So set ’em up, Joe

While Paul Mirengoff reflects on the merits of Joe Biden’s record, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on Biden’s merits as a vice presidential candidate (as John Hinderaker did in advance). From Hillary Clinton to Evan Bayh and Bill Richardson, Obama had a formidable field from which to choose. I was afraid that Obama would tap Bayh, a serious man with executive experience and political appeal in a red state.

I breathed a sigh of relief that Obama chose Biden. Like Jay Nordlinger, I find that at best Biden adds nothing to the Democratic ticket. Rather than adding to Obama’s attractions or neutralizing Obama’s liabilities, if he does anything, Biden subtracts from Obama’s strengths and contributes to his liabilities.

As a national candidate in 1988 and 2008, Biden demonstrated no political skills and less political appeal. As in his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, Biden proved himself (to borrow Ron Rosenbaum’s formulation) a self-important clown.

But, unlike Obama, Biden has “experience.” Biden’s selection by itself lends credence to the rap on Obama that he doesn’t know his way around the block. Biden has represented Delaware in the United States Senate for 35 years, since he was 30 (he was 29 when elected).

As a senator, however, Biden has become a self-satirizing example of the breed. Except for the character assassination of his betters coming before him as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden’s “experience” is largely that of senatorial kibbitzing.

And yet Biden has effectively voiced the rational concern of voters over Obama’s inexperience. When Biden asserted that the presidency is not an office for on the job training, he was expressly referring to Obama. When Biden said that he would be honored to run with or against John McCain, he was referring to the candidate who is now Obama’s adversary. We can only look forward to Senator Biden talking his way out of these remarks.

I can’t explain the enthusiasm of observers such as Walter Shapiro and Reid Wilson for Biden’s selection on political grounds. Biden’s selection undercuts Obama’s “change” mantra, tending to reveal it as the kind of gasbaggery in which Biden coincidentally has distinguished himself in the course of a long and otherwise undistinguished career.

JOHN adds: I agree with all of that. I would add that there is a considerable element of wishful thinking in the media coverage of Biden’s selection, where Biden is often described as a “street fighter” or an “attack dog.” Biden does in some respects resemble a dog: in his eagerness to be liked, and his inability to recognize when his audience has had enough of him and would like him to sit down and be quiet. But an “attack dog?” Please!

Biden hasn’t faced a serious Senate run within memory, his Presidential campaigns have never gotten past single digits, and I can’t recall a memorable attack he’s ever launched against any political opponent. Biden’s foibles are such that he is far more likely to be the target of ridicule than to launch it, effectively, against the Republican ticket.

No doubt Biden will be assigned the traditional Vice-presidential role of doing some of Obama’s dirty work during the campaign. But the suggestion that he is especially skillful in that role is, as I said, a sign of wishful thinking on the part of newsmen who would like some help in protecting Obama against criticisms from Republicans.

PAUL adds: I agree with much of this. However, the view that the Biden selection was poor because it undercuts Obama’s message as the agent of change is questionable. Obama, I think, has recognized that what worked when he was seeking the Democratic nomination may not serve him well in the general election. This is standard political calculation and very probably correct in this instance.

The presence of Good Ol’ Joe of the ticket should be seen as an effort to reassure some of Hillary’s supporters as well as moderate voters that Obama will not be the agent of radical change, just the kind of mainstream liberal change the Democrats traditionally advocate. To some degree, of course, this is a distinction without a difference, but not in the perception of many of these Hillary supporters and moderates.

It’s an effort worth making. Whether Biden proves to be the best vehicle for this undertaking is another matter.

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