Saturday, August 23, 2008

What Joe Biden Does for Obama

By Bernie Quigley

for The Hill on 8/23/08

At first glance it appears like The Beatles after a rousing start, suddenly hired Perry Como to sing vocals. Media is stuck in conditioned response; Obama picked Senator Joe Biden for his Vice President for his experience; especially for his foreign policy experience.

Yes, Joe Biden has experience but it is in the wrong area. Two Senators on the ticket lessens the kind of experience an executive needs. Senators discuss, ruminate, advise or don’t. Senators talk, Presidents do, and the more experience they have, the more they seem to talk.

A First Tier candidate should have management experience – it is primarily a management position and problems will be solved by management abilities and strategies. Best choice in this regard might have been Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas and one of the best governors of the country or Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania. But Obama did the right thing in choosing Biden as his VP.

LA times and most everybody else suggests Biden was picked because Obama was “caught off guard” on the Georgia invasion and thus picked someone with “foreign policy experience.” But in these matters Biden, who voted for the invasion of Iraq and parallel’s the neocon playbook in Georgia, personifies experience with neither intuition nor judgment. But in my observation this past year Obama doesn’t stay off guard for long and he is not off guard here.

In short hindsight it is interesting that Obama said just days ago that he would take a Vice President who would “challenge him” and he trailed off saying that he wouldn’t take a vice president to tell him what to do in foreign policy. It is no way near the VP’s role except in the Cloud-cuckoo-land of Cheney and Co. Here, Obama is the adult in charge.

Anyway, Obama has friends in higher places on foreign policy; Sam Nunn from the old school and in a great and historic moment of American karma, Susan Eisenhower, who in the last 14 years has shown the wisdom, sensitivity and nuance of her esteemed ancestor. She has this week left the Republican Party to help Obama.

Had Obama wanted to continue the new generation theme he would best have picked Chet Edwards, the representative from Texas, recommended by Nancy Pelosi. Not much again in management experience but a bright new face and some good instincts. But Obama is not so narrow as to be an exclusively generational avatar for rising Millennials – as the Clintons and Al Gore proposed to be and pretty much were for Boomers. He is the favorite of the rising generation but he transcends generationality.

Obama brings more a change of theme rather than a collectivized shift of blood and gene pool; it is a show which can work for everyone - much as Ronald Reagan brought a change of theme; a distinctive change of political culture to something quite new: Something from the West; something from the air and mountains it seemed rather than from the entrenched earth temples of the upper Atlantic regions. And then Reagan brought in George Bush the First to show that clearly he intended to amend the tradition in a completely new way and advance it, not destroy it – the usual generational path of the naïve and inexperienced. Obama has done exactly the same. He brings in an entirely new show but in bringing in Biden as VP he holds the rope to his tradition and promises to amend it; to nurture it as one does in a marriage; something old and something new; an old house with new rooms.

Bush I in that relationship to Reagan would not take the spotlight from where it needed to be, on Ronald Reagan. He would be a funeral-goer vice president and I expect Biden will be too.

Obama is the Fourth Man in the four-generational sequence of post-war power: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Obama. He needs to stand alone and bring with him a strong line of the best and the brightest while VP stands aside with grace and in admiration.

And what a start: Caroline Kennedy, Oprah, Susan Eisenhower; the Three Celestial Sisters. Obama and his campaign has shown professionalism and deft not seen here since James A. Baker ran things for the Reagan administration. As a management project, I believe Obama will bring in a great front office as Reagan did. Starting off we are seeing Sam Nunn as senior foreign policy advisor and a sea-change of America’s presence and perception abroad. And at home an Obama Quaternity of Mike Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Sebelius and Ed Rendell to rebuild the cities and rebuild our country.

Next week Joe Lieberman will speak at the Republican Convention but Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of the last Republican show who spent a million bucks to attend and entertained the burghers with quips about “economic gurly-mans” will not. Too busy fighting over the California budget, don’t cha know. It is a good trade; Lieberman for Arnold. He will cross over to Obama as Eisenhower has and maybe he will even bring with him his interesting and cool friends like George Schultz and Warren Buffett.

This is a big front line. Joe Biden, like Bush I to Reagan or Dan Quayle to Bush I, won’t steal the show.