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Analysis: Biden Choice Shows Obama's Pragmatism


NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about reflections on the new Obama-Biden ticket. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What does this pick say, perhaps, about Senator Obama?

LIASSON: Well, it tells us exactly what he wanted it to tell us. You know, candidates are a lot more transparent than you think. And in the last couple of days, he has said that his vice presidential pick would tell voters that he wanted someone who complemented him, not supplemented him, brought experience in an area, in this case, where he has very little, somebody who wasn't a yes man, who'll say what he thinks - we certainly know that about Joe Biden - and someone who would also help him govern. In other words, he was looking for a vice president more than a running mate.

And I think that's what this tells us. It also tells us that he is a pragmatic person. He did not go for someone who would - who's out of the box, someone new, someone who epitomized change to reinforce his message. He feels he does that very well just on his own. He picked a very pragmatic choice. He didn't want to take a big risk.

SIMON: I think we'll talk about - there's some people, obviously, who'd tell you that Senator Biden, for all of his wonderful assets, sometimes can't find the off switch when he's talking. But he can be a really gifted and sharp campaigner, can't he?

LIASSON: There's no doubt that Biden brings a lot to the ticket. You know, this reminds me a lot of the Dick Cheney pick in 2000. At that time, Cheney was from a small, electorally insignificant state, Wyoming. So is Biden, Delaware. But he is a working-class Catholic. He has roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is ground zero of those white working-class voters that Obama still hasn't been able to bring to his side. He has long experience as the chairman of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.

And as you say, although he is known for his verbal missteps, he did impress Obama during his short run for president with his crispness in the debates. And he - one of the most important roles of the vice presidential candidate is to make the kind of attacks that a presidential candidate can't make, and here he is attacking one of the Republicans who was running.

SIMON: Rudy Giuliani. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else.

SIMON: On the other hand, he sometimes says things that he has to explain later.


SIMON: I mean, you've got the first, sort of, mainstream African-American...

U: Yes.

SIMON: Who is articulate, and bright, and clean, and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.

SIMON: I - there's...


SIMON: Yeah, ouch. The clean stuff, and there was something about 7-11s and Indian accents, if you recall that.

LIASSON: Oh, there's been a long list of them. And he had a problem with plagiarism in the 1988 race when he ran for president. In the past, he's had what late-night comics might call a truthiness problem. He misrepresented his college record. But clearly, all that is overwhelmed in Obama's eyes by the strengths that he brings to the ticket.

SIMON: And how does the McCain campaign respond?

LIASSON: Well, the McCain campaign has already responded, and they've responded in an ad. It's already on YouTube, and it opens with a clip from the Democratic primary debate showing Biden standing next to a relatively grim-faced-looking Obama.


U: What does Barack Obama's running mate say about Barack Obama?

U: You were asked, is he ready? You said, I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.

SIMON: I think that I stand by the statement.

LIASSON: Well, there you have it, and the ad goes on to quote Biden saying that John McCain is a personal friend, a great friend, and I would be honored to run with or against John McCain, because I think the country would be better off. So you're going to hear a lot more of Biden's past statements used against him. I think at least on Obama's readiness, he probably has a pretty quick comeback now. He'd say, well, I might not have thought he was ready then, but he certainly is now.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, it has been several weeks later. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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