We few, we proud, we Delawareans have a particular view of Sen. Joe Biden, the six-term Democrat announced as Barack Obama's vice-presidential running mate. If you take the Acela Express to D.C. often enough, you'll see him in the back of one of the nice cars, resting his eyes behind Pablo Escobar sunglasses or talking to one of the voters who recognizes him. When you head to the polls, there's a two-in-five chance you'll vote instead for whatever scrub the GOP put on the ballot. It's always been a bit strange to have this guy—half-suburban dad, half-jetsetter with a Death Star ego—as our face to the nation.
The first three immediate minuses that Biden brings to the Obama-Biden ticket:
1. Drug warrior, at arms! In 1982, when John McCain was making his first run for political office, Joe Biden was building his credentials for a national bid. That was the year he proposed the office of "drug czar." Thus began a pattern: Whenever people were panicking about drug abuse, Biden would swoop in to assure them that their panic was justified. The crackdown on stuff that could be used as drug paraphernalia? The RAVE Act? Biden was there with a pen. Since 2002, he has softened only a little on the drug war, changing his mind about the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity two decades too late.
2. PATRIOT Actor. Don't use drugs? Never fear: Biden knows how to restrict your liberties, too. As The New Republic's Michael Crowley pointed out a month after the 9/11 attacks:
In the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Biden did, in fact, champion an anti-terrorism bill similar to the one now before Congress (though it was, as he complains, badly watered down by anti-government conservatives and leftist civil libertarians). And Biden doesn't let you forget it. "I introduced the terrorism bill in '94 that had a lot of these things in it," he bragged to NBC's Tim Russert on September 30. When I spent the day with him later that week, Biden mentioned the legislation to me, and to several other reporters he encountered, no fewer than seven times. "When I was chairman in '94 I introduced a major antiterrorism bill–back then," he says in the morning, flashing a knowing grin and pausing for effect. (Never mind that he's gotten the year wrong.) Back in his office later that afternoon, he brings it up yet again. "I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill."
And get ready for the U.S. Public Service Academy!
3. The Red, White, and Blue Man's burden. Biden isn't a hawk in the way that John McCain is a hawk. He doesn't look to military intervention as the first solution to every foreign policy trip-up. But he still wants the United States to solve them all. Darfur? Check. The embargo on Cuba? Check. NATO expansion and aid to Georgia? Check. Biden amplifies Obama's long-held, and well-disguised, neo-liberal foreign policy. If you were leaning toward the Democrats because you're tired of leaders bellowing and demanding action from the actors in every foreign flare-up, forget it. That's going to be Biden's job description.
Politically, though, none of this is likely to wound Obama. Team McCain's immediate response to Biden, highlighting his criticism of Obama's experience (compare it to, say, Hillary Clinton saying she had experience while "Obama gave a speech"), is yawn-worthy stuff designed to slice into the news cycle. It won't stick.
Meanwhile, Biden helps Obama out in a few important ways.
1. Anti-Rudyism. There is an upside to Biden's aggressive foreign-policy realism: He's a brutal, effective critic of even stupider foreign policy. As Politico's Ben Smith first noted, Biden was the most confident and aggressive opponent of the "war on terror" concept. "Terror is a tactic," he has said. "Terror is not a philosophy." That's not just promising from a policy perspective. It presents the Democrats with an opportunity to reframe the debate over terrorism.
2. Liberalism with a tough-guy face. Biden is exactly the kind of Democrat who would be winning easily this year if the party's voters hadn't gotten so distracted by that hopeful guy, that creepy lawyer guy, and that angry ex-president's wife. He is a doctrinaire liberal who has remained, nevertheless, completely relatable and C-movie tough. Apart from the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill (which sucked wind for reasons that should bother partisans of any side), there's nothing in his economic record, or interest-group voting record that should give liberals a second's pause. He helped throttle the nomination of Robert Bork, thereby saving Roe v. Wade for two decades. Between that and his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act, he'll lock up those Hillary voters who aren't just interested in throwing fits.
3. Don't call it a comeback. It shouldn't matter, but the manner in which Biden has survived gaffes, mockery, and a straight-up plagiarism scandal is pleasing, in a Hollywood kind of way. Biden recovered from his plagiarism scandal by burying all presidential ambitions for a generation and burrowing into his Senate work. He wasn't a foreign policy expert, so he became one. When he says something stupid, he bounces back. I never got why his comments about Indian-Americans staffing 7-Elevens and Dunkin' Donuts in Delaware were offensive, but in any case now Obama gets to look like an above-it-all pol who doesn't care about political correctness.
David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.