Vice President Biden

August 28, 2008 at 9:16 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

It’s a bit late now, but for what it’s worth, Virginia Senator Jim Webb was always my favoured running-mate for Barack Obama. Webb’s years of service in the US military, both as a marine and Secretary of the Navy, his early opposition to the Iraq war and his very genuine despair at growing income inequalities ticked most of my political criteria and his tough, dignified persona and proud Scots-Irish heritage would’ve been a rugged, robust counterbalance to the more urbane, cosmopolitan Obama. Stood side by side, they would’ve epitomised two very different stories of what it is to be an American and their partnership would’ve underlined Obama’s core message that he can bring people together to enact change.

This was all rendered a little mute after Webb withdrew his name from the Veepstakes, and I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the alternatives. Of all the options being discussed, Evan Bayh, Tim Kaine and Kathleen Sebelius were all too centrist and unspectacular media performers, Hillary Clinton was a non-starter even before her spectacular implosion during the primaries and Bill Richardson may have had too much of a woman problem to have been considered seriously. I was equally indifferent to the prospect of Obama chosing Joe Biden, but after seeing his speech yesterday, I’m beginning to see the merits.

Let’s be clear: if Obama had been free to make his choice from a position of strength, he probably wouldn’t have picked Biden. Nothing says “I’m worried people don’t think I have enough experience” more than nominating someone who’s been in the Senate for over 30 years. Ever since he returned from his world tour, Obama’s been losing ground to a newly-confident, newly-effective McCain campaign that’s finally shaken off its lumbering veneer of nobility and reverted to the base Republican instincts of mendacity, mischaracterisation, and hairy-knuckled, neanderthal bullying. So without the comfort of the 10 point lead he was, at one point, threatening to build, Obama went ‘safety first’ and picked a foreign affairs expert who could defend his weak flank. With this in mind, it’s easy to have some sympathy for Markos Moulitsas’ complaint that Obama’s pick merely ‘plugged a hole’, rather than reinforcing his core message of change. I agreed with that right up until yesterday’s speech. When he left the podium some 25 minutes later, I realised that he could do something far more potent: he could reinforce Obama’s arguments.

In this multi-faceted, media-driven environment, an argument is an easy thing to distort. When spoken for the first time, its meaning can be mangled, its language mocked and its content turned into a weapon aimed to injure the person who made it. So when a Democratic candidate takes to the stage offering slightly more nuanced policies than “Bomb Here!” or “Drill There!”, he needs someone who can speak plainly & blunty about how his ideas are better than his opponent’s. And when the same candidate wraps those nuances in high-minded, poetic rhetoric, he needs a partner who can translate it into a prose that can appeal to independents. On the evidence of his performance last night, Biden is that partner.

His performance wasn’t perfect; he stumbled over some of his words, talked over a few easy rounds of applause, underemphasised some parts of the speech and overplayed others. But such was the depth of sincerity in the speech, those imperfections didn’t seem to matter. Biden speaks of the country’s problems as emotionally as he can speak of its opportunities; remarkably for someone who’s been in the Senate for as long as he has, he doesn’t have the air of jaded hackery that afflicts politicians both older and younger. And whilst he clearly respects John McCain as a friend, he has no respect for the Republican platform and let that show in a series of hard blows that underscored his dangerous flaws.

With a series of excellent speeches from Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton and even John Kerry, last night the Democrats put together one of their strongest line-ups and presented their best case for why Barack Obama should be the next President. For all their renewed optimism, the Republicans will really have to punch above their weight to beat it.

Photo from Flickr user bobster1985 (Creative Commons)

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