Monday, August 25, 2008

Thoughts on Biden

It is understandable in the midsts of a tightening race that the selection of Joe Biden would be seen first through the horse race lens. But this is the wrong way to look at the selection. Selecting Joe Biden as VP could have been the most important move Obama makes in terms of creating real change.

One commentator, after the speech, put it this way — if you are going to change Washington, you need the blueprints and Joe Biden’s got the blueprints to DC. Fact is, as Jimmy Carter showed us, if you don’t know how to work the Congress, you can’t do anything as President. I don’t know how much Biden helps Obama get elected, but if the world is fortunate enough to see a President Obama, having a Vice President Biden will be invaluable in terms of actually getting things done at the other end of the avenue.

The man is not the machine boss that LBJ was, but he is similar in that he is one of the most connected, respected insiders under the dome who can get the grease under the fingernail, day-to-day stuff done. He knows who to go to, what to say to whom, and what to avoid. The VP candidate’s job is attack dog — he’ll be good — but the VP’s job once elected (at least before Cheney) was to be the manager on the ground, to be the one who starts the levers.

The concerns about Biden -- and they are ones I shared when he was running for the top of the ticket -- are moot. This is a sounding board position, sure, a trusted adviser who has the President's ear more than most, granted. But the job of the Veep is NOT to make policy. Rather, it is to be the field general leading the Congressional battles, advancing the cause.

DC is a town that lives on process and inertia. Too many people are too invested in figuring out how to work the system to want to see it changed at all. The only way to bring change is to have in place someone who knows where the joints are, how much they can bend, and how much finesse and how much pressure is needed to bend them. In this regard, it’s a fine choice.

It was a far-sighted choice. It was a selection that will allow Obama, if we are lucky enough to have him preside, to actually get done what he plans to get done. At the end of his speech, Biden contrasted the good soldier with the wise leader. Clearly, it was meant as a contrast of the two candidates, but it also works as a metaphor for the (pre-Cheney) POTUS/VP relationship. In Biden, Obama got a good soldier.