Thursday, June 01, 2006

What about Biden?

I realized that in my elections post yesterday I was pretty dismissive and not at all comprehensive of Joe Biden's prospects in '08. I should probably clarify things a bit and try to spell some other things out more.

First off, Biden is, like Evan Bayh, more disliked throughout the liberal blogosphere than I think he deserves. He's a decent speaker, seems to relate well at least to his Democratic audiences, and most importantly, has a good understanding of the religious and social forces at work that could and are undermining our civil liberties and the separation of church and state. I believe the emergence of the religious right (as documented by numerous writers but most recently by Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg) is the primary development of our time and represents the greatest risk to pluralism, individual rights, freedom and democratic government in the years ahead. Biden would potentially be a great asset to have in the next campaign to take on these issues, hopefully in a way that helps turn the tide of religious radicalism while assuring mainstream religious voters that the party respects their values; encourages their participation; and will safeguard their liberties.

Most of the complaints about Biden, as far as I can tell are, he's a bit of a media-hound, running a near third probably only to John McCain and Joe Lieberman; too beholden to his state's credit card industry; a lackluster leader on foreign affairs, the other committee on which he serves; and finally just a bit of a schmuck all around. From his 1988 run, he also would inherit the charges of plagiarism, that while pretty mild by most estimations, were enough to torpedo him in that year and would surely be brought up and made to appear a criteria for burning at the stake by the Republican Party and its aspiring swift-boaters.

My reservations about Biden are his age: he's 60 or early 60-ish now and would be almost 70 during a second term. That's not as old as John McCain and isn't terribly old by most objective standards, but the job of president tends to age people pretty fast. An additional concern relates to that: Biden has been in the Senate since the early 1970's--over 30 years. He'd be among my first choices for someone who could, initially at least, be ready to be president from day one. I think he would inspire confidence on the campaign trail and even maybe among members of the media. He wouldn't need much of a learning curve. He's probably as intelligent and as engaged in public policy as anyone in Washington. But he's been on Capital Hill for 30+ years. As a Senator he's only had to face the electorate, an increasingly Democratic one at that, every six years. Add to that all the votes those years have produced and you have the usual drawbacks of a U.S. Senator running for president, but magnified in the case of Biden, who's about as insider as you get.

Granted there's a lot of intuition here with a sprinkling of conventional wisdom thrown in that isn't necessarily conclusive about his prospects especially given the alternatives available. But there will be younger, fresher faces on the campaign trail for Democrats in '08, who might be considered more cutting edge and who might also be more prepared to handle the responsibilities of the office over the long term.

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