Joe Biden As VP: Comedy Or Tragedy?

Aug. 24, 2008
One of the benefits, or curses (depending on how you see it) of living in a swing state like Ohio is that politicians are constantly on the march here, baby-kissing, criss-crossing, glad-handing, photo-opping, and of course speechifying. Last summer, I ...

One of the benefits, or curses (depending on how you see it) of living in a swing state like Ohio is that politicians are constantly on the march here, baby-kissing, criss-crossing, glad-handing, photo-opping, and of course speechifying.

Last summer, I got the chance to hear a number of candidates for President speak at a Steelworker convention (held, conveniently enough, in the hotel adjunct to IndustryWeek's offices). Newly minted VP pick Joe Biden was the first of four Democratic candidates who showed up; Hillary, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich (who is also my local House Rep) all came to lay out their case for being the only person qualified to fix the "heck of a job" the Republicans have done in managing the country into an ever-deeper hole.

Biden spoke first that morning, which was a good place to be, as it made what he said sound fresh and new. From my single experience hearing him speak and answer questions, I took a few things away.

One, he believes in domestic infrastructure investment as at least part of the solution to our economic meltdown, and more importantly he recognizes that there is an opportunity cost to so many tax dollars going overseas:

Biden asked the union crowd to imagine the impact on the American manufacturing base if the government were being steered by someone who devoted as many resources into building up our own national infrastructure, instead of spending tax dollars nation-building in the Middle East. One concrete example (pun intended) given was the shoring up of bridges and tunnels to meet the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission (many of which have still not been implemented almost six years later) which would act as a shot in the arm for U.S. manufacturers -- and by extension, their union employees.

He's also a genuinely funny and likeable guy most of the time, with flashes (actually extended periods) of "jerk" thrown in (which can actually be even funnier than humor of the scripted, genial kind):

One thing about Biden is that he seems to relish his (to put it delicately) lack of delicacy/basic tact etc. He's been known to slip up in public, for example calling Obama "clean" and Bush "braindead".

The existence of this "Obama is clean and articulate" comment is one of the downsides to an Obama/Biden ticket, as it gives the know-nothing blowhards in the news business a go-to talking point with which to flog the viewership.

In my opinion, though, the existence of a Biden-type -- loose lips, off-cuffs, inappropriate jokes and verbal trainwrecks and all -- on the hyper-scripted Obama ticket at least lends an element of surprise.

Now, we'll see if Joe Biden can play against type and stay on message for the next two months. Whatever happens, it should be interesting -- and that's a good thing.

Hillary, Edwards and Dennis.>

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