Why Joe Biden was a Smart Choice for Obama

By James M. Wall

Start with all the obvious reasons:

Passionate on core domestic liberal issues, civil rights, women’s rights, strong pro labor record;

Solid government background: Elected to US Senate, 1972.

Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee and currently chair of Foreign Policy Committee.

Proven campaigner on national stage: Abortive, but energetic, runs for president in 1987 and 2008.

Then move to the more personal strengths Biden brings to the Democratic ticket: Biden stole the show in several of the 2008 debates with his self-deprecating wit.  His humor is actually funny and at times acerbic. He is expected to use it against McCain, a fellow senator he has praised in the past. 

His personal history is compelling, and not widely known, yet. Until David Alexrod’s media shop starts turning out the campaign ads that will introduce him to the nation, Wikipedia has the bare facts about the impact of a tragic car accident on the Biden family in 1972:

In 1966, while in law school, Biden married Neilia Hunter. They had three children, Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, Robert Hunter, and Naomi. His wife and infant daughter died in a car accident shortly after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. His two young sons, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured in the accident, but both eventually made full recoveries. Biden was sworn into office from their bedside.

Persuaded not to resign in order to care for them, Biden began the practice of commuting an hour and a half each day on the train from his home in the Wilmington suburbs to Washington, DC, which he continues to do.

In 1977, Biden married Jill Tracy Jacobs. They have one daughter, Ashley, and are members of the Roman Catholic Church. In February 1988, Biden was hospitalized for two brain aneurysms which kept him from the Senate for seven months.

Biden’s elder son, Beau, was a partner in the Wilmington law firm of Bifferato, Gentilotti, Biden & Balick, LLC and was elected Attorney General of Delaware in 2006. He is a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard, where he serves in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He is set to be deployed to Iraq in October.[7] Biden’s younger son, Hunter, works as a lawyer in Washington, DC, serves on the board of directors of Amtrak, and previously worked in the Commerce Department.

Biden was critical of Obama’s lack of experience during the debates. His selection shows that Obama respects the experience of his elders but is confident enough in his own leadership skills to put Biden on his team, an indication he will emulate another candidate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. (See Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin).

Pennsylvania is a swing state Obama-Biden must win in November. Obama did not fare well in Pennsylvania running against Hillary Clinton’s beer-drinking, “I’m one of the boys” campaign. Biden should be able to erase those memories. In addition to being from a working class Catholic background, and unlike McCain, he  lives in and owns only one home.

Biden has an oratorical style that lights up a union hall.  His experience with the fatal crash that cost the lives of his wife and daughter, and badly injured his two sons, left him with a permanent and affectionate bond with firefighters and paramedics.

In a speech (the You Tube clip is flawed) to a union meeting of fire personnel, Obama talked about that bond, which led to annual visits to his home at Christmas with Santa Claus and a ladder, where they visited the two boys who survived the car accident.  One of those sons, Beau, is Delaware’s Attorney General and a member of the National Guard. He is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq in October.

Biden is a seasoned campaigner. He is no stranger to confronting mud slinging opponents. Critics of Biden will point to a “plagarism scandal” from his 1988 presidential run. What happened was more a bad mistake than plagarism in the legal sense. It was a scandal only in the eyes of his opponents and the media. The political campaign of the eventual Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis employed a Karl Rovian fervor to build on a mistake in a campaign speech that led to Biden’s withdrawal from the race.  This was before You Tube, but the Dukakis team had a video of the flawed speech which it “leaked” to the media. Wikipedia tells the story:

In September 1987, the campaign ran into serious trouble when [Biden] was accused of plagiarizing a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party. Though Biden had correctly credited the original author in all speeches but one, the one where he failed to make mention of the originator was caught on video.

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, underlines Biden’s blue collar background as the reason why he was “hoping” Biden would be the nominee. Since Brooks is an unabashed Republican, and the Times designated conservative hitter, the Obama campaign should get Brooks’ treatment of Biden’s personal story out to swing state voters:

Biden is a lunch-bucket Democrat. His father was rich when he was young — played polo, cavorted on yachts, drove luxury cars. But through a series of bad personal and business decisions, he was broke by the time Joe Jr. came along. They lived with their in-laws in Scranton, Pa., then moved to a dingy working-class area in Wilmington, Del. At one point, the elder Biden cleaned boilers during the week and sold pennants and knickknacks at a farmer’s market on the weekends.

His son was raised with a fierce working-class pride — no one is better than anyone else. Once, when Joe Sr. was working for a car dealership, the owner threw a Christmas party for the staff. Just as the dancing was to begin, the owner scattered silver dollars on the floor and watched from above as the mechanics and salesmen scrambled about for them. Joe Sr. quit that job on the spot.

Biden will bring to the Democratic ticket a political infighter who knows how the game must be played when the bullies storm out onto the playground.  The New York Times Bob Herbert (August 23) expects Joe to come out swinging:  “From Watergate to the Swift Boat madness, we’ve seen how the struggle for the ultimate power of the presidency can degenerate to the rankest kind of ruthlessness and ugliness, usually at the expense of the Democrat.”

Months ago, before he was tabbed to run with Obama, Biden was asked on MSNBC about the attacks on Obama by Senators McCain and Joe Lieberman. His response:

“I refuse to sit back like we did in 2000 and 2004. This administration is the worst administration in American foreign policy in modern history — maybe ever. … Every single thing they’ve touched has been a near-disaster.”

Joe Biden is a good man to have covering your back.  Will his nomination as the vice-presidential candidate be enough to propel the Democratic ticket to victory?  One thing is certain: To paraphrase Margo Channing’s famous prediction: fasten your seatbelts; its gonna be a wild and bumpy ride. As one commentator put it when word first emerged about Biden as the nominee: “The vice-presidential debate should be on pay TV!”

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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4 Responses to Why Joe Biden was a Smart Choice for Obama

  1. Cotton Fite says:

    Nice job, Jim. I had read David Brooks op ed and was pleased to anticipate wide distribution of that column if Biden was chosen. Biden’s speech in Springfield today was, I thought, superb. His series of quotations from John McCain nailed him to George Bush’s administration. Deftly done.

    Now all we need to do is work like hell to get these guys elected.

    Thanks again for all these Wall writings.

  2. Pauline Coffman says:

    Thank you, Jim, for helping me understand Biden’s strengths. I’m eager for the campaign to get moving! Should be a terrific week.

    Pauline

  3. Scott Malkemus says:

    Great article Jim! Keep it up.

    One small comment: “firefighter” is much more inclusive and reflective of the fire service today than is “firemen”.

  4. dan bloom says:

    joe speechwriter useed poetic license on the Abe quote., look here

    http://northwardho.blogspot.com/2008/08/house-divided-speech-joe-biden-or.html

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