Joseph and the Electoral-Colored Dreamcoat


The buzzed-about politi-bot of the moment is Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., senior senator from Delaware, Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and frontrunner (according to people who bet on these things) for the plum job of Barack Obama's running mate.

Mr. Biden's strengths and weaknesses as a vice-presidential nominee are glaringly obvious and in many cases overlap. At age 65, he would bring heft, knowledge and nearly four decades of experience in Washington to a ticket headed by a relative political newcomer. But that experience — he was first elected to the Senate at age 29 and has served for nearly four decades — would undercut Mr. Obama's image as an agent of change.

Mr. Biden is among the best-informed lawmakers on international affairs, a gap in Mr. Obama's résumé. But Mr. Biden's broad knowledge, his committee chairmanship and his longtime membership in the most exclusive debating club in the nation also feed his biggest flaw: a verbosity and love of his own voice that drive many, including, by some accounts, Mr. Obama, nuts.

Most VP speculation is bunk fed by misinformation, but the fact that Biden isn't swooping from Sunday show to Sunday show like some hair-plugged bird of prey is awfully compelling. It's rare for him to stay silent for so long. And that, actually, is the best thing about him. Take this offhand comment to national security reporter Spencer Ackerman.

Four years ago I went to interview him for a piece about Kerry's counterterrorism strategy for TNR and he was trying to figure out whether I wanted him to say that Kerry would take a more targeted, al-Qaeda-centric approach or would just kill all the Arabs "Your magazine," he said (this is from memory), "has to figure out whether it's liberal or neoconservative, already."

He talks like this all the time. Witness:

There's something vaguely LBJ-esque there: the sandwich-chewing, the dismissiveness, the word "Look!" barked out like R. Lee Ermey spotting a UFO. But Biden has one of the longest Washington careers of anyone who has run for either president or vice president (when Dole ran in 1996 he'd served 36 years; Biden has served 35) and that record is going to be mined for gold. Take the RAVE Act, which Biden slipped into the Amber Alert bill in 2003, and which holds event organizers liable for illegal drug use on their property. Jacob Sullum reported on how it was being applied.

The first known use of Biden's law involved a fund-raising concert for two drug policy reform groups, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The concert, which was scheduled for May 30 at the Eagles Lodge in Billings, Montana, was canceled after a local agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told the owners they could be held liable if anyone at the concert lit up a joint.

Embarrassed by the incident, the DEA blamed it on the agent's misinterpretation of the law. It promised "responsible enforcement" that would respect First Amendment rights and "shield innocent businesses from criminal liability for incidental drug use by patrons." In response to questions from Biden, Acting DEA Administrator William B. Simpkins said the requirements of "knowledge" and "intent" mean that "legitimate event promoters" should not "be concerned that they will be prosecuted simply based upon or just because of illegal patron behavior."

Then again, Biden might be the ultimate Democrat.