By Ben Whitford, Slate Magazine
At about twenty to one this morning CNN’s John King, rapidly followed by all the papers, confirmed from unnamed Democratic sources that Barack Obama had tapped Delaware’s Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. The not-quite-announcement – followed a couple of hours later, the LA Times reports, by the long-awaited text-message confirmation from the Obama camp – capped a day of high political drama, with Biden emerging as the last man standing after rivals Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia received thanks-but-no-thanks phone calls from Obama ahead of today’s rally at the Old Statehouse in Springfield, Ill.
The late-breaking news left the papers scrambling to reshuffle their front pages; early editions of the Washington Post had led on the apparent end of Russia’s ten-day occupation of Georgia, where troops destroyed Georgian military installations before withdrawing from broad tracts of the country. The New York Times also initially led on the story, noting that Moscow will maintain pressure on Georgia and could formally recognize the independence of the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as early as next week. The Wall Street Journal fronts word that the Bush administration’s landmark nuclear cooperation deal with Moscow appears to have stalled, a victim of heightened diplomatic tensions in the aftermath of the Georgian conflict.
In naming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden as his number two, the papers agree, Obama forwent the opportunity to pick someone who could carry a key state (sorry, Delaware) and instead opted to shore up his campaign’s foreign policy credentials while adding some grey hair and experience to his ticket. As a white Roman Catholic born in Scranton, Pa., Biden might nonetheless help boost Obama’s appeal to a number of key demographics; the flip side, of course, is that after winning his Senate seat at the age of 29 and serving six terms, it’s hard to argue that Biden is anything but a Washington insider – even if he does still commute home every night to Wilmington.
The McCain camp moved quickly to ridicule the choice, reports the WSJ: “There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden,” said a spokesman. “Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing – that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.” It’s likely the GOP will have more fun with Biden in weeks to come: the senator is somewhat prone to verbal gaffes, and drew fire last year after telling a reporter that Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Still, Biden should also make a useful attack dog: the LAT notes that in last year’s Democratic debates he delivered some of the most stinging lines about Republican contenders, memorably calling Rudy Giuliani “the most under-qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency” and saying the former New York mayor only ever used three words in a sentence: “a noun, a verb and 9/11.”
The NYT says that Obama’s decision in some ways mirrors George Bush’s decision to run with Dick Cheney: at 65, Biden would be unlikely to run for president in his own right if Obama won and served two terms, potentially defusing some of the tensions often found between would-be presidents and their running mates. The paper also notes that Obama aides were quick to point out that by picking someone apparently well-prepared to take over as president, Obama raised the bar for John McCain and made it harder for his rival to make an adventurous choice for his own veep.
Perhaps it’s just as well, then, that one of the dark-horse contenders for the GOP number-two spot is making backup plans: New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is quietly floating the idea of a bid to overturn the city’s term limits, a move that would allow him to seek reelection next year. The NYT reports that the mayor’s plan has already won the full-throated support of New York Gov. David Paterson, who might otherwise face a gubernatorial challenge from Bloomberg in 2010.
In other news, it’s now more than two years since three Guantanamo Bay detainees hanged themselves in their cells, in a move the US military branded an act of “asymmetric warfare”; the Post fronts an unsettlingly graphic report on the suicides, based on new documents detailing the military probe into the deaths.
In Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, the widow of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, appears likely to replace ousted leader Pervez Musharraf as the country’s president, reports the WSJ. That could make Zardari – once nicknamed “Mr Ten Percent” for his alleged habit of pocketing millions of dollars in kickbacks from government deals – a key US ally in the struggle against Taliban insurgents, although the NYT notes that it’s far from clear whether he has any appetite for that fight.
Taking a cue from the right-wing blogosphere, the WSJ runs a piece detailing Nancy Pelosi’s financial ties to Texas oilman-turned-windmill builder T. Boone Pickens’ clean energy company. The House speaker and her husband have invested up to $100,000 in the company, a move that, while it violates no House ethics rules, nonetheless highlights onetime Swiftboat-financier Pickens’ unlikely but increasingly close alliances with high-ranking Democrats.
In defense of arugula: The Post weighs in on the salad wars, warning that the McCain camp’s repeated attacks on Obama’s love of arugula could backfire: “I think he has very good taste buds, and I’m a Republican,” says one Californian salad-farmer. Arugula, an all-American staple? Remember, you heard it here first.