Nothing but lip service

Obama flubs the 'presidential' test with a veep choice who contradicts the message of his campaign

August 28, 2008|By Jonah Goldberg

Vice president. Who among us can contain their excitement?

Not me. I can't wait to hear more from the man for whom brevity is a Rubicon he will not cross. Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you something about Sen. Joe Biden, as Joe Biden himself might say: Joe is the guy who will tell the hard truths, say the unsaid things - literally, not just figuratively - to ensure that he has gone the extra oratory mile in service to this great cause, America, for which he will give not merely his last breaths but an unknowable number of breaths in service of the country he loves, never once tiring or being distracted by the grammatical ballast of the period, the wedge issue of the paragraph break or the thud of his audiences' heads soporifically smacking the tables in front of them.

No, never let it be said that Joe won't say what needs to be said, not only when it needs to be said but the other times as well, again and again and, ladies and gentlemen, again.

One can only hope the perpetual motion machine that is Mr. Biden's mouth will, like a million monkeys banging on typewriters, eventually stumble on a plausible explanation for why Sen. Barack Obama picked Mr. Biden, of all people.

It's a leaden cliche to note that the choice of a running mate is the first "presidential" decision a candidate makes. What, then, does it say that Mr. Obama's first such decision contradicts the alleged premise of his presidency?

In his career-making speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, Mr. Obama ridiculed "the pundits" who "like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats." But when it came time to act "presidential," Mr. Obama passed on several short-list veep candidates from red states - the governors of Virginia, Kansas and Iowa - in favor of the senator from deep-blue Delaware.

Over the last two years, Mr. Obama's campaign has gone further, investing a great deal in this idea of Mr. Obama as a postpartisan candidate who transcends all of these silly categories. Quoting the candidate, the official Republicans for Obama Web site proclaims: "For the first time in a long time, we have the chance to build a new majority of not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans who've lost faith in their Washington leaders but want to believe again - who desperately want something new."

And to feed that bottomless yearning for the new, Mr. Obama picked a Democrat who was first elected to the U.S. Senate when Mr. Obama was 11 years old and Richard Nixon was still popular. When Mr. Biden - already a seasoned pol - first ran for president, Duran Duran was still thought of as the cutting edge of music. What happened? Was Sen. Robert C. Byrd too trendy?

And what about all that jibber-jabber about postpartisanship? When Mr. Obama - the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, according to the 2007 vote scoring done by National Journal - picks the third-most-liberal senator, does that count as reaching across the aisle?

Even more flummoxing is Mr. Biden's record. Put aside the fact that Mr. Biden's biggest backers are trial lawyers and credit card company lobbyists (so much for attacking business-as-usual) and there's the signature issue of Mr. Obama's campaign: the Illinois senator's superior judgment on the war in Iraq. In his months-long battle against Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama insisted that his early opposition to the war represented singular proof of his qualifications to be president. But Mr. Biden, with his "unparalleled foreign policy experience," in the words of an Obama senior adviser, supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the same grounds that Mrs. Clinton did.

So Mr. Obama asks voters to value judgment over experience or expertise, but when Mr. Obama himself chose someone best qualified to be president in his stead - "above all, I searched for a leader who is ready to step in and be president," he proclaimed Saturday in Springfield, Ill. - he went the opposite way.

Perhaps that explains why Mr. Obama accidentally introduced his running mate as "the next president of the United States."

Of course, we know why Mr. Obama really made this choice. He thinks Mr. Biden will help with Pennsylvanians, Catholics, men and the working class. And Mr. Biden is ready to serve as the kind of partisan attack dog that Mr. Obama, until recently, decried as an unhealthy feature of our politics.

That's fine. Except it suggests that so much of Mr. Obama's new politics has been just words after all. And with Mr. Biden on board, we know words are one thing the Democratic ticket will never run out of.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from

Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning." His e-mail is

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