buffeted by the political trends of the moment. Holding fifty-plus Senate hearings and appearing repeatedly on Sunday morning television shows reveals a mastery of the Washington game not the intricacies of foreign affairs.
At the same time, centrists will mourn the fact that Joe Biden is neither a fresh face nor a bridge-builder. He lacks Obama’s outsider credentials and McCain’s track record in seeking bipartisan solutions. Biden is a good Democratic soldier, who has consistently stayed within party boundaries and helped create today’s destructive, angry, overly-charged Washington quagmire. In fact – and this we are told is part of his appeal – Biden knows how to throw hard political punches, as demonstrated by his partisanship during the Robert Bork and Samuel Alito hearings.
To be fair, Biden seems to be a decent man who has demonstrated tremendous personal grit over the years. The poignant story of the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident shortly before he entered the Senate, his ability to raise his two boys on his own and eventually start a new family, his comeback from two brain aneurysms, and his record of thirty years in Washington without a major scandal – or it seems, a big payday – are all extremely admirable. But virtue does not always guarantee votes – as George H.W. Bush learned when Bill Clinton defeated him in 1992.
In fact, speaking of Clinton, Obama would have done much better had he learned from Clinton in 1992. That year, amid doubts about Clinton’s youth and inexperience, Clinton showed great moxie in refusing to nominate an elder statesman to compensate for his supposed weaknesses. Instead, Clinton thrilled voters by choosing another young Southern politician, Al Gore. This vice-presidential choice reinforced Clinton’s message of change; Obama’s choice, unfortunately, muddied the waters, suggesting that, at the end of the day, 2008 is going to be another conventional campaign and Obama may be just another conventional politician, like his new best friend, Joe Biden.
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Lisa Kazmier - 8/29/2008
I think Biden might help beyond PA tho with a certain segment of the population that needed to see the relationship between Obama and a guy who translates to working class (white) America.
Sarah Palin, by comparison, seems kinda desperate.
Lisa Kazmier - 8/29/2008
Given the fact of who McCain chose, I think you need to rethink this.
Gil Troy - 8/26/2008
With respect this is a bizarre comment -- the topic was Biden and his past, the article was not about candidate gaffes or race in the race -- both of which are important and interesting topics which of course would require bipartisan examples.
R.R. Hamilton - 8/26/2008
From someone who won't be voting for Obama or McCain:
It looks like Obama is trying to guarantee himself Pennsylvania. The Dems won Pennsylvania in 2000 and 2004 and still lost. Obama needed to help himself in Missouri, and this pick didn't. No wonder there was no "bounce" at all from the pick.
McCain is now free to pick from a number of choices.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/26/2008
John Hinderaker says:
"There is a considerable element of wishful thinking in the media coverage of Biden's selection, where
Biden is often described as a "street fighter" or an "attack dog." Biden does in some respects resemble a dog; in his eagerness to be liked, and his inability to recognize when his audience has had enough of him and would like him to sit down and be quiet."
Michael Green - 8/25/2008
Whether or not I would have chosen Biden--and I would not have--is not the point. The point here is Professor Troy. When he accuses Biden of "shaming" himself, he reveals his own partisan colors, which he implored others to dismiss. To say that Biden shamed himself and not that others have as well--including not merely Obama, but those in the Republican camp--he misses the key points that, first, candidates are human beings who make missteps as the rest of us do and, second, that any remark Biden made about race pales into insignificance in comparison with those made by others, including Democrats, but especially Republicans who are daily trying to say without directly saying so that Obama is a racial inferior. That Professor Troy misses this key point brings the rest of his commentary into question.