Biden as Backup: Although U.S. Senator Joe Biden Appears to Be a "Safe" Choice as a Running Mate for Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, He May Prove to Be Controversial on Many Fronts

Article excerpt

The cliche might be that U.S. Senator Joe Biden "needs no introduction" to the American voting public, since he has run for president twice. But many Americans may have only the sketchiest knowledge of the Delaware senator's checkered career and why he has been widely hailed as both a wise and "safe" choice as a running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, yet may prove to be controversial on many fronts.

Loose Tongue

For one thing, Biden has demonstrated throughout his career a notoriously loose and careless tongue. His biggest blunder known to the public was his appropriating as his own the biography of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock during a speech in Biden's abortive campaign for the 1988 presidential nomination. It was a peculiar kind of theft, commonly referred to as plagiarism, since Biden used without attribution a large portion of a Kinnock speech in which the British politician recounted life in the coal mines and other aspects of his own biography that had nothing to do with Biden. Once a videotape of Biden's speech was widely circulated and the source of the plagiarism documented, Biden withdrew his candidacy and waited for another opportunity to seek the nation's highest executive office.

Twenty years later, Biden was running again and his loose talk was getting him in trouble again. As the Obama phenomenon came to dominate the Democratic primary campaigns, Biden told an interviewer that "for the first time" the nation had a "mainstream" African-American candidate who "is clean, articulate" and appealing to a wide range of American voters. That created a furor nationally, particularly among Democrats and especially among African-Americans, many of whom had voted for and otherwise supported candidates like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, both of whom were considered "clean and articulate," and perhaps even (in the eyes of many Jackson or Sharpton supporters) "mainstream."

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Biden stepped into further controversy along racial lines when he responded to a question about his viability in conservative Southern states by claiming, inaccurately, that his home state, Delaware, "was a slave state" in the early days of the republic. He was also overheard and recorded when he offered the observation that in Delaware, one can't go into a Dunkin' Donuts or 7-11 without an Indian accent.

Balancing the Ticket?

Biden never did get any traction in his presidential campaign and dropped out before the first primary. But his experience and alleged expertise in foreign policy apparently appealed to the Obama campaign, which was dealing with the suspicion that the presidential candidate, in only his fourth year in national politics, lacked the maturity and experience to be a serious candidate for president. Adding Biden, it was thought, would lend added stature to the top of the ticket to offset the perception that Obama was getting by on oratorical skills and his personal charisma.

But critics contended that by putting Biden on the ticket, the Democrats were undercutting the appeal of Obama as the outsider, even as John McCain's later choice of first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, at 44 three years younger than Obama, undermined the Republican's argument that the GOP ticket offered an experienced and seasoned alternative to the Democrats' "Boy Wonder." Biden, after all, has been in the Senate for 36 years, starting at the beginning of Richard Nixon's second term as president. He has served as chairman of the Judiciary as well as the Foreign Relations Committee. On the Judiciary, he spearheaded the successful opposition to the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, the same year Biden's first presidential campaign collapsed under the burden of plagiarism. He also permitted the pillorying of Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas, leading to an historically close vote confirming Thomas in 1991. …