Ever since Hillary Clinton made it clear after her defeat in the Democratic primary that she at the very least expected to be the vice-presidential pick, the nation has been on pins and needles: who would Obama choose as his back-up in the White House?
At 3 AM Saturday I was informed by text message, just like millions of other campaign donors. The winner is: Joe Biden.
My first thought was, How boring. A white male who has been part of the old political club for years. But I quickly realized why this man was the logical choice, despite the fact that Obama himself once said that Bidens greatest weakness was that he often spoke before thinking.
In Germany, the Senator from Delaware is virtually unknown. A few may have seen the 65-year old during the primary debates when he was still running against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (Biden dropped out of the race after Iowa).
Even in the United States, many are asking, Joe who???
In Washington, however, he belongs to the establishment. He has been a Senator for 36 years and is therefore one of the most experienced politicians in the country. A bit of a reversal for Obamas image of change.
But thats exactly one of the reasons why the candidate of hope chose him. Many Americans consider Obama too young and inexperienced to lead a country that wants to continue being the most powerful nation on earth. With as mature a person as Biden at his side, they are likely to forgive him this weakness.
Bidens second advantage is his foreign policy experience. After his try for the presidency in 1988, he has become one of the foreign policy experts of the Democratic party. There’s no crisis with which he hasn’t dealt. He was even ready to advise the current President when Russia marched into Georgia while Obama vacationed in Hawaii.
Last but by no means least, his appearance. Joe Biden is the prototypical American Senator. Hes sort of a slender Ted Kennedy, always tanned, gray-haired, with a victorious smile and an abundance of charm and wit. Such things are important for many white Democrats who arent enthusiastic about the prospect of a black President. Bidens face radiates trust, even to those who dont recognize him. He looks just like the other Presidents on the dollar bills.
On the other hand, if Obama had decided on New Mexicos Latino Governor, Bill Richrdson, he would have run the risk of alienating many white voters. A black and a Latino would have been a little too much change all at once.
The same goes for a woman as vice-president. Besides Hillary, Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, was in the running. But a black and a woman in the White House?
Hillary Clinton is admittedly more than a woman. Shes the former First Lady and the woman Bill Clinton brought to the White House. But shes one of the most controversial personalities in America. People either love her or they hate her. On the one hand, she would have been too powerful for Obama and on the other hand she would have frightened off at least as many voters as she attracted.
And heres one more plus for Biden: hes one of Hillary Clintons close confidants who only supported Obama after Hillary dropped out of the race. Biden, therefore, could placate Hillarys hard-core fans who are still deeply disappointed that shes not the candidate.
Still, Biden is a risk for Obama as well. During his first run at the candidacy 20 years ago, he made a fool of himself when it was discovered his speechwriter had plagiarized the words of a British politician. Biden quickly threw in the towel.
And he put a foot in his mouth during the primaries against Obama when he described him as an articulate African-American, which many Americans interpreted as for a black, he knows how to speak well. Ouch!
Immediately after Obamas choice was made public, Republicans went on the offensive. They broadcast an interview done early this year in which Biden said, John McCain is a friend. I would be honored to campaign with him or against him. In the same interview, he said of Obama, I think he could be ready for the presidency someday, but he isnt right now.
Now hell have to explain why those words no longer apply. But hes a politician, and politicians are known for their experience in revising the words theyve already spoken.
It remains to be said that Obama took great care in selecting his running mate. He entrusted JFKs only surviving child, Caroline Kennedy, to lead the search for the right candidate. He made his choice public via text message. And on and on.
But was the decision really his? There are many indications that Democratic party bosses working silently in the background actually made the decision for him. Men like his foster father John Kerry, for example, who introduced him to the nation during the Democratic convention four years ago. And Ted Kennedy who supported Obama rather than the Clintons early in the primary campaign.