I'm not sure if I like this Kool-Aid
On the one hand, as some talking head noted this morning, Joe Biden, Barack Obama's recently selected running mate, can probably tell you how many homes he has without checking with his staff. He's spent 36 years in the Senate and though he won't be seen anytime soon standing in line for food stamps, he's of modest means compared to his Senate colleagues. That's significant when you consider how many elected officials manage to build a sizable fortune while serving in office. Biden's got integrity.
On the other hand, I've always regarded Biden as something of an arrogant windbag, and as Obama himself has correctly noted, experience doesn't always translate into good judgment, and Biden did not demonstrate the latter when, like Hillary Clinton, he gave George Bush his blank check for Iraq.
There's a third hand, which is that vice presidential nominees rarely if ever have much impact on the final outcome. They aren't difference makers. At best, they can boost your momentum, like Al Gore did for Bill Clinton in 1992, and at worst, they can kill it, the way Dan Quayle did for the first George Bush in 1988. (And what difference did that make in the end?) The days when a pick can truly blow up in your face, like Tom Eagleton did to George McGovern in 1972, are probably long gone. It's too hard to hide your skeletons anymore, and any presidential nominee nowadays that did such a poor job of vetting a VP pick doesn't deserve to get elected.
I heard one pollster this week say that Obama simply needed to pick someone who would make it through the first 72 hourrs without any problems, and so Biden, a rather known quantity, is a safe pick -- perhaps too safe, according to the AP's Ron Fournier:
He picked a 35-year veteran of the Senate - the ultimate insider - rather than a candidate from outside Washington, such as Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; or from outside his party, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; or from outside the mostly white male club of vice presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't even make his short list.
The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative - a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.
Let's face it -- Obama has already demonstrated that he doesn't want to be another noble Democratic loser, and if his brand has to take a hit in the process, so be it. John McCain certainly doesn't seem to be fretting too much over the damage his reputation as a maverick is taking as he tries to make nice with the same evangelicals he spurned in 2000. Something tells me Obama already has the votes sown up of those who want a new kind of politics -- at least those who want it on the left. Sure, he could have made a more daring pick, and I might have been happier if he had. But for far too many voters, Obama is risky enough.