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Scot Lehigh

Joe Biden was the right VP pick

By Scot Lehigh
August 23, 2008
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Joe Biden was the right VP pick, made for the right reasons.

Expertise and ability obviously carried the day here, and not geographic calculation.

After all, even if Delaware weren't reliably Democratic in presidential elections, its three electoral votes wouldn't be the kind of dowry that entices a suitor into an otherwise unlikely political marriage.

And though Biden has plenty of admirers, he doesn't come with an energized, committed bloc of supporters, as Hillary Clinton would have or the way John Edwards did in 2004 -- and arguably might have again, before his affair revealed him as a narcissistic twit willing to endanger his party by running for president with an explosive secret in his immediate past.

The biggest thing Biden brings is foreign-policy experience and respect among serious people not just in Washington but in capitals around the globe. He speaks with real understanding about hotspots like Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, and is deeply schooled in the economic, geopolitical, religious, and ethnic issues that drive international relations.

His under-funded presidential never caught fire, but voters saw his knowledge on display in the Democratic debates, where ``I agree with Joe Biden'' became a regular refrain among the other candidates. That enhanced Biden's stature, if not his political support in the primaries.

In choosing him, Barack Obama has added important ballast to the Democratic ticket. One considerable challenge Obama faces is the commander in chief test: That is, whether voters will come to see him as capable of leading the nation in foreign affairs and military matters. Now, current doubts aren't particularly just, given that his judgment proved better than Republican John McCain's on the biggest foreign-policy question in recent years: whether to go to war with Iraq.

Still, so far polling shows that voters more easily see McCain in that role than they do Obama. The choice of Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a familiar presence on the Sunday talk shows, should increase confidence in the Democratic ticket.

And while Obama is light on both national experience and Washington accomplishments, Biden first won his Senate seat in 1972, and has a long list of achievements to his name.

Although heft is his major value as a ticketmate, Biden helps in biographical ways as well. He was born in Pennsylvania and he's Catholic -- and Catholics and Pennsylvanians are two constituencies where Obama needs to do well.

Despite his long years in the Senate, he's remained a very regular guy, one not isolated from the challenges of everyday life. One of the least wealthy senators, he commutes to work from Delaware on the train.

He's also a helluva campaigner, a happy warrior who loves the game, and who, as Rudy Giuliani found out, can be tough and funny without seeming slashing.

Yes, there are some issues. To my mind, the stump-speech plagiarism controversy that torpedoed his 1988 campaign isn't among them; as politics goes, that a venial sin of the distant past.

But to the indictment that he is loquacious, what can be said, except this: Guilty as charged, though with these extenuating circumstances: Prolix he may be, but Biden is neither a stuffed shirt nor a bore.

Although some call him gaffe prone, that rings less true. Yes, he had a couple in this campaign, but they were absence-of-malice things that, however much they may have upset the PC police, left most everyone else shrugging and saying, I know what he meant.

Certainly it was obvious what Biden was trying to convey when he called Obama ``the first mainstream African-Americanwho is articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy.''

The nominee-to-be could have picked someone who like Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a blank slate from an important state, or Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a dull and cautious figure, but one who might have brought Indiana along.

Instead, he chose as his vice presidential nominee a man who will be an invaluable partner in governing -- and one who would be considerably more qualified than he for the top job.

And that tells you something important about Obama as well.

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