(by Jamelle, crossposted at US of J)
So, like I promised earlier, here are my thoughts on the Biden pick:
Obama seems to be embracing Bush’s take on the vice presidency: a vice president’s ability to make decisions and govern effectively is more important than the political benefits a vice president may or may not bring. Cheney, if you remember, wasn’t a media darling or even particularly well known to most Americans. However, Cheney’s long tenure in government made him valuable in terms of navigating the executive branch and making the chances necessary to magnify Bush’s power/influence.
In terms of the electoral map, Bush didn’t gain much by picking Cheney. Cheney hails from a reliably Republican state, Wyoming, and if Bush were in danger of losing Wyoming, then there’s a fairly good chance that he wouldn’t have come close to winning the presidency. Politically though, Cheney was a very smart pick; by choosing a long-time Washington insider, Bush assuaged doubts concerning his experience, or lack thereof. Similarly, Obama has little to gain electorally (Delaware is safely and solidly Democratic) but a fair amount to gain politically from picking Biden. Biden is (rightfully) seen as something of an elder statesman of the Senate, and his presence on Obama’s ticket will reassure voters worried about Obama’s relative lack of experience. The biggest risk in placing an elder statesman on the ticket however, is the chance that Obama leaves office without a clear successor (assuming he serves two terms) As we saw with the Republican primary this year, that sort of situation could result in a fair amount of chaos for the incumbent party.
McCain’s campaign is animated by his claim that he is most qualified to deal with foreign policy. Obama is capable of articulating a real alternative to the Bush-McCain foreign policy paradigm, but he doesn’t seem willing to directly attack McCain’s “credibility” on foreign affairs. Biden, on the other hand, doesn’t have that problem in the least. Biden is almost preternaturally confident with regards to his foreign policy knowledge, and is entirely willing to attack Republican foreign policy ideas as not only wrong, but ridiculous. In picking Biden, there’s a fairly good chance that Obama is signaling his willingness to play offense and challenge McCain directly on his claims to foreign policy expertise. And I’m not sure if McCain can survive a sustained challenge to his foreign policy “credentials.” For a candidate whose entire reputation is built on his (terrible, faulty) foreign policy judgment, any serious challenge can be deadly.
On a slightly more superficial political level, Biden helps disarm charges of elitism thrown at Obama. Biden is notably one of the least-wealthy men in the Senate, and hails from a working-class Catholic background (unlike a lot of high-level politicians, Biden attended a state university for undergrad, and mid-level law school). Vote on the bankrupcy bill aside, Biden has been pretty good on voting for policies to support working and middle-class Americans. And, though he’s no Hillary Clinton, his record on “women’s issues*” and reproductive rights is pretty solid (like I mentioned earlier, he helped shepherd the Violence Against Women Act).
Certainly Biden has a few glaring flaws – his bad case of foot-in-mouthism, for one – but, on the whole, I think that Biden is a pretty solid pick, and I look forward to watching him clown on Republicans on the stump and in debates.