Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Joe Biden's bite

It's quite possible that, within the next 24 hours, the following observations will have roughly the same value as crumpled tissue. That's the risk when one speculates about presidential running mates. Not to date myself as an old guy, but I well remember, back in the summer of '68, speculating with my teenage pals about Richard Nixon's likely veep choice, and when the Trickster finally made his pick, all we could say was, "Spiro who?"

Joe Biden's bite

Would Biden´s heat balance Obama´s cool? (AP photo)
Would Biden's heat balance Obama's cool? (AP photo)

It's quite possible that, within the next 24 hours, the following observations will have roughly the same value as crumpled tissue. That's the risk when one speculates about presidential running mates. Not to date myself as an old guy, but I well remember, back in the summer of '68, speculating with my teenage pals about Richard Nixon's likely veep choice, and when the Trickster finally made his pick, all we could say was, "Spiro who?"

So, mindful of all the caveats, here's a thought or two about Joe Biden - not an endorsement, but merely an exploration of the arguments.

There has been a Biden boomlet during the past few days, for good reason. As one of the most seasoned Democrats on foreign policy, he would fill some holes in Barack Obama's resume. As a Catholic with blue-collar roots and an average-guy stump style, he could help Obama with the resistant working stiffs.

No doubt the Republicans would dredge up the '88 plagiarism incident, the various instances of Biden foot-in-mouth disease, and they'd probably find some way to spin him as a wimp (Bulletin! Biden didn't go to Vietnam because he failed his physical!), but, bottom line, his presence on the ticket would demonstrate Obama's seriousness about governing. For instance, Obama wants to exit from Iraq, but do it responsibly; among Democrats, Biden is virtually unrivaled in stressing the challenges and complexities of that task. And even though it's true that Biden has held a Senate seat for 35 years, many voters would probably welcome some Washington seasoning on the ticket, particularly in these troubled times. The latest Quinnipiac poll, released today, reports that, by a margin of 55 to 27 percent, Americans view John McCain as more qualified than Obama to handle Russia. On that topic alone, Biden can talk McCain (and, certainly, any McCain running mate) to a draw.

That's a quick summation of the basic case for Biden. Less often mentioned, however, is the trait that might aid Obama most in the short run, between now and November: Biden has the requisite attack-dog instincts that any running mate should have...unlike the last two Democratic running mates.

The job of any good veep candidate is to bite the opposition when circumstances dictate the need to do so. Joe Lieberman didn't bite in 2000. John Edwards didn't bite in 2004. Obama, notwithstanding his yearning for a new politics, is stuck with a standard old-politics brawl, and he's likely to be helped by a junior partner who can play the feisty heavy when necessary.

Many Democrats still wince about Lieberman's performance eight years ago. He spent much of his veep debate being nice to Dick Cheney. At one point, while discussing how well the economy had fared under Bill Clinton, Lieberman said to Cheney, "I'm pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you're better off than you were eight years ago." Cheney got the audience to laugh by responding, "I can tell you, Joe, that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it." This was manifestly false - Cheney, while heading Haliburton during the '90s, had fattened the firm with federal contracts - but Lieberman merely joined in the merriment by saying, "I can see my wife and I think she's saying, 'I think he should go out in the private sector.'"

Then came the post-election Florida crisis. Al Gore decided to challenge some of the military absentee ballots, and thought that his running mate was on board...whereupon Lieberman went on Meet the Press and said, "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel."

Fast forward to 2004, when Edwards refused repeated directives from the Kerry camp to take the fight to the GOP - especially during the late summer, when the Swift Boaters were taking Kerry apart - because, as he later remarked, he had signed on to run what he assumed would be "a 100 percent positive campaign." Edwards finally toughened up during the veep debate, but Vice President Cheney merely brushed him aside as a callow whippersnapper ("Frankly, you have a record in the Senate that's not very distinguished").

Biden, by contrast, has already bared his teeth. In a debate last autumn, when it appeared that Rudy Giuliani might be the GOP opponent, Biden took it upon himself to declare that Rudy's 9/11 hero image was fraudulent: "Rudy Giuliani (is) probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency. I mean, think about it. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else..." He went on from there at great length - as Biden is wont to do - but that too would arguably complement Obama, who sometimes appears to pick out each word with the precision of a jeweler cutting a diamond.

So perhaps the best argument for Biden is that, on the stump, he could play it heavy while Obama keeps it light. His heat could complement Obama's cool.

Or, by this time tomorrow, everything you've just read might have even less worth than the dollar has in Europe.

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
About this blog

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review as one of the nation's top political reporters, and lauded by the ABC News political website as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation," Dick Polman is a national political columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "writer in residence." Dick has been a frequent guest on C-Span, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC. He covered the 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 presidential campaigns.

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All commentaries posted before April 18, 2008, can be accessed at www.dickpolman.blogspot.com.

Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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