Barack Obama, it seems clear, selected Joe Biden as his running mate both to compensate for a lack of official foreign policy experience and because the Delaware Senator can be a forceful and aggressive voice in a campaign that could use some toughening up.
Biden spoke to some of those concerns well over a year ago, during a lengthy interview back in February 2007 in a Delaware diner, in which he attributed the Democratic Party’s failure to win the last two general elections to timorousness and questioned whether Obama was prepared enough to lead the country.
“I think one of the things wrong with my party is that we are too timid,” Biden said at the time. “As I have gone around the country, the last couple of years, if I had to do synthesize in one adjective what one national Democrats think about the party, the consensus on the word would be timidity.”
“But you ask yourself the question,” Biden later added. “Is America, at this time in its history as focused as it is in its place in the world…are they going to turn it over to a one term, a guy who has served for four years in the senate? Maybe.”
On the whole, Biden, a true straight-talker, was much kinder to Obama than he was to Hillary Clinton or John Edwards in the interview, though it was his awkwardly phrased attempt at a compliment for Obama in the interview that ended up overshadowing his largely policy-based criticisms of his opponents. (“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”)
For the most part, Biden spoke about foreign policy and his proposal for Iraq to devolve into a federalist system that split the country into distinct Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions.
While he acknowledged that his idea was controversial, he argued that it was, at least, a strategy, while his opponents spoke only in terms of tactics.
“Whoever the next president is, is going to have to know what he or she wants to do beyond a tactical move. In other words there is a tactic and a strategy. Putting a cap on troops is a tactic, cutting funding is a tactic, making judgment about surging is a tactic, but at the end of the day how are America’s interests going to be preserved enhanced or diminished by whatever we leave behind.”
He then added, “Let me put it this way, you didn’t hear any one of them get in this debate at all till they announced for president. I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic.”
Much, of course, has changed since then, and Obama now clearly likes Biden, who has proven himself an able scourge of Republican candidates. (Just ask Rudy Giuliani.)
In the 2007 interview, he made a particular point of going beyond anything his colleagues said in criticism of John McCain’s foreign-policy expertise.
“And John says, ‘Look, if this is civil war, we can’t in good conscience keep our troops in the middle of it.’ So examine John’s rationale. John says, ‘O.K., we got to go in there to solidify this, give a chance for a political settlement so this civil war doesn’t become a civil war.’ But if it becomes a civil war we can’t stay there. John’s said it would be immoral to keep American troops in the midst of that. But when you ask John, ‘O.K., John, you don’t think it’s a civil war now, but what happens if there is a full-blown civil war and the Iraqis are not helping us, the government, you say you can’t keep the troops there, O.K., John, what do you do?”
In advertising his rationale for running — his ability, essentially, to deal with the world — Biden described one of the key attributes that would lead Obama to pick him a year and a half later. As he put it at the time, “One of the reasons that I’m running is I am not basing my confidence on being able to lead this country on foreign policy based upon merely an intuitive faith in my own judgment. I am basing it on the things I recommended in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Korea, that have turned out to be true.”
The other key attribute, as we now know, is that Biden is an anti-elitist. While Obama has been characterized as a effete globalist by John McCain’s campaign, Biden is a tough-talking middle-class Catholic who will, in theory, serve as a living counterargument to that caricature.
As Biden himself put it, “Democrats nominated the perfect blow-dried candidates in 2000 and 2004, and they couldn’t connect.”