Posted by Brad @ 2:07 pm on July 30th 2008

Joseph Biden for VP

I’ve been touting Sarah Palin as my favorite candidate for the VP slot on McCain’s ticket, and have been persistently making the case that she represents the strongest choice for McCain out of the pool of likely potential candidates. It only seems fair that I make a pick for Obama as well.

First, my premises.

In a lot of ways, Obama’s choices are less clear, but, I think, less important (some argue otherwise, that Obama has a lot more to lose with a VP pick than McCain, but I don’t really see the reasoning behind that). There is no obvious weakness that Obama desperately needs to redress, no must-win state in the same way that McCain has them, and no demographic that he has particular problems with (there are some demographics where he’s weaker than he is with others, of course, but not really any that a VP pick is going to make or potentially break). He can afford, in other words, to bypass the regular “popular minority from a must-carry state” thing, I think, and simultaneously doesn’t need to play it safe, but doesn’t need to get cute or bold either (McCain, I argue, is starting from behind so he needs to squeeze as much immediate and ephemeral advantage from his VP candidate as possible). In that respect, I agree, more or less, with Trapper John:

I start from the premise that Barack Obama doesn’t need anyone to make his candidacy complete. He’s already up in the polls, both nationally and in key states. Intrade has him at a 63% likelihood of winning, and Nate Silver has him at 67%. But more importantly, he knows that he’s a bona fide, no-joke rock star. He doesn’t need a charismatic running mate. He doesn’t need a missing piece, someone who implies that Barack Obama is something other than all that and a bag of chips. Hell, I think he’d run solo, if the Constitution and practicality allowed him to do so. The Obama campaign is all about Barack Obama — it simply doesn’t need that brand altered in any way.

Trapper John goes on to say that, due to that, the #1 consideration for Obama must be a Hippocratic one: do no harm. I think John overstates that, in that I don’t think Obama needs to play it overly safe. He can afford a little risk for the sake of a little added zing.

What’s more, though it looked like it might be an issue a few months ago, solidifying the base doesn’t appear to be a major concern for Obama anymore. He’s running, on that score, on par with where he should be. Clinton appears to have dropped off the radar entirely, and the very few Hillary supporters who would demand she be on the ticket before voting for Barack are of a small enough minority that they can, I think, be safely written off by now (and they’re of the type that perhaps can’t be appeased under any circumstance; I’m thinking of somebody like Larry Johnson and the PUMA crowd). What’s more, he’s running stronger among women than your average Democrat, so the need to pick a woman isn’t a huge pressure anymore, I don’t think. It was always the case, I believe, that Obama wasn’t going to pick Clinton unless pressure to do so was overwhelming (or not worth the effort to fight against). It’s now clear that he doesn’t need her, which more or less shuts the door on that possibility. I think we can safely take Clinton out of the running entirely at this point.

But there are still places where a VP could be of good use. One potential traditional role that a VP might be able to play—attack dog—does indeed present at least a slight opportunity, in that Obama can punt off direct attacks to his VP and keep his image of being a new kind of politician (a ridiculous dog-and-pony label to trot out (or buy into), but it seems to be working alright for him). Obama could also possibly use someone who can butt heads with McCain from a position of national security street cred. It might get tough for Obama to question McCain’s military or national security credibility given his own flimsy resume in that regard (and McCain’s on-paper bonafides). McCain in particular is stepping off running on Iraqi policy and instead is trying to frame the election as being a more abstract and general question of judgment, experience, and steeliness. I suspect he’ll make up some ground on those lines, and certainly, it represents his best opportunity for headway. The only other headway he can make is by running up negative memes on Obama (inexperienced, too liberal, too ambitious, too ephemeral, etc.) enough that voters at least give the election a second look.

Now, barring some completely out-of-left-field dream ticket possibility (Rojas came up with by far the best suggestion I’ve heard yet in that range: Christine Todd Whitman), who’s under consideration? Tough to say, but Ambinder, who I trust on insider-chatter kind of stories, says that the big four shortlisters at the moment appear to be Kaine, Sebelius, Bayh, and Biden. Surely there are more names orbiting around those, but that jibes with most people’s impressions of the strongest candidates at this point.

Bayh—who is one of those whose name seems to get floated every cycle (and every cycle for the same reason, to balance out the “liberal-ness” of the nominee)—is a perfectly respectable choice, and given that Indiana may well be a swing state, would probably buy Obama some EVs he likely won’t win without him. Kaine runs even stronger in that regard, but is less well known. Sebelius is another solid choice, and is the go-to pick if Obama feels the need for a woman. If it’s a woman, it’s Sebelius—she is the #1 and at this point probably the only candidate if it’s that itch Obama’s campaign wants to scratch. Three problems there: no big geographic advantage (though perhaps it sways Missouri)(and it’s worth reiterating that I think geographic advantage is over-rated, but Obama’s people may not think so), Obama has no real need to shore up his cred with women (certainly couldn’t hurt, but there’s no pressing need), and there is even a slim chance of some blowback if Obama picks a woman who is not Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, my guess right now is Sebelius is the default settling choice. It’s going to be incumbent on the inside-the-campaign advocates of other candidates to make the case why their favorites are better than Sebelius.

Which leaves Biden.

I’ve long argued that he may be the dark horse candidate for VP. I’ve also become convinced that he’s the best. Unlike Palin, however, the case for Biden is remarkably straightforward, such that I don’t have all that much to add but reiteration. Here is the Newsweek Profile of Biden for VP, which lays it all out.

Ezra Klein puts it this way:

Biden’s long and communicable experience on foreign policy and ability to deride and dismiss Republican claims to expertise on the subject both amplify any argument of experience and demonstrate a bareknuckle tendency that someone on the ticket will need. Right now, he’s the only one in the race who seems to have figured out how to puncture the Right’s national security pretensions, and so the most useful in the #2 slot. And that is something the Democratic ticket will need to do.

Eyes on Obama eloquently makes the case as well. It’s become obvious enough that yesterday, Ed Rendell urged Obama to pick Biden (which is newsworthy for a number of reasons). Even Karl Rove thinks Biden would be Obama’s best choice .

Rove should know. I think one of the most savvy VP choices in my lifetime was Dick Cheney, for very similar reasons as Biden would be good for Obama. Cheney, I don’t think, brought anybody over to Bush, but what he did do is provide an answer to any lingering questions Bush voters or leaners might have had about Bush’s experience and intelligence. He relaxed and eased any concerns Bush voters might have had, and he also to a large extent mitigated the obvious lines of attacks his opponents were making headway on. There came a point in 2000 when voters favorable to Bush were persuaded by the negative memes about him enough to give him a second look. And Dick Cheney was there to assuage them just enough to keep them from bolting.

That is precisely what Obama needs at this point. He is starting ahead, but there are still enough questions about him, and McCain is a good enough candidate that there will be enough potential wedges, that likely there will come points when voters have second thoughts. Obama doesn’t need to flip any voters, he just needs to comfort them. Biden is just the guy to do that.

Biden provides a stonewall against those that claim Obama has no proven judgment or experience on foreign policy. He also has a proven ability to take head-on Republican strengths in national security and foreign policy in a way that both makes the Democratic case cleanly, aggressively, and eloquently, as well as simultaneously letting the air out of GOP tires. When a Republican war hero makes the point that the Democrats are sissies and air-headed on matters of national security, nobody I can think of is as effective in pushing back as Joe Biden. What’s more, there’s a subtle difference between the way Biden does it and the way other Democrats try. Most Democrats seem to really believe, in their heart of hearts, that the Republicans are right. So they come off as mush-mouthed and defensive. Biden, on the other hand, refuses to grant an inch, and takes every attack as a chance to prove that the best defense is a good offense. Where other Democrats come off, in their responses, as almost proving the point, Biden has the unique ability of flipping attacks back on the attackers. He is aggressive and assured where other Democrats look scared and self-loathing.

He is, in other words, the perfect answer to McCain and his surrogates on what they (rightly) perceive to be their biggest “in” against Obama.

There is also a lot of talk these days of the difference between a governing VP and a campaigning one. There are strong candidates for either niche, but Biden is the only one that serves in both capacities equally well. He will spend his time on the campaign trail undercutting attacks on Obama, fighting back against memes before they can solidify, comfort voters who want an excuse to not worry about experience, ground the campaign for white blue collar males, and allow Obama to run on hope while Biden runs on Republican failures. As a governing choice, Biden might even run a little stronger. He is the perfect liaison between Obama and Congress (if Obama needs to shake that tree, nobody better than Biden), he is an able international statesman, he is a great guy to have whispering in your ear, and he is immediately qualified to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Finally, it should be noted that Biden’s widely touted weaknesses aren’t quite as bad as they’re made out to be. Biden has some blotches on his record, both personal and political, but they are ancient history by now in the political world, and he also boasts being about as vetted as anybody of his stature can be. He is unfairly called a gaffe machine, and he will certainly be hard to keep a leash on, but being second fiddle gives him a lot of cover on that front. What’s more, I think what makes some people declare him a gaffe machine is one of his better strengths—he has a natural ability at cutting through the noise and getting through. He generates buzz, in other words. I think this plays to Obama’s advantage. You’d rather your ticket generate buzz for harsh words undermining Republican talking points than for your own narrative to be played out, exhausted, and have reporters go looking (which is, I think, something the Obama campaign needs to be very on guard against). I think Obama can afford, and even benefit from, sideline stories of the “Did Biden go too far?” style. It keeps things fresh, adds some excitement, and done artfully (which Biden knows how to do), it can actually advance your agenda.

Biden, I think, hits every note. He serves every purpose. But the main selling point is he’s both perfectly suited to assuaging any second-look concerns voters might have, neutralize and push back against the only clear line of attack McCain’s got, and would be one of the more effective governing VPs in modern political history. For that reason, if it were up to me, Biden would be the guy.

12 Comments »

  1. You overlook the fact that Biden is not well known for keeping his mouth shut and the mystery of what might come out of it next. If Obama wants to take a ride on the wild side, Joe’s his man.

    Comment by James — 7/30/2008 @ 2:24 pm

  2. See second to last paragraph.

    I actually think that aspect of Biden might in fact be good for the Obama campaign. Presuming that Biden doesn’t get wildly offensive (and I’d think he’d be a lot more careful as a VP nominee than as a Senator), I think the Obama campaign could afford him getting right up on the line and generating some heat and publicity.

    Comment by Brad — 7/30/2008 @ 2:28 pm

  3. Hey, look at me! I’m on the high wire and haven’t fallen yet. Take away the net, I don’t need no stinkin’ net.

    Comment by James — 7/30/2008 @ 2:33 pm

  4. Biden’s plagiarism problem would also re-surface. No one ever really cared about it before because Biden was never really a serious candidate before. But as VP it would be revived and would be a distraction — potentialy a crippling one.

    I still do not understand why Obama simply doesn’t pick Richardson: foreign policy, energy, New Mexico, hispanics. What’s not to love?

    Comment by KipEsquire — 7/30/2008 @ 2:37 pm

  5. Oh, and this.

    Comment by KipEsquire — 7/30/2008 @ 2:42 pm

  6. Biden’s plagiarism problem would resurface, but it’s very hard for me to see anyone caring. It’s on par with, say, McCain and Keating 5 (don’t hear a lot about that do you? Because nobody cares). I don’t think “no one ever really cared about it” is true at all. He was a serious candidate when the story broke, and it led him to abandon his first (and only) real shot at the Presidency. It’s been about as thoroughly picked through as it can get, however, and though it will surely be added to any Biden profiles, that would be a helluva hard ancient history scandal to revive and do anything with.

    And who do you think the Kerry-McCain ticket talk hurts? If Republican voters aren’t laying that on the feet of McCain (and, for that matter, it never hurt Kerry any either), it’s hard to see how that becomes a dealbreaker for Biden with the Dems (and, I should add, there were a lot of members of the Democratic base who loved the idea of Kerry-McCain, for obvious reasons).

    Richardson looks as good on paper as Tommy Thompson did on the GOP side, but nobody is talking Tommy Thompson for McCain for the same reason nobody is talking Bill Richardson for Obama: completely lackluster candidates except on paper. For all of Richardson’s bonafides (and nobody doubts them), he has more or less proven himself absolutely incapable of translating his experience to presence (which is the only way experience matters in an election context). He is not being discussed as in serious contention for the VP slot for exactly that reason. He has proven that he brings precisely nobody to the ticket and generates precisely no political center of gravity of his own.

    Comment by Brad — 7/30/2008 @ 3:00 pm

  7. Richardson’s disqualifier is the beard. Gore looked weird with his; Richardson looks downright scary.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/30/2008 @ 3:54 pm

  8. He looked like General Zod.

    I found that endearing. But if he keeps the beard, he at least has to maliciously sneer more.

    Comment by Brad — 7/30/2008 @ 3:58 pm

  9. Isn’t the whole point of Obama’s campaign that he already has all the “presence” he needs, but is a bit light on the political resume?

    And the McCain campaign would absolutely slaughter Biden: “Obama’s own running mate thought I was best qualified to lead the country…” Etc. Might not matter, but it would certainly happen.

    P.S. “Why do you say these things, when you know I will kill you for it?” ;-)

    Comment by KipEsquire — 7/30/2008 @ 4:32 pm

  10. Meanwhile —

    Step 1: Get Hillary supporters to like Richardson.
    Step 2: {Choose Richardson as VP.}
    Step 3: Profit!

    Comment by KipEsquire — 7/30/2008 @ 5:47 pm

  11. Biden, by the way, would do just fine in meeting the political resume threshold.

    At this point, and maybe I should have put this more clearly in my premises, but I think the VP pick needs to be somebody who comforts independents, white males, and moderates. I think Obama can safely rely on the Democratic base to turn out for him, and thus need not be overly concerned with Hillary supporters, liberal netroots types, blacks or Hispanics, women, etc. He’s already got all of them more or less in his pocket.

    Comment by Brad — 7/30/2008 @ 5:51 pm

  12. As I have said before, I kind of like Biden. He speaks his mind. I think Obama would have to have the audacity of a dope to select him though.

    Comment by James — 7/30/2008 @ 9:00 pm

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