Biden is what I call an 'old progressive', and he fits right in with the old progressives running the Obama campaign (and his coming administration). He's a good pick for the campaign. Biden's got a certain appeal to older white voters and working class voters that we in the new progressive movement don't really get. He's not from our world, he was wrong on Iraq and the Bankruptcy Bill, and he's kind of a blowhard and dislikes the blogs (he blames us for the 'clean, articulate' controversy). He's bad on the war on drugs, he subscribes to the 'antiwar left = not serious' concept, and he wants to keep residual troops in Iraq. In other words, he's perfect for the Obama campaign, reinforcing their key frame of 'change, but not scary liberal change'.
Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 when TV was just coming into Senate races, and much of his most important political experience consists of a high-minded fight in the 1980s over Robert Bork and a middling performance during the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991. As I've written (and Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein have echoed with more detail and intelligence than I can muster), the Obama campaign is full of the Daschle-Gephardt-Biden axis of Democratic politics. They see a Beltway consensus as a critical element of a moral political order, they respect journalists as a professional group of authoritative and trusted arbiters, they respect conservative populism but disrespect progressive populism, they believe in people who come from elite academic institutions or think tanks or have medals on their chests, and they generally seek a kind of tepid reformist agenda in which bombing other countries needs to be done in a smart way instead of avoided.
Here, for instance, is Biden on the 'clean and articulate' gaffe.
At the end of the day, I think what happens is that people basically take a motion picture of their candidate and not a snapshot of their candidate. It's a little bit like the Barack comment. [Just as he was launching his presidential campaign in late January, Biden gave an interview in which he maladroitly referred to Obama as "articulate and bright and clean."]
Not a serious person in the press thought that I meant anything other than being complimentary. The good news is that I have a 34-year record on civil rights. Nobody, nobody could suggest that I was being prejudiced. But initially on the blogosphere, this was taken in a different context.
Note the use of the term 'serious' and the disbelief that the press could possibly have had any role in his comment spreading, or that there was anything offensive in what he said. No, no, it was all misrepresentations from those nasty blogosphere people. This fits nicely with Obama's bored affectation towards Dailykos in 2005, his scolding of the blogs during the Roberts hearing, and until this week his campaign's unwillingness to make character arguments about John McCain. That is just not the right political order. The good faith of the Republicans must be respected, the good faith of journalists must be assumed, the bad faith of the rabble is a given.
This is what old progressives think, and we disagree with them. They aren't exactly political opponents, but they aren't exactly political allies. I don't really have a firm grasp of the old progressive's agenda, but government transparency, lobbying restrictions and international alliances seem to be a big deal, legalized forms of corruption and preventing wars do not, sustained economic privilege and civil liberty violations are problems but not worth prioritizing, and the war on drugs and American empire are way off the table, thank you very much.
Biden's not a horrific pick, he's fine considering the choices.