Roger’s Rules

The neophyte and the plagiarist, or Obama makes his choice

Should I be nervous? Barack Obama has chosen Delaware Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate. Obama is not stupid, neither are his handlers. So why Joe Biden, one of only two US Senators (along with Al “Mr. Green” Gore) to achieve the distinction of an entry on the “Famous Plagiarists” web site? Frankly, when Biden’s name surfaced as a possible candidate for the job, I thought: “Now that would be good! But Obama is too canny to pick a discredited non-entity like Biden. Sure, he needs to distract voters from his ostentatious inexperience, but you don’t do that by picking someone whose efforts to appear statesmanlike diffuse an embarrassing mustiness masquerading as competence.”

So what’s going on? Did Hillary Clinton’s people surreptitiously shill for Biden? The New York Times this morning tells us that in making this choice, Obama is “turning to a leading authority on foreign policy and a longtime Washington hand.” The bit about Biden’s being a longtime Washington hack, er, “hand” is certainly correct–but wasn’t Obama campaigning for “Change”? Wasn’t he transcending race, politics-as-usual, the whole “longtime-Washington-hand-hack-hokum” routine? Maybe that was yesterday. But what about the description of him as a “leading authority on foreign policy”? Well, he has been pretty good on the war in Iraq, consistently taking positions that are at odds with those of Obama. Biden, for example, voted for the war in 2002. Obama was still in grade school then–or was he college already?–so he could not vote, but he has always been a vociferous critic of the war. So the ticket will have a built-in contradiction on one of the most important issues facing the country. That’s not so unusual, and after the success of The Surge in Iraq, I suspect that everyone is going to be talking less about that conflict.

But what troubles me is the inscrutability of Obama’s choice. Why Biden? As far as I know, Joe Biden, unlike Tony Rezko, has not helped Obama buy any houses in return for political favors. Biden is not old enough to have fought alongside Obama’s uncle in Patton’s army when it liberated Auschwitz (what, it was the Soviets, not Patton, who liberated Auschwitz? No matter). And Biden is not, as far as I know, an unrepentant terrorist like Bill “Weatherman” Ayres or an America-hating rabble-rousing preacher like Jeremiah “Goddamn America” Wright. Maybe Obama believes that Biden, an ordinary-looking white man who, if you are Obama, anyway, you might say looks like all the faces on the dollar bill, will help win votes from Catholics, women, blue-collar voters, middle class men, veterans, people serving in the military, etc. But I doubt it. Of all the likely candidates Obama could have chosen, Biden seems to me to be the most lacklustre. Perhaps he is supposed to bring “experience” to the Obama campaign. I suspect, though, that those who remember who Joe Biden is will chiefly recall Michael Dukakis’s 1988 video attacking Biden for plagiarism. Sure, that’s old news now. But then so is Joe Biden. Change? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.