The Corner


For me, the most striking line in Obama’s introduction of Biden today was: “Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be — a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.”

Hmmm…now who do we know who pretends to be a statesman?

The entire event made roughly the same point: boy, Obama is inexperienced and light. The Biden pick is obviously meant to compensate for precisely that worry, but it seems far more likely rather to exacerbate it. Biden, after all, is not in fact some kind of celebrated statesman, and not a single person in America (except perhaps Joe Biden) thinks he is. But even he might appear that way in comparison with Obama.

Biden is not without his advantages of course. He does know at least as much about foreign policy and defense issues as John McCain does, and far more than Obama. (To call him experienced is probably to overvalue the Senate, where calling a hearing is some kind of accomplishment; but McCain’s foreign policy experience is of the same sort after all, even if it offers evidence of better judgment.) Biden’s also pretty likeable in small doses, and appeals to a different audience than Obama. And he’s able to muster genuine contempt for his opponents, which Obama does not do well.

On the other hand, Biden implicitly emphasizes Obama’s inexperience (and did so explicitly too in the primaries); he obviously doesn’t fit into a new fresh energy in Washington theme; his ‘give me a break’ demeanor can’t really meld very well with the messianic Obama appeals; he largely takes the issue of McCain’s age off the table (unless the idea is that McCain is precisely six years too old to be president); he makes it far more difficult for Obama to talk about Iraq (since Biden voted for the war, and then bitterly criticized Obama’s withdrawal plans in the primaries); and he makes it tough to argue that Washington is the problem, as he has been there a good bit longer than McCain. Add to that Biden’s utter inability to control what comes out of his mouth and the fact that he rarely strays from his favorite subject (himself) for more than a few sentences at a time, and you end up with a pretty peculiar VP pick.

The combination of these pluses and minuses suggests some degree of panic in the Obama campaign. Picking Biden is not an act of confidence, driven by a sense that the public likes what it sees in Obama and wants more of the same (as, for instance, the choice of Al Gore was in 1992). It is a sign, rather, that Obama recognizes that he is suddenly in some serious trouble, and will not be able to win the election the way he won the primaries. He is trying to do something to compensate for what he takes to be the causes of the stall his campaign is experiencing. The trouble is, the Biden pick looks very unlikely to do that.

The McCain campaign probably won’t go after Biden himself much, and will instead use him as a means of attacking Obama—who suddenly looks awfully weak and vulnerable.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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