Obama flubs the 'presidential' test

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With Sen. Joe Biden slated to give Wednesday's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama's vice presidential pick will stay in the national limelight awhile longer. 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 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 -- in order 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.


FOR THE RECORD:
Joseph Biden: Jonah Goldberg's column Tuesday said Barack Obama was age 12 when Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Obama was 11. —


One can only hope that the perpetual motion machine that is Biden's mouth will, like a million monkeys banging on typewriters, eventually stumble on a plausible explanation for why Obama picked 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 Obama's first such decision contradicts the alleged promise of his presidency?

In his career-making speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, 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," Obama passed on several short-list VP 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, Obama's campaign has gone further, investing a great deal in this idea of Obama as a post-partisan candidate who transcends all of these silly categories. Quoting the candidate, the official Republicans for Obama website 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 searing appetite for the new, the bottomless yearning for the fresh, Obama picked a Democrat who was first elected to the U.S. Senate when Obama was 12 years old and Richard Nixon was still popular. When Biden -- already a seasoned pol -- first ran for president, Duran Duran was still thought of as the cutting edge of music. What happened? Was Robert Byrd too trendy?

And what about all that jibber-jabber about post-partisanship? When 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 Biden's actual record. Put aside the fact that Biden's biggest backers are trial lawyers and credit card company lobbyists (so much for attacking business-as-usual), there's the signature issue of Obama's campaign: the Illinois senator's superior judgment on the war in Iraq. In his months-long battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama insisted that his early opposition to the war represented singular proof of his qualifications to be president. But Biden, with his "unparalleled foreign policy experience" in the words of an Obama senior advisor, supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the exact same grounds that Clinton did.

So Obama asks voters to value judgment over experience or expertise; but when 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 in Springfield, Ill., on Saturday -- he went the opposite way.

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

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

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

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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