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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Joe Biden: Thankfully not the Flavor of the Month

The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a feature toward the end of 2009 on Joe Biden, who was then Vice President of the United States.  Besides his experience and knowledge from having been a seasoned U.S. senator, Joe Biden is a man genuinely content in his own skin, and, it might be said, genuinely happy.  This, perhaps more than anything else, is vital to high level public official because sound judgment is important in those jobs. Ruling is not simply about how much one knows, or even how much experience one has; it is fundamentally about feeling at ease in who one is.  Ultimately, a positive vision springs from one’s state of mind and innate values.  One need only contrast Joe Biden with Richard Nixon, for example. Foreign policy comes up for both, but their mentalities could not be different.

My question is this: to what extent is our “Electoral College as popular election” geared to selecting the best candidate for president?  If the most popular is apt to be a people-pleaser, how comfortable is he (or she) likely to be in his (or her) own skin?  Furthermore, is the most popular necessarily seasoned with experience?  In short, if our current mechanism for selecting the president is oriented to privileging the flavor of the day, is this really the way we want to pick our presidents?    When we see a people-pleasing president cave to the business interests for support because popularity is not a sufficient basis of legitmacy, should we really be surprised?   What I see is a seasoned and knowledgeable vice president who is generally happy and getting along with people at the White House and in Congress, yet he did not do well at all in the popularity contests (i.e., the primaries).   I suggest that we have it backwards if we assume that Joe Biden is best as vice president because he did not fare well in the electoral contest.  As a case in point, he has been urging restraint in acquiescing to the pressure to add troops to Afganistan.  He wants a narrow focus, rather than a sensationalistic “surge.”  I suspect that he would stand up to big business and the military were he president because he wouldn’t need their approval to be content in his own skin.  Were he president, I suspect he wouldn’t need a second term.  Could that be said of a person who relishes popularity?

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/magazine/29Biden-t.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=joe%20biden&st=cse