2007 Verve Awards

2006 Verve Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog 2005 Queer Day Awards

Best Gay Blog Nominee 2004 Weblog Awards

Best Arts and Culture Blog Nominee

Saturday, August 23, 2008


On Biden: The Pluses and Minuses

It's official: Obama-Biden 2008. The Senator from Delaware has received the call, and will sit at the right hand of the president come November. Is it a good pick? Is it a disaster? I think it's a more nuanced conversation than that, but if I had to distill it down, the choice of Biden for the #2 slot strikes me as a meticulously thought-out (maybe overthought) choice. Like many, I had dismissed Biden as a possibility when he told reporters last week that "he wasn't the guy." (That cheeky devil!) But the more I think about an Obama-Biden ticket, the more fascinated I become. Here's how I see the plusses and minuses:


The Experience Question. More than anything else, Biden counters the perception that Obama is green and unprepared for the job. Biden is almost as ancient as McCain, and has a resume at least as long, if not longer; if you're one of the media pundits who think Age=Experience=Good, then Biden is a great decision. He's well-regarded on foreign policy issues, and brings a certain gravitas to the entirety of the Obama team.

The Maverick. The most potent (and untrue) mythology surrounding McCain is that he's a "maverick," which pundits usually interpret as independent thinking mixed with bold political gunslinging. If the Democratic Party has an counterpart to that mythology, it's Biden. The man shoots his mouth off frequently (and without thinking...we'll get to that later); as a Senator, he's been unafraid to go his own way when the mood strikes him. He acts like a gunslinger in interviews and debates...and as we have learned in spades over the last decade, there's a certain part of the electorate that cares more about cowboy personality than policy positions.

The Attack Dog. If you buy into the meme that Obama doesn't like to get his hands dirty with mudslinging -- at his own peril, since McCain apparently has no similar compunction -- then Biden probably thrills you. He'll easily take on the role of shit-stirrer for the Obama campaign...without any qualms or difficulty.

Great In The Debates. Like most people at this point, I think McCain is going to pick one of three people as his VP: Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, or Tom Ridge (in that order, FYI). I suspect that, in head-to-head matches on Sunday talk shows or in the VP debate, Biden will wipe the floor with any of them. He trumps them all in national and international experience, he beats them in age and accomplishment, and he knows how to exploit a debate weakness.

His Weakness Is His Strength. A common talking point on Biden is that he has a tendency to shoot his mouth off. He makes mistakes, he mis-speaks. (Remember when he said in the primaries that Obama was "clean"? Awwwwkwaaaaard.) But here's the upside to Biden's unpredictability...the media already THINK he will make mistakes, so he'll get a pass from them when he does. Biden isn't capable of a clusterfuck like Jeremiah Wright or the Swift Boats...because anything he does will be (mostly) forgiven by the media. (Like McCain does...but that's another post entirely.)


It Ain't Exactly Exciting. As a choice (and as a news cycle tentpole), Biden is a bit of a yawn. As a man and as a political figure, he lacks excitement and vision...inspiring, he's not. (See: Biden's failed presidential campaigns.) I think it's telling that the Obama campaign made the announcement on a Saturday morning; in newspaper terms, that's called burying the lead. They KNOW it isn't exciting, so they held the announcement until the last possible moment...with the Convention beginning on Monday, they can skip the media-fueled equivocations about whether Biden was the correct choice, and go straight into Obama's coronation moment. Maybe Biden doesn't have to be inspiring; after all, that's Obama's strong suit. (Another thought: maybe Biden is the Democratic answer to Dick Cheney...an asshole, sure, but he's OUR asshole.)

Losing The Theme of "New Politics". Biden, the very epitome of a Washington insider, severely damages Obama's promise to change the culture of Washington. There's nothing new, different, or visionary about Vice President Biden. Although I'm the only one apparently, I believed that Indiana Senator Evan Bayh -- comparatively young, blond, smart, experienced, moderate, a family man like Obama, and a Clinton supporter in the primaries -- was a much better choice in terms of these media themes. But I guess the thinking, after a month of declining poll numbers, was to trade in the idea of "new politics" for someone who could do traditional political attacks. And there we are.

Fucking Delaware. Biden's home state wasn't in play, and it has a tiny number of electoral votes anyway. In this regard, someone like Bayh (Indiana), Kaine (Virginia), or Sibelius (Kansas) would have been much better options...they could have put their states into serious play, and in the case of Bayh and Kaine, a Democratic win might not have been out of the question. At the end of the day, Biden simply doesn't bring any votes with him.

The Attack Dog (Redux). Remember when I said I'd get back to that shooting-mouth-off thing? Here it is. Biden is unpredictable and in some ways unmanageable; he's got a stubborn independence built into his DNA. That can sometimes be a plus...but it can also be an enormous mess. If you're religious, you might want to say a prayer that Biden causes less harm than good over the next few months.

The Clinton Question. Hillary supporters are going to be pissed. Why? Because it isn't her, of course...the single-mindedness of (some of) them is verging on psychotic obsession. The truth is that she was never seriously in the running for VP (and I don't think she'd have taken it, if offered...she's thinking about 2012 or 2016, and staying in the Senate is a safer move in that regard). But I think Obama could have thrown Clinton adherents a bone by selecting a surrogate or supporter. As a group, Clintonies seem to perceive a slight in every move Obama makes; this might be the last straw for them. Given Biden's late announcement, I'm very worried that the Clinton delegates will throw a hissy fit next week at the convention...on national television, proving to the world every destructive opinion of Democrats to be true.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?


Blogger qta said...

I could not agree with you more. I think you have hit every nail here on the head. And while I, like many other Clinton supporters, would have loved for him to pick her, I am totally cool with a Biden pick. I like Joe Biden... big mouth and all. And while he can creep me out with some of the thinks he occasionally shoots out of that big mouth... there is a fire to him that I find appealing. He was definitely my pick if Obama wasn't going with Hillary. And for all of the reasons you list above.

Biden is smart and Obama needs someone who knows what is going on, how to deal with it, and how to get Washington to work with him on it. An insider is the right way to go here. Then again... I never bought into the whole Obama is doing a new politics thing in the first place, so I am not disappointed by his selection of a well established and experienced Washington insider.

I can get behind this ticket. And the addition of Joe Biden makes me more able to do so.

8/23/08, 12:03 PM  
Blogger ModFab said...

Interestingly enough, QTA, I think it makes me less excited about the ticket. But I'm still 100% behind it, because Jesus Christ, we can not have a McCain presidency. It would destroy the country.

Biden's fine, I guess. I just wish it were someone I believed in more.

8/23/08, 12:56 PM  
Blogger John T said...

I'm like ModFab-I get less excited about the ticket with Biden. I would have rather had Sebelius, Bayh, or, of course, Clinton. For me, it just dilutes many of Obama's most potent qualities-the "change" candidate, the candidate who was against the war from the start (Biden voted for the War, something Obama chastised Clinton and Edwards for)-someone like Jack Reed would have done the same thing, is unknown enough to be an outsider candidate, and voted against Iraq. This, and I'm terribly afraid of what Biden will do without a script.

That said, I think there's a positive you're missing about Biden-he's a PA native (born in Scranton), and that could be a plus in an increasingly competitive state.

All-in-all, they'll be getting my vote (and I hope the rest of the country's), and I hope that the Clinton supporters don't get too riled up at the Convention (though they have every right to be disappointed, and to feel a little snubbed). I just wish I could feel more thrilled by all of this.

8/23/08, 1:26 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Of all the non-Hillary choices, I think Hillary's devout will be least pissed with Biden, because he's old enough that he's unlikely to run himself in eight years (he'd be two years older then than McCain is now), leaving the field open for Hillary with no incumbent VP to start the race as the presumed nominee.

8/23/08, 10:36 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Well, if someone was concerned about Obama's lack of foreign policy experience, I can't imagine them saying, "Oh, now that Biden's going to be his vice president, I feel reassured." I don't think Biden has that kind of national recognition. I don't know whether a vice presidential pick sways people either way.

And I don't think picking another candidate who could have put his or her state "in play" would have mattered either. I mean, in 2000, Gore didn't even win Tennessee, his supposed "home state," did he?

While I think Biden may be a good pick because he will go on the attack, I still think it's more important what Obama says, how he responds to McCain.

The vice president is almost irrelevant in this case. I don't think Biden's a bad choice, but in the final analysis, I don't think he's going to win or lose the election. Sure it could possibly sway a few people who are on the fence, but I think it all comes down to how comfortable people feel with Obama.

8/24/08, 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm neither thrilled nor disappointed with Obama's VP pick. I truly don't believe Clinton wanted to be VP anyway. In all likelihood, she'll be laying it all out for another run in 4 - 8 years. Personally, I like Biden and found him to be personable in the debates. Nevertheless, he is to Obama what Cheney is to Bush and can alleviate any doubt about Obama's lack of foreign policy experience (remember that debate when Bush was running). Frankly, I never thought being a prisoner of war made an individual (McCain) an expert on foreign policy issues and I'm surprised no one has really called him out on that. As for the Hillary supporters, it’s time to get on board if you haven’t already. Do you really want Bush’s policies to be extended another four years? Let’s be realistic. Hillary and her hubby have already locked up primetime during the convention and you get a roll call vote. What more do you want?

8/24/08, 8:26 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

Evan Bayh? You gotta be shitting me. Can you say, "Empty Suit"? This isn't old man Birch we're talking about, this is Birch fils -- one of the biggest corporatists in the Senate. He HEADS UP the DLC. In 2004 he raised almost $1 million from the banking industry. Yeah, Biden voted for the bankruptcy bill too, but at least the fucking banks are in his state. Bayh did it because he is bought and paid for by corporations.

But the worst thing about Evan Bayh is that he's one of the worst of the Blue Dog Democrats -- a Steny Hoyer type who's been a good and loyal foot soldier for George W. Bush. He didn't just vote for George Bush's Iraq War, he CO-SPONSORED the fucking resolution! And he continues to support it to this day. He is terrible on reproductive choice. He's Al From's bitch, and he's Joe Lieberman with better hair. More about this vile POS at Down with Tyranny -- you can read it for yourself.

I had just about gotten to the point where I was coming around to the Hillary notion, but Bill Clinton's tantrums pretty much negated any possibility of Hill getting the #2 spot -- PUMAs or no PUMAs. I think Hill could have made her peace with being #2, but because It's Always All About Bill, he was going to be an ever-present problem. If Hillary supporters want to blame someone for not just her failure to get the nomination, but her failure to get the #2 spot, they can point at her husband.

Tim Kaine was an even worse possibility than Evan Bayh. He's every bit as much a Blue Dog, he has horrible hair, and he would have made the ticket hopelessly lightweight.

Wes Clark was the netroots' choice, but unfortunately, because he had the bad timing to note that being shot down doesn't qualify you for the presidency BEFORE John McCain went to the POW well too many times, he knocked himself out of the running.

Joe Biden was the best choice of a bad lot, and I'm about as happy with the choice as I'm going to be. Biden is scrappy, he's fire to Obama's ice, he's the perfect "bad cop", he's ferociously smart and knowledgeable about foreign policy, and he single-handedly delivered us from running against The Saint of 9/11. And the pundit corps LOVES him. I'd say they love him even more than they love John McCain. Don't underestimate the power of the pundits, particularly where "low-information voters" (you know....morons) are concerned.

Yes, he's a corporatist hack but he does have some redemptive qualities, unlike Evan Bayh, who's nothing short of loathsome.

8/24/08, 9:09 AM  
Blogger Joe Reid said...

To each their own and all, but I can't imagine how any Obama supporter isn't psyched by all of this. Remember, it's the V.P. candidate who conforms their policies to match the top of the ticket. So what we're ending up with here is all of Biden's fire, his public speaking strengths, and ability to hit McCain where it hurts, combined with Obama's policy positions. If you're an Obama supporter, this is win-win, as far as I'm concerned.

8/24/08, 4:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home