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The Nation


John Nichols

DENVER — And the winner is: Joe Biden.

It did not take a newfangled text message, just an old-fashioned leak, to identify Barack Obama’s running mate.

Word of the Biden selection spread late Friday night, barely twelvehours before the event in Springfield, Illinois, at which thepresumptive Democratic nominee for president was set to introduce thepresumptive Democratic nominee for vice president.

Ultimately, Obama went with the guy who suggested most pointedlyduring the race for the Democratic nomination that Obama was not quiteexperienced enough for the presidency.

It was Biden who suggested in an August, 2007, debate that, “I think(Obama) can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. Thepresidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.”

Challenged on that statement, the senator said he stood by it.

Expect to see those comments featured in an ad for Republican JohnMcCain. (At 1:22 a.m. EST, the Republican’s campaign released astatement that to theeffect that, “There has been no harsher critic ofBarack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denouncedBarack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued inhis own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obamais not ready to be President.”)

But don’t expect McCain’s attempts to use Biden against Obama to do much damage.

Democrats, and ultimately Americans, should be able to reconcilethemselves to the fact of a No. 2 who suggested Obama was not ready tobe No. 1.

How? By recognizing that in the modern era political-party tickets really do blend into a whole.

For all the silly talk about vice-presidential nominees beingirrelevant, the truth is that they have always mattered — either toparty unity or to the broader electorate.

Presidential and vice presidential candidates run as a team,complementing one another and guarding against the vulnerabilities oftheir running mates.


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Obama tried to suggest that the 2008 race was a contest between his judgment and John McCain’s experience.

But that sounded a little too much like Democrat Michael Dukakispeddling the notion that his 1988 race with Republican George HerbertWalker Bush was all about assessing the relative competence of thecontenders. That line didn’t work in 1988 and it wasn’t working in 2008.

With a new Cold War in the offering and a host of global conflictsand challenges brewing, Obama really was facing questions about whetherhe was ready. He needed some foreign-policy muscle. That knocked outcontenders who might have complemented Obama’s “Change We Can BelieveIn” campaign theme, such as Virginian Governor Tim Kaine.

It is true that Obama might also have gotten what he needed byadding New York Senator Hillary Clinton to his ticket, just as it istrue that Obama might have been able to run with Clinton. But he couldnot run with Bill Clinton, and that was that.

So Obama was left with Biden. And that made for an acceptable, perhaps even satisfying conclusion to the great veep search.

For all of Biden’s imperfections — a charge of political plagiarismtwenty years ago, a reputation for verbosity, a record of gaffes and awrong vote to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq — the chairman ofthe Senate Foreign Relations Committee gives Obama what he needs.

And there is the added bonus that Biden loves politics. He enjoysthe sport of it. He’s good on the stump. He’s good in the debates —indeed, when he was competing for the nomination, Biden won several ofthe debates. And he’s comfortable campaigning in industrial cities andrural regions.

After a weak mid-summer performance by Obama, the scale was tipping McCain’s way.

But when Joe Biden takes Barack Obama’s side, the scale may well tip back in a Democratic direction.

Biden may not have been the perfect choice.

He may not even have been the preferred choice.

But he was, at least to Obama’s view, the necessary choice.

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