In 2006, I was covering a fundraiser for the Ohio Democratic Party and the big draws were two U.S. Senators who would be speaking. Typically these events are stone snoozers usually confined to insiders, political groupies and reporters like me looking for anything that moves that might present an interesting story hook.
The senators were Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
At the press conference Obama entered first. He walked in with no handlers, no aides, nothing like the horde that moves with his every move now. Like everyone else there I was well aware that his name was being prominently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but once again this was the summer of ’06 and the snows of the Iowa primaries were still many months away.
Obama stopped and spoke to everyone in the room and I mean everyone. He shook hands with local officials, reporters, and even the photographers and TV cameramen and nobody pays them any attention. He stepped over to me and extended his hand.
I’ve interviewed my fair share of politicians, musicians, public officials and an actor or two. None of them impressed me as much as Obama did in that brief encounter. He looked me directly in the eye, gave a firm handshake and spoke to me directly. That’s not what most politicians do when they’re gladhanding. They give your hand a quick squeeze, make a brief acknowledgment of your existence and move on the next schmuck in line.
I’ve never met Bill Clinton, but from what I’ve been told by those who have, he has the very unique ability to make you believe in the time you’re talking to him, he is totally into you and whatever irrelevant bullshit you may be rattling on about. Much has been written about Clinton’s rock-star vibe.
Whatever that intangible “it” is, Barack Obama has it.
After Obama delivered the standard and obligatory “Bush bad, Democrats good” stump speech, he left the room and in came Biden.
Biden is a trim, white-haired liberal from Delaware who has a considerable political resume but the reputation of being a stiff and long-winded speaker. He breezed through, shook hands, made a few remarks, and moved on to whatever the local pols needed him for.
If Obama is too cool for the room, Biden is the consumate professional who’s too chilly to be cool.
Now he’s going to try and help get Obama in and keep John McCain out of the White House.
The Republicans will sneer that the Democratic ticket is just two out-of-touch liberals who love Big Government and bigger taxes. The thing of it is Biden’s presence on the ticket shores up Obama’s foreign policy weaknesses and experience issues. People don’t vote for vice-presidents, but they do say something about the caliber of persons a potential President might look for in his Cabinet.
Biden is a satisfactory, if not particularly exciting pick. As McCain has had his own private surge in the polls to turn the race into a dead heat, August has been a rough month for the Obama campaign. Going into the national convention next week in Denver they could use some good news.