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Saturday, August 23, 2008

An Outside The Comfort Zone Pick

Marc Ambinder

My first thoughts,

Obama-Biden will be a formidable ticket, and a risky ticket, and not a comfort zone choice for Obama. "It's a big ball pick, not a small ball pick," an adviser said.

Put aside the obvious: Biden has foreign policy meat on his bones...He's a great debater... he's the party's best foreign policy surrogate... world leaders call him...he has a working-class Scranton-bred Irish-Catholic heritage...he knows Washington very well...he has known tragedy in his life..

He was elected to the Senate as a change agent at the age of 29. He is comfortable but not wealthy -- he has not used the prerogatives of office to enrich his personal wealth, although his family has benefited from his stature. (The GOP will quickly point out that one of his sons is a lobbyist.)

Biden premised his presidential candidacy on the notion that Obama was unqualified and not ready from day one. You can expect that the McCain campaign or the RNC will run a national television advertisement featuring Biden's many and various quotations to this effect. Biden will have to explain why he has changed his mind.

I gather that what impressed Obama about Biden is that Biden gets things done. He's a man of action. He's not a bullshitter. I also get the sense that Biden, 65, is pretty well aware that, at age 73 in eight years, he's not going to be a viable presidential choice, and thus was able to convince Obama that because the vice presidency would be his terminal position, the famous Biden ego will take a subordinate role.

I gather that Obama realizes that he needed a pick that would demonstrate some level of intellectual seriousness about the condition of the world. One of his sons heads for Iraq soon. Obama knows that, for Biden, getting Iraq right is much more than just about proving a point. If Georgia had not been invaded by Russia, would Biden be as attractive? Maybe. Counterfactuals for another time.

Biden is also a fighter on domestic policy. He touts as one of his greatest legislative accomplishments 1994's Violence Against Women Act. He's a mainline Democrat whose fingerprints are on most of the major liberal policy accomplishments over the past few decades.

Some liberals think he's a bully who got the Iraq war wrong (although Biden did try to pass a less bellicose resolution.) But I suspect that the general response from most Democrats will be "Great choice."

The criticism will focus on Biden's 1987 plagiarism bout, his support of credit card companies (he pushed the bankruptcy bill that Dems hate), his comments about Obama, his racial obliviousness (the comment about Indian-Americans in 7/11). He's a DC Insider. Obama didn't double down on hope. In a normal year, this stuff would have disqualified him instantly. The biggest trope may be that the Dems are an All Talk ticket. Two famous talkers.

That Obama (apparently) picked him demonstrates a recognition that the Democratic ticket ought to be more than just about Obama's personality... or a statement of bipartisan pragmatism... it's easy to float on gossamers when the world is safe, but when it's burning down, a guy like Biden is just the ticket.
I take it that Obama likes the fact that Biden gets things done. Sure, he talks a lot. But he gets things done.

Ron Fournier says the pick demonstrates a lack of confidence. Maybe. Or maybe the pick demonstrates Obama's confidence and a tempering of his overconfidence. Confidence, because Biden could upstage him, will be independent, and will be better at certain things than Obama. But if Obama were overconfident, if he believed that his personality and story alone were enough, then he'd have chosen someone less threatening.

On the trust issue: I take the conversation went something like this: "Barack, you can trust me because what you see is what you get."

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