Saturday, August 23, 2008

By-my-side Biden

Illinois’ Old State Capitol got another cameo in the Hollywood-like narrative of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama as he tries to get to the White House as the first African American president. His first appearance with his new Democratic running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, resembled the February 2007 event in downtown Springfield, when Obama announced his candidacy. A larger crowd gathered in the 88-degree heat, the polar opposite of the 10-degree weather last year.

Obama and Biden took the stage on the Old State Capitol grounds about 12 hours after the Obama campaign sent a massive text message to supporters announcing his selection for vice president. Both men emphasized focusing on family, overcoming adversity and repairing economic conditions to about 35,000 people, according to Obama’s campaign Web site.

They attempted to weave common threads through their backgrounds, both coming from meager beginnings and living “America’s story” on the national stage. Obama introduced Biden as a family man who grew from tragedy, when his first wife and a daughter were killed in a car accident several years ago.

Tragedy tests us – it tests our fortitude and it tests our faith. Here’s how Joe Biden responded. He never moved to Washington. Instead, night after night, week after week, year after year, he returned home to Wilmington on a lonely Amtrak train when his Senate business was done. He raised his boys — first as a single dad, then alongside his wonderful wife Jill, who works as a teacher. He had a beautiful daughter. Now his children are grown and Joe is blessed with five grandchildren. He instilled in them such a sense of public service that his son, Beau, who is now Delaware’s attorney general, is getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And he still takes that train back to Wilmington every night. Out of the heartbreak of that unspeakable accident, he did more than become a Senator — he raised a family. That is the measure of the man standing next to me. That is the character of Joe Biden.

Read the full speech here.

Biden framed Obama as the agent for change after eight years of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Barack Obama and I believe, we believe with every fiber in our being, that our families, our communities as Americans, there’s not a single solitary challenge we cannot face if we level with the American people. And I don’t say that to say it; history, history has shown it. When have Americans ever, ever, ever let their country down when they’ve had a leader to lead them?
See U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's comments about the Biden selection here:

Biden is a safe choice for the Obama ticket, according to Christopher Mooney, professor of political studies with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “He doesn’t have the big wow factor, but Obama’s got the wow factor. So, it’s not what he needs. He needs somebody safe, and Biden is safe.”

Biden also has foreign policy experience, which has been described as Obama’s weak spot. Biden is serving his sixth term in the Senate, where he started in 1972 at age 29. He chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and serves on the Committee on Foreign Relations. Combatting a potential contradiction in his campaign, Obama said that Biden “has brought change to Washington, but Washington hasn’t changed him.”

Biden twice ran for president, most recently against Obama in the Democratic primary. Biden dropped out of the ’08 race after the Iowa caucus and after making a comment that Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy ...” He later clarified that his word choice misrepresented his point that Obama was a storybook candidate.

While Biden joked that he talks “too colloquially” and too much, the vice presidential selection generally doesn’t drastically help or hurt presidential candidates, said Mooney. Nor does it sway many voters. “This is the one time it matters. He’ll go to the convention, and they’ll take pictures. And then they’ll put him on a bus, and he’s going to drive through Nebraska, Kansas and Alabama or wherever they’re going to send him. Unless he says something off the cuff that’s embarrassing, it won’t be a problem.”

Springfield plays a role
Using the Old State Capitol in Springfield as a backdrop is “good politics,” said Tom Schwartz, Illinois State historian at the event. It inevitably draws a comparison between Obama and Abraham Lincoln. Schwartz said Obama is “very much like Lincoln, reminding people that politics is messy and there’s a gamesmanship to it but that at it’s core, it is meant to reflect the ideals of the people that it represents — and that it is participatory, that people need to be part of it. And so, in that sense, he and Lincoln are on the same page.”

And using Lincoln as a backdrop doesn’t hurt when the event attracts national and international media.

Springfield emergency responders also played a role. Individuals stood in lines that wrapped around the downtown area before gates opened, and once they got on the grounds, they waited another two hours for Obama to appear on stage.

The 88-degree heat mixed with sun, humidity and crowded proximities to overwhelm between 30 and 40 people, according to Lt. Bill Neale of the Springfield Police Department. He said heat exhaustion and related injuries led local responders to seek help from the Springfield Fire Department, Riverton emergency services and the American Red Cross.

One person who did not play a role was Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was in Chicago at a deployment event of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry.

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