Friday, all day, the US press does what it does best — covered blank empty space, as a phalanx of reporters staked out Joe Biden’s house in Delaware, filming each other playing frisbee. With the VP choices really narrowed down to — well, one — everyone was waiting for this magic text message that would come out to Obama’s far flung supporters.

Came it did, at 4am Saturday morning. Surprise, surprise Joe Biden was the candidate.

Nothing could be more typical of what the Obama campaign has become than this coy teenage text messaging, making it all about the process not the product, as a way of building up some cheap suspense and momentum. Can Vice-presidential candidate Biden live up to it?

He’s scarcely a surprise or an unknown quantity — in the Senate since he was 29, getting in in 72, the same year his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident – he was sworn in at his surviving children’s bedside. The poorest member of the Senate — net worth, minus $300,000 — he’s a thorough professional of that most arcane of legislative bodies, with a long service of various military and foreign relations subcommittees.

He has strong union relations — Delaware is basically New Jersey with less industrial waste (i.e. it does not have the population of Newark in its borders) — and his greatest role will be to reassure nervous conservative Dems that there’s an old white guy in da house.

Good choice? It certainly balances the ticket, while making it less exciting. And Biden has a whole fusillade of smoking guns the Republicans can point to. He was a Presidential candidate in 88, but pulled out early when he was accused of plagiarising a speech by — of all people — Neil Kinnock, in which Kinnock had contested the Thatcherite vision of the unemployed as workshy.

It was a strong speech, arguing unashamedly that to people oppressed — in Kinnock’s version, miners — was not to make them out to be victims, because the central fact was that they organised against their oppression. Why Biden couldn’t have used the general idea and done his own take on it is lost in mystery, but it knocked him out of the running.

He made another tilt this year, and before burning out in Iowa, got off a few nasty cracks at Obama’s lack of experience — the presidency not being an on-the-job-training sort of thing. He also supported the Iraq war and gave a few blood and thunder speeches throughout the lead up to that. Oh, and he said John Mccain would make a great president he’d love to serve under.

The Obama campaign is gambling on the idea that these remarks will burn out their usefulness, and the old white guy factor will kick in, nobbling McCain’s claim to it. It seems, like much of Obama’s recent decisions, half-hearted and arsed. Wouldn’t a full bore military dude like Wesley Clark blow McCain out of the water — maybe he didn’t want it? Wouldn’t Hillary really bring both the forcefulness and excitement to the ticket?

As usual with these things, the exact nature of the decision will only come in retrospect. Should the ticket win, it will have always been the obvious choice, wise stabilisation etc. If not, it will be the crucial loss of daring, etc that lost Obama the campaign. Too late we will find out.

Peter Fray

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