Saturday, August 23, 2008

What Drew Obama to Biden?

My wonderful co-bloggers at TMV already have several posts giving their takes on how the Biden choice will affect the presidential race (Tony Campbell thinks its an awful choice; Jazz Shaw thinks the GOP will love it; Dorain de Wind and Robert Stein love it; and Shaun Mullen shouts out for his home-state boy).

As for me, on the political side I'm decidedly meh. I've been persuaded that it was unreasonable of me to expect Biden to vote against the credit card industry on the bankruptcy bill, him being from Delaware and all, so that's my big sticking point out of the way. There are some folks I would have preferred (Sebelius, Clark before Obama unwisely threw him overboard, Levin) but also some folks significantly more worrisome (Bayh, Kaine, Webb). So, meh. Biden is, in a lot of ways, a gamble. He can be unbelievably witty and an excellent debater, but those same qualities make him gaffe prone.The question is whether he'll be on his game this primary season. Cross your fingers.

But anyways. I'm more interested in what drew Obama to Biden in the first place, less as a question of politics and more what he would bring to a prospective Obama administration. Personally, I think this post by Moira Whelon offers a clue:
But what has impressed me most, for years, [about Biden] is his staff. He knows how to pick ‘em, and that’s no small thing. Brilliant people come and go in DC, but rarely do they also have the ability to pick quality staff the way Biden does. His folks always are among the brightest from a policy standpoint, but also possess a sophisticated political acumen. It’s a rare but valuable combination. I’ve had the privilege of working for, and with, many of these folks, and count them among my friends. I’ve always gotten the sense that their boss respected them for their abilities and listened to their ideas rather then them simply having to implement his. They were encouraged to push hard and dig deep on issues. They were challenged by Biden, but in a good way. The Boss reads, talks to experts, and asks questions. He challenges his staff and calls them to the carpet. Why? Because the most important thing is to get the answer right and to be honest about the challenges we face.

As a result of having a staff that is so good, Biden is almost never behind the curve of policy developments. He’s proactive, not reactive.That’s a huge strategic advantage, and as a result, becoming a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a badge of validation among foreign policy folks. Further than that, you’ll hear from many foreign policy experts how closely they work with Biden. They’re not making it up. Biden counts on a broad range of people to get the job done right. Many, many people feel they have influence on his approach and as a result when the final product is announced, they feel invested, but the view is all Biden, and usually better. Biden collects the best. Simple as that.

If there is one thing we know about Obama, it's that he respects expertise. One of the earliest elements about Obama that put him on folks radar screen (besides his oratorical gifts) was the top-notch crew of advisers and staffers he was putting together. Joe Biden's eye for policy talent, and his willingness surround himself with them, is something that I believe Obama respects and admires. Indeed, I think it is in large part how he envisions his administration in response to the catastrophe of the last eight years. Unlike Obama and Biden, President Bush has distinguished himself by being overtly hostile to the opinion of experts. Obama, I feel, subscribes to the belief that the way to get the best results is to surround yourself with the best people, listen to their counsel, and then make a decision knowing as much information as possible. Biden fits into that framework to a T.

A lot has been made over Biden's long Washington pedigree as a disabling point against him serving with Obama. I'm not buying it. Obama isn't rallying against experience for its own sake, nor does he represent the revenge of the younger generation against the follies of age. Obama's fundamental argument is that it's not about the pedigree, it's about the results. It's about getting it right. Biden -- nobody will deny this -- comes equipped with the knowledge to help get it right.

I understand the instinct to analyze Biden from a solely political lens. You have to win an election before you can make policy, after all. But while politics is all well and good, when it distracts us from whether or not somebody in office will make the nation better, I think it's a sign we're taking our eyes off the ball. I think the Biden pick was an example of Obama making a politically riskier pick (in terms of what effect Biden would have on the campaign trail) in exchange for superior policy decisionmaker. Is that not something that's worth considering when we cast our ballots?


Joe said...

I think it shows Obama is pretty confident he's gonna win, and not really trying to sniff out for a couple extra percentage points in a battleground (which is probably *at best* what a VP nets you in this day and age). This ain't no, he-creeps-me-out-but-he-might-bring-a-Southern -State pick, a la 2004.

As for what I think of Biden, he had be at "noun-verb-9/11."

Anonymous said...

evan bayh's speech tonight started off with his hand in the air, like adolph hitler. you know the guy they compare president bush to. joe biden, gun control.