Why Barack needs the scrappy kid from Scranton

Joe Biden is Obama’s strongest line of defence against McCain, writes Karen McCarthy in New York.

IT was the colossus of conventions. Giants of the Democratic Party hulked on stage.

Senator Ted Kennedy passed the torch of America’s first family to Senator Barack Obama declaring, “The dream lives on”.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s rallying cry mobilised her 18 million supporters behind her former rival. President Bill Clinton’s enthusiastic nod to the half-term senator’s ability to lead was met with rapturous applause.

The week rounded off with the soaring rhetoric from the man himself before the “Temple of Obama” at Mile High Stadium, in Denver

It was a spectacle that should see the Democrats mopping the floor with Senator John McCain, the man they say promises four more years of the same, and an approach to geo-politics reminiscent of the Cold War.

Next week, the Republicans will sling their arrows at the Achilles heel the Democrats strove so hard to defend — Obama’s foreign policy inexperience. As the euphoria of the convention fades, this may be easier than it seems.

Obama’s international trip this summer did little to assuage doubts. Neither did his kumbaya response to Georgia, his pledge to meet leaders of Iran, North Korea and Venezuela without preconditions, his assertion that the US should bomb Pakistan if its government doesn’t do enough to deal with the Taliban, or that the US should leave Iraq and only return if al-Qaida returns, without realising they never left.

While the Democrats point to troop withdrawal negotiations between the current administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as proof that Obama advocated the correct war-time strategy, they overlook the fact that the security improvements that facilitated these talks were fostered by the surge that McCain urged and Obama opposed.

It was left to Bill Clinton to lay the best line of defence against an impending ambush, having the foresight to throw the big gun who can take the heat into the line of fire — the pugilistic Irish Catholic from Pennsylvania, the Vice-Presidential nominee, Senator Joe Biden.

“In his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park,” said Clinton. “With Joe Biden’s experience and wisdom, supporting Barack Obama’s proven understanding, insight, and good instincts, America will have the national security leadership we need.”

The working class son of the Finnegan-Bidens, a six-term senator and Washington veteran, Biden is one of the most knowledgeable and respected voices on national security. He has been chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. He was an early advocate for American intervention in the Balkans, and is one of the most vocal critics of the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq.

Biden may not symbolise the kind of change the Obama campaign advocated, but he can go toe-to-toe with McCain on Iraq, terrorism, Afghanistan and Pakistan and any sudden international crisis that crops up.

He’s more than just a foreign policy heavyweight. He’s Catholic in a country of 70 million Catholics who can tip the balance in this close contest. He hails from a working class family in a critical swing state, which appeals to the working class-voters that, even post-convention, Obama has failed to sufficiently attract.

He has a sharp wit and self-confidence. He’s quick to quip, which has the disadvantage of giving the Republicans a catalogue of controversial gaffs to attack. But like McCain he’s a straight shooter, who’ll bring meat and potatoes to Obama’s exalted oratory and deliver a bare-knuckled response to the Maverick’s offensive.

The benefit of the O’Biden ticket is to shore up Obama’s weaknesses rather than try to spin them as strengths. The campaign needs to make sure the outspoken senator from Delaware doesn’t fade into the shadows as John Edwards did in 2004.

The importance of the VP nominee is often overrated, but in 2008 it’s up to the scrappy kid from Scranton to help Obama beat McCain.

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