Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden: Obama's Delivery Man

So it looks like Biden wasn't a head-fake after all. My theory: on Monday, Obama had no idea whether he'd pick Biden, Bayh, or Kaine. The leak was a trial balloon. Biden generated the most heat, so Obama decided to go with him.

I've always liked Biden. In fact, I always would have chosen him for the top of the ticket, if he'd ever had been able to stage a campaign that could stay in the running long enough to still be on the ticket when he came to my state. That "plagiarism" scandal seems like little potatoes compared to today's gotcha's. There are probably a lot of voters who feel similarly. Now combine Biden with Obama's election machine and you've got a powerful ticket.

This will inevitably lead to the question of, shouldn't he BE the top of the ticket, with Obama as his running mate? Well, that might seem more natural (the Bush/Cheney paradigm might suggest we're used to the opposite, but it isn't the best exemplar of success). But the idea of Obama's speaking power and international popularity as President, while Biden serves as the at-home "Prime Minister," if you will, who handles Congress and gets things done, is very appealing.

There's only one person who would have been a better pick for Obama: Al Gore. But Gore was insulted when CNN asked the question: it's certainly not reasonable to expect he'd want that job for another eight years. So of people in the running, there was no better selection than Biden.

Here's why Biden was by far Obama's best choice:

1. Choosing Hillary was a no-win scenario. Even if the Clinton's had let themselves be vetted, and even if they had not seemed like they'd been campaigning for McCain these past months (two big disqualifiers), any unity created by Hillary would have been negated by questions of whether Obama was his own man. Did Hillary *force* the choice. If so, that would make Obama seem weak (where Biden makes him seem strong). Unfortunately, she only eliminated herself from consideration through the nature of the campaign she ran at the end. Yes, it would have been hard to reconcile a blast of Clinton past from the '90's with Obama's core brand, no matter what. But with a different Clinton end-game in the primaries, that hill could have been climbed.

2. Biden is a party favorite and, as everyone points out, a "fighter." If you're not going to have Hillary, he's the next best loyal Democrat with big-name recognition. His fight will ignite the troops and make them understand that Hillary isn't their only option for a traditional wonky partisan.

3. Does Biden's experience concede that Obama's is lacking (i.e., the immediate Republican attack response)? Well, if it does, it's certainly a moot issue now. The idea of these arguments isn't the arguments themselves: it's about whether voters feel comfortable that the team in Washington knows what it's doing. Biden is the one guy that the Obama team could send to Georgia without it seeming to be a political move: Biden actually has the ties to these places and the experience visiting them that defuses the Republican strategy of boxing in Obama for doing/not doing something. Biden can just do it, and the charge of politics rings hollow. This is exactly the same reason that Bush picked Cheney. It worked for Bush; it'll work for Obama. Voters just want reassurance. Biden's legitimacy makes him the most reassuring Democrat out there.

4. As Nate Silver says, VP's can't be counted on to deliver their home states any more. But a nationally recognized name like Biden can swing certain key districts (Florida, eastern Pennsylvania) where he's well known and liked. The blue collar background gives him the same patois as Bayh, but with less dissatisfaction from the netroots and better name recognition. Silver makes a convincing argument that no other choice delivers no more votes than Biden. He projects a 2% swing to Obama due to the selection. In a close race, that's decisive.

5. Should Obama have doubled-down with an outsider pick, like Kaine (or my preference, Schweitzer), as some have reportedly argued? That would have been an interesting strategy. But all evidence from August shows that it would be a losing strategy. The McCain line of attack is that Obama can't be trusted. Two Obama's doubly can't be trusted. McCain has removed Obama's natural advantage with this line of attack. Odd as it may seem, it's the insider pick, Biden, who is the game changer: you certainly can't make the don't trust the new-faced celebrity argument about Biden. You can, as the Republicans are doing, use ads of Biden attacking Obama's experience. Obama will run the same ad about Romney attacking McCain on the economy. Neither ad will be effective because voters don't care what they were saying then: they care that they've signed up to negate their earlier attacks. It's like showing a tape of two ball players dishing each other, then putting them in the same field: yeah, so what? They've got each other's back, now.

6. Biden's not just a great pick for the election, he's great for America. His thirty-five years of experience passing issues and dealing with foreign leaders will make him a key player on Obama's team, and his matter-of-fact style will offer dimension to the administration that will give it more depth than we've seen in decates; he's a down-to-earth complement to Obama's high-minded rhetoric.

7. But here's the key: What is Obama's key problem? Convincing voters that he can deliver on "change." People will soon see that Biden doesn't undercut that message: he reinforces it dramatically. Obama has to convince voters that if they vote for him, he'll deliver. To do that, he needs an Administration capable of negotiating the Washington labrynth. Look what happened to the Clinton's when they first arrived in DC: they bumped elbows and created resentments that haunt them to this day. Biden is the delivery man. His Senate experience is exactly what the Vice Presidency is all about. In terms of working congress to create a new health care system, energy independence, coherent foreign policy, Biden is the guy who will take Obama's rhetoric down the Hill and turn that into policy. Biden will grease the wheels for Obama's vision in a very important way, both through his direct but knowledgeable style, and through his connections with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. In terms of building out a powerful team that can deliver the President's ideals, Biden is a masterful start. Obama has the vision; what he needed in a VP was someone who could turn that vision into real policy. There is no Democrat who has the experience and the respect to do that better.

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