Joel Gehrke writes that Hillary Clinton took a shot at Joe Biden by pointing to his opposition to Obama’ s surge in Afghanistan and the vice president’ s worry that sending more troops would just result in a bloody quagmire. This puts Biden in an awkward position, but I’m not sure that it puts him in a bad light when it comes to winning over Democratic primary voters. I think you could probably get the majority of Democratic voters to agree that the Afghan surge was a mistake and that Biden’s suggestion of a smaller footprint and counterterrorism strategy were preferable to the choices that Obama actually made. The problem is that Biden is poorly positioned to distance himself from Obama since sitting vice presidents are usually able to make only the most oblique criticisms of a sitting president (think George H. W. Bush’s “kinder, gentler nation” comment to distance himself from Reagan). That’s where Brian Schweitzer comes in.
Schweitzer has been attacking Clinton (and Obama) from the left on both economic and foreign policy. It is unlikely to get Schweitzer the Democratic nomination because I don’t see the vast majority of Democrats casting a vote that feels like a repudiation of Obama. Schweitzer could bring down Clinton’s numbers by pointing out her Wall Street connections and her support of military conflicts that Democratic primary voters oppose, but to borrow a British expression, this is a case where he that wields the dagger will not be able to wear the crown.
This is where Joe Biden stands to benefit. If Schweitzer can make Clinton the embodiment of every hawkish choice, every compromise, and every sketchy political alliance of the Obama years, then Biden can stand in as the embodiment of what liberals liked about the Obama presidency. Biden can stand in for the less interventionist tendencies of the Obama administration and remind people that “working-class Joe” is not part of a family that has gotten a nine figure net worth by rubbing elbows with the one percent. Schweitzer could remind liberals of all the reasons to distrust Clinton while Biden would give those liberals an outlet for their frustrations that would still allow them to reaffirm their admiration and support for President Obama.
I write all this as someone who, if faced with a constrained choice, would far prefer Clinton to Biden.