I've always loved Joe Biden (and by always I mean since the primaries started). I thought he was easily the winner of most of those early debates, and I was thrilled when he was picked by Obama to be VP. There's a great article by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek about Biden that is a must read. The article was written (at least in part) after Thursday's debate and covers a wide range of subjects, from the circumstances under which Biden accepted the VP job, to Biden's emotional moment in the debate, to Biden's thoughts on John McCain. I highly recommend you read the entire article yourself, but after the jump I'll have a few excerpts along with my thoughts.
Also see Jackbauer8393's diary about this article.
Biden shares the steps which led up to him being selected VP:
When Obama phoned in June to tell him he wanted to vet him, Biden said OK, but that he might well decline. He consulted with longtime advisers Ted Kaufman and Ron Klain and went back and forth on whether the vice presidency was really the best place for him to have influence with an Obama administration. It helped that all spring Obama had called him every other week or so to get his thinking on varied matters (like how to question Gen. David Petraeus when he testified). They both knew that the role of the veep under Obama would not be like Dick Cheney's, but the terms remained to be worked out.
I love the behind the scenes stuff. Two things in particular jump out at me. The first is that it sounds like Biden seriously wrestled with the idea, and on some level considered turning it down. Before accepting a job of this nature, I think some serious self reflection is necessary. This may literally be the most important decision Biden makes in his entire life, he may end up (God forbid) President of the United States. Palin on the other hand, at least according to her Gibson interview, couldn't wait to say yes. "I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink". I'm not sure there are any conditions under which Palin would have turned down job. That sort of leap before you look attitude is frightening and shows her unbridled ambition.
The second thing that struck me is that throughout the vetting process, Obama called Biden regularly to seek his advice. Despite their history in the senate, Obama sought greater familiarity with Biden. Obama was trying to determine whether Biden was a person who gave sound advice. Further it seems Obama was trying to gauge their chemistry and build a comfort level. You believe Obama when he says that he picked someone that he wants in the room with him when big decisions are made. McCain by contrast only spoke with Palin on two separate occasions before offering her the job. TWICE! So when McCain says as he did this week that he's turned to Palin for advice many times in the past and would do so in a foreign policy crisis, nobody believes him. Obama's pick was made with governance in mind, and thus required a lengthy "get to know you period". McCain's pick was made to win over the base and generate excitement, therefore he really didn't need to have a solid relationship with her, she was picked for her superficial attributes.
So what terms did Biden demand:
At a secret meeting in mid-August at the Graves 601 Hotel in St. Paul, Minn., that lasted two to three hours, Obama told him it wouldn't work unless Biden viewed the vice presidency as "the capstone" of his career, not a step down.
Biden, who had stayed neutral in the Democratic primaries after dropping out in January, told Obama that he was "ready to be second fiddle" and sought no specific portfolio—but only if he got a guaranteed hourlong, one-on-one session with the president every week (like Al Gore's lunches with Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush's with Ronald Reagan) and a presence at all important meetings. Obama said yes, that he wanted him for his judgment and for his help in enacting a big legislative agenda. And so the job was defined: "My role will be to say, 'Boss, here's the way I'd go about it'."
It sounds like it was a serious meeting between two serious men. Biden had specific demands that he needed to be met, and Obama did as well. Details of McCain's meeting with Palin have yet to trickle out, but I can't imagine it being nearly as substantive. The Obama-Biden meeting wasn't a get to know you meeting, those preliminaries were already out of the way. This was the final job interview, the final negotiation, to ensure that the two were on the same page.
Here's my favorite part of the article:
Biden says Obama reminds him of Bill Clinton in his "confidence, cognitive ability, judgment" and intellectual security—that he can listen and absorb advice without having to prove he's the smartest person in the room, a critical leadership skill. He says he experienced an "epiphany" during a recent conference call on the bailout bill with Bob Rubin, Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett, Paul O'Neill, Joseph Stiglitz, Larry Summers and Laura Tyson. "He [Obama] comes on the call and says, 'Well, folks, sorry I'm late. I've got four questions.' He was in total frigging command! Here's a 47-year-old guy in one of the most complicated economic dilemmas anyone has had to face since 1929 to '33. And it was like, 'Bang! Bang! Bang!' I called him afterward and said, 'You sold me, sucker!' "
This shows how impressive Obama is behind the scenes. We are only privy to the public Obama who oscillates between being inspiring and being a little wonkish. But campaigning is different than governing, and anecdotes like this really demonstrate what a great President Obama will make. Even Joe Biden, who at the time this meeting took place had been Obama's running mate for several weeks, was like "Holy Crap, this guy's the real deal". In every story I've read of accounts of Obama behind the scenes and in meetings, people are always left impressed. Whether it's Caroline Kennedy who was impressed with how Obama handled the VP vetting process, to the stories that trickled out about Obama's performance in the "photo-op" that Bush arranged for McCain at the White House to talk about the bail-out bill, the consensus is that Obama seems to shine in meetings. McCain, on other hand, at least in that White House meeting, had little to add and despite his proclamations that he's a leader, I've yet to read one story in which he demonstrates leadership.
There is some other great stuff in the article including this line, "[Biden] doesn't think McCain has sold out his principles because he was never a maverick to begin with." There's no question that we have the far better team in this race.
Update: Wow! First time on rec list. Whoo-hooo!!! Thanks all.