Saturday, August 23, 2008

Senator Biden Analysis

Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) is an interesting choice by Senator Barack Obama as his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2008. Biden brings an impressive resume to the ticket, particularly in the area of foreign affairs as he serves as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations in the United States Senate. This helps to alleviate some of the experience issues that Senator Obama has since he is currently serving in his FIRST term in the Senate compared with Senator Biden who is serving in his sixth term in the Senate. That said Biden’s experience in the Senate could potentially harm the Obama campaign. Senator Obama has campaigned as an outsider, the opposite of the Bush administration. He has attempted to portray himself as an agent of change and his four years in the Senate is a benefit to his cause and that he can “fix Washington.” Yet Biden is the epitome of an inside Washington politician, a fixture in Democratic circles in the nation’s capital. He arrived in the Senate in January 1973 and has been there ever since; a total of 35 years and counting. Does this mean that the Obama campaign fears that Senator McCain’s attacks on their candidate’s inexperience are sticking? This could have impacted the decision to go with Senator Biden as a running mate.

Senator Biden will definitely be combative and isn’t afraid to get into combative match against Republicans. Biden also brings more depth as the vice presidential nominee not seen since Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut was on the Democratic ticket with Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Ironically Senator Lieberman is a staunch supporter of Republican Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee and has been discussed as a potential running mate for McCain. Biden also is likely to be more attractive to Democratic primary voters who supported Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary…a wound that still needs to be healed in Democratic circles. One other asset that Biden brings to the ticket is some credibility to foreign affairs and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq having voted in support of both wars and has consistently voted for the appropriations bills to fund both military operations, something that both Senators Clinton and Obama have consistently not supported (although Senator Clinton did support the military strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq).

The major disadvantage in my mind to Biden is the fact that three members of the United States Senate are now on the major party tickets for President and Vice President. Of these three senators, Obama, Biden and McCain have spent their entire careers in the legislative body: Obama in the Illinois state house before his election to the Senate, Biden in the Senate and McCain in the House of Representatives and Senate. It concerns me when candidates for major office have minimal to no experience in the executive branch of government (Governor, Vice President). I think serving in this executive role is extremely helpful to a President and recent political history shows. Since the 1930s with the birth of the modern presidency, Presidents who were successfully elected to second terms in office include Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Roosevelt, Reagan, Clinton and Bush all served in the governor’s mansions of their respective states. Except for Roosevelt, all served more than one term in office; Roosevelt served one term as Governor of New York before his election to the presidency, yet he also served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration. Nixon served as Vice President for eight years and Eisenhower served as Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II…these positions all required extensive executive management skills that provided them with experience upon assuming the presidency. While it’s not a certainty that a President will not be successful coming from the Senate and not having previously served as a governor or other executive manager, I find it preferable given the dynamics of the Senate. President Truman came directly from the Senate, becoming President after Roosevelt’s death within six weeks of his inauguration to the Vice Presidency.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how the Biden choice impacts McCain’s decision on a running mate. Of the names being listed already for the GOP, McCain seems to be leaning against asking a Senate colleague to be his running mate with the exception of Senator Lieberman. Time will tell on this point, as well as how Senator Biden will turn out as a running mate. Will he be a strength for Democrats like Al Gore was in 1992 as Bill Clinton’s running mate or Joe Lieberman to Al Gore in 2000? Or will the opposite occur and Biden end up being less than helpful similar to John Edwards in 2004? I think overall he will do okay, assuming he avoids some of his famous gaffes and focuses on his strengths. Regardless, with the polls tightening up between McCain and Obama, performance will be immensely important as we move into the general election.

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