My dad, a staunch republican who vehemently disagrees with nearly all of my views on politics, asked me to write a post analyzing the other candidates for Vice President, the same way I did with Sarah Palin.
Specifically he asked that I analyze the Democratic, Green party, US Taxpayer's Party, Libertarian Party, and Natural Law Party candidates in detail.
Well, Dad, here's the thing - there's absolutely no chance that any of the fringe parties are going to get elected outside of small local and/or state elections, and while I've glanced at their respective agendas, I'm not going to waste bandwidth on them.
However, I agree that I should in fairness post my take on the democratic nominee for Vice President, Joe Biden. I haven't written about my opinion of him previously for a number of reasons: first, because I have no direct experience with Biden the way I do with Palin; second, because he's far better known to the American public than Palin is; and third, because his political position, religious beliefs, and background don't seem to generate the media and social hysteria that Palin does.
Frankly, I just don't have much in the way of strong opinion about Joe Biden as VP - he strikes me as about average for a vice presidential candidate, i.e. an experienced politician with a decent (if not particularly stellar) education, and decent (if not particularly stellar) experience. He has run for president himself a couple of times, made the usual public gaffes, and done nothing exceptionally noteworthy as a Senator good or bad. His repeated reelection as Senator shows that his constituents in Delaware believe he's doing a decent job representing their interests. His committee appointments (Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and International Narcotics Control) give him respectable Congressional experience in the particular areas that Obama lacks - which is why he was chosen, of course. He's reasonably articulate and a decent if not charismatic speaker the way Palin is - though it's obvious that he knows his subject matter to a far greater depth.
One of the principle differences between Biden and Palin is this: Nobody expects Biden to step into the Oval Office when Obama goes belly up during his first tour in office. Whenever Palin's name comes up, the very first thing both Republicans and especially Democrats bring up is Palin's readiness to take over the Presidency. A rather significant number of folks speak of Palin's succession to the presidency as a foregone conclusion, i.e. John McCain will not live out his first term. Personally, I think this is a sucker bet, McCain is a feisty old bastard, he survived Hanoi and he's got the best medical care money and a Senate seat can buy and he thrives on stress - so, I'd say that the odds of his imminent demise are vastly overrated. Be that as it may, I think Biden is far more qualified than Palin in a number of ways to step up immediately into the Oval Office if necessary.
Now, with all that said I think Biden will make a decent vice president. Notice I didn't say great vice president. I think he'd be a better president than vice president, and I'll explain why in a minute.
Let's run down the same list of vice presidential duties that we did with Palin, shall we?
First, Constitutionally, the VP's primary job is to be the spare tire. We keep him in the trunk (that's the boot, for those of you in England), and only take him out if we blow a main. Should he have to step up, Biden is fairly well prepared. Biden has served in the Senate since 1973, he knows politics and Washington at least as well, if not better than John McCain and far better than Sarah Palin and Barrack Obama. His education is in history, political science, and law (and he's a member of the Delaware Bar) - compare that to Palin's degree in Communications/Journalism. I am not running down Palin's education, simply pointing out the disparity. Biden's formal education is far more extensive and is orientated towards the basic requirements of the office, Palin's is not. Biden is experienced in a number of areas critical to the office, his Senatorial experience gives him insight and connections into that body, he knows how to make deals and get bills passed - Palin can't claim the same. However, Biden has made enemies in the Senate and the House, Palin hasn't. What impact that would have on either of them as President, I can't say. Biden's experience as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Subcommittees on Antitrust Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Crime and Drugs, Human Rights and the Law, Immigration, Border Security, Refugees, and Technology, Terrorism, and Homeland Security would suggest that he has a far more detailed knowledge of the things we expect a President to take the lead on than Palin does. With his track record, I have to say that should Biden be forced to take the helm, he is far better prepared now, than Palin is and I'm not sure how anybody could argue differently - and I notice that the Republicans have avoided this comparison by and large.
Next, Constitutionally, the VP's secondary responsibility is to serve as the tie breaker in case of Senatorial deadlock and to certify the Electoral College vote count. I don't think we need to belabor these responsibilities in any detail. Biden can easily handle both, no better or worse than Palin.
Informal duties: As I said in the Palin post, the informal duties of the Vice President vary, depending on the President. But for the most part we can depend on the last thirty years to give us some idea of what the Vice President will be doing with his or her time:
1) Act as spokesman for the administration: Well, there's no doubt that Biden could perform this role. However, Biden is known for speaking off the cuff, and for letting his mouth get the better of him. A bad VP can make the administration look like idiots, even if they're not. Take Dan Quayle for example. Despite being a reasonably intelligent, likeable, and harmless guy, his tenure as VP became the running joke of the first Bush administration. No matter what he did, the administration got pilloried for it - the difference here though is that Quayle was a likable fellow, Biden is less so. Quayle's screw-ups were often attributed to youth and lack of experience, Biden's screw-ups are often attributed to malice aforethought. And a gaff of the kind he's known for could seriously damage an Obama administration. Part of the problem here is that Biden is far more experienced that Obama, and he's got some strong opinions, and he's not shy about expressing them - and that tells me that he'll have a hard time acting as the spokesman for somebody he may regard as young, junior, and less experienced. Obama will have to keep him reined in tight. In this role I think Palin will do a better job, her lack of experience limits her to McCain's talking points in large part, making her a far better representative of his position than Biden is of Obama's.
2) Act as an advisor to the President: for the reasons previously stated, I think Biden's Senatorial experience and education make him far more valuable in this role than Palin will be to McCain - and I don't think there's much in the way of comparison at this point. Should Obama become President, I think Biden will spend a great of time in the Oval Office, and I think there's little doubt that Obama picked him specifically for this role. He's said so, on more than one occasion.
3) Chairman of the Board of NASA: Biden is no more qualified for this role than Palin. Just as with Palin, his ability to carry out this responsibility will depend entirely on his willingness to listen to experts - and I'm not sure he can do that consistently or sincerely. He's an opinionated guy. But again, in this regard I doubt he'll be any better or worse than Palin or his predecessors.
4) Member of the board of the Smithsonian: I think Biden will serve admirably in this role, his education, experience, and demonstrated leadership ability are precisely the qualities that this type of organization actively recruits. Unlike Palin I doubt his religious view point (he's a Catholic) will have much influence on his performance of this duty. As I said previously, Palin's creationism and public disregard for mainstream science causes me serious concern when it comes to direct influence on one of America's premier scientific institutions.
5) Carry out the formal ceremonial duties of the Presidency: I'm sure Biden can handle this.
Brass Tacks: Biden was a damned good choice by Obama. He rounds out the democratic ticket, filling in the gaps. He's older, proven, and experienced. He's a savvy politician. He's not particularly charismatic the way Palin is, but with Obama he doesn't have to be and he wasn't chosen for that reason. He's handled himself well in interviews and the debate, and shown confidence and detailed knowledge.
I'd say that if there is one thing lacking, it's that neither Obama or Biden have any military experience. They'll have to chose carefully when it comes to advisors, and I'd really like to know who those people will be and I'd like to know in detail prior to November. Both Robert Gates, the current SecDef and Richard Danzig (former Navy Secretary under the Clinton Administration and an Obama defense advisor) have been floated as possibilities. I worked for both, and have no objections though I don't much care for Gates, but I'd really like to know who Obama has in mind, at least the short list.
Additionally, neither Obama or Biden have any direct experience with the economy that compares to McCain's experience on the Senate Commerce Committee. Again they'll have to pick their advisors carefully. Though public perception at the moment seems to indicate that the public believes Obama is better qualified and prepared to fix the problems in the financial sector than McCain is. Only time will tell, and unless things go seriously pear-shaped, Biden will have little to do with it, other than maybe casting the deciding vote in the Senate.
Does that mean he'll make a good vice president? Not necessarily. He certainly has the potential, but the VP's primary unwritten job is to directly support the President and put his own ego and agenda aside - and Biden is going to have to work on that. Providing he can firmly limit himself to the roles, duties, and responsibilities of the office, without spending the next four or eight years campaigning for his own shot at the Oval Office, I think he'll do fine.
Compared to Sarah Palin, I think it should be obvious to all but the most fervently doctrinal conservatives that Biden is far more qualified for the job.
If this was a traditional job interview, I'd hire Biden over Palin any day of the week, simply based on his resume and the way he presents himself.