The Wisdom of Choosing Biden

What He Means for the Democratic Ticket

After months of speculation and debate, Barack Obama chose policy veteran Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate. Each of the top three contenders, including Biden, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia had strengths and weaknesses. Joe Biden is the smartest choice, and here’s why.

Until recently, Senator Obama has been hesitant to attack McCain’s legislative record and security credentials, likely out of fear that such attacks would highlight Barack’s inexperience and newfound political “celebrity” status: one of Senator McCain’s favorite discussion topics.

Vice Presidential candidates typically serve as political attack dogs, which is exactly what Barack’s campaign needs right now. With his message of rejecting the “politics of the past,” Obama has not been able to respond harshly enough to McCain attacks without tarnishing his image or seeming like a “flip-flopper.”

A Biden ticket gives Barack ample clearance to rebut McCain’s charges of youthful inexperience. Until recently, these attacks went unanswered, and they were starting to work. Biden is a 35-year Senate veteran (the 4th longest serving Democrat) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. With a foreign policy heavyweight on the Democratic ticket, McCain can no longer charge Obama with inexperience without fear of swift retribution.

Unlike Biden, Senator Bayh and Governor Kaine are mild mannered politicos who have failed to distinguish themselves on most issues. While these two members of the short-list would have helped carry vital swing states (Indiana and Virginia respectively), Senator Biden strengthens the ticket in the policy areas where Obama is perceived as being weaker — foreign policy and national security. Biden, while sometimes noted for his verbosity and the occasional gaffe, elevates the debate above petty attack ads, which will prove troublesome for McCain.

Senator Obama made the right choice in foregoing an electoral advantage for a rhetorical edge. Biden has already shown his willingness to take on McCain, most recently assailing his inability to recall how many homes he owned in the face of an ailing economy and mortgage crisis:

“Ladies and gentlemen, your kitchen table is like mine. You sit there at night … after you put the kids to bed and you talk, you talk about what you need. You talk about how much you are worried about being able to pay the bills. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s not a worry John McCain has to worry about. … He’ll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at.”

The Obama camp has been treading a fine line with Biden, emphasizing his working class, catholic roots in Scranton, PA. “For decades, he has brought change to Washington, and Washington hasn’t changed him,” Obama said, trying to pre-empt Republican attacks that might seek to portray Senator Biden as a Washington insider.

Biden also has an established liberal voting record, which will help rally the Democratic base. He has played key roles in the Senate Judiciary Committee, notably in anti-crime legislation and Supreme Court justice nominations. As Chairman of the committee from 1987 to 1995, he presided over the contentious Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, in addition to passing the first instituted assault weapons ban.

Joe Biden is a hard hitting debater with an impeccable resume. He brings the experience and the foreign policy heft to form a formidable Democratic ticket. It’s unlikely that John McCain will be able to find a running mate with Senator Biden’s credentials, which could serve to reverse McCain’s “experience” argument — effectively neutralizing the Senator from Arizona’s most potent attack line.

Daniel E. Yelin ’10 is a junior in the Department of Political Science.