Union University
Union University Department of Political Science
Department of Political Science

Blog


Evans

The Biden Pick

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Aug 23, 2008

This afternoon, Barack Obama introduced Senator Joe Biden as his vice president running mate for the 2008 election. Is Senator Biden a good choice? While all of the potential VP candidates had strengths and weaknesses, I think Biden was a good choice.

First, Obama kills two birds with one stone by addressing one of his biggest weaknesses: foreign policy expertise and experience. Biden has served as chair or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1995 and is well-respected for his knowledge and willingness to work in a bipartisan manner on the committee. With the recent events in Georgia, we have been reminded that the world outside the Middle East remains a dangerous place making foreign policy expertise highly valued.

And while the Obama campaign would hate the comparison, Biden is the "Dick Cheney" pick. In 2000, the inexperienced Governor of Texas chose the well-respected and experienced Washington hand to send the message that he was committed to governing. The choice added gravitas to the ticket and showed Bush's confidence in choosing someone more qualified than himself. By making this pick, Obama does the same. Biden has served in the Senate since 1972 and knows how to get things done in Washington. It may make some people feel more confident about Obama seeing Biden there though the Dick Cheney experience may make some people feel more uncomfortable with the choice.

Second, Biden can be a good attack dog. One of the main jobs of Vice President candidates is to attack the nominee of the opposing party so the presidential candidate can stay above the fray and look presidential. Biden is very good at this as Robert Bork, John Bolton, and others can attest.

Third, many commentators mention his ability to connect with working class voters. And due to his background growing up in Scranton and his life in Delaware, he has clearly shown this ability. However, I question his ability to make Obama look more in touch with working class voters. Biden may be able to get Obama in the door to make the argument but in the end, Obama has to sell himself to working class voters. Biden can't.

As you would assume, Biden does come with some negatives. First, the flip side of Biden's experience is that he undermines Obama's change message. Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of 29 in 1972 and has served in the Senate for 36 years now. Biden has never really held a job outside of public service. Now, there is nothing wrong with a life of public service but many people feel more comfortable if the person has held a "normal" job.

More importantly, Biden can be easily tagged with contributing to the gridlock and partisanship in Washington. His leadership in defeating Robert Bork for the Supreme Court in 1987 led to the term "borking." In his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has consistently voted the Democratic line on judges. And he has a high party unity score of 96% this year indicating that he has not been very bipartisan this past year. This undermines Obama's message of change and post-partisanship.

Biden also has a serious problem with talking on and on and on without getting to the point. While he has shown an ability to be disciplined at times, he does not show it often enough. Almost as bad, Biden is known for making some gaffes that make him, and potentially Obama, look bad. And don't worry, the Republicans are collecting a dossier of all of his gaffes that will come out soon.

All in all, Biden is a pretty good pick for Obama. But, we have to remember one important point: NO ONE ever votes for the vice president. Even with a strong vice president candidate (Al Gore) or a weak one (Quayle), the presidential candidate himself must sell himself to voters. It's time for Obama close the deal.