As an avid Knicks fan I remember when I first heard that Latrell Sprewell had wrapped his hands around P.J. Carlesimo's throat after a disagreement during practice. All the basketball fans I knew thought it was an outrage and I agreed with the general consensus that Sprewell was a thug who should be thrown out of the league.
Until, of course, Spree was traded to the Knicks. Overnight, I changed my tune from "the guy's a bum" to "brilliant move -- everyone knows that Latrell Sprewell is the second-best two guard in the NBA. . . ." Spree went on to justify my somewhat contrived faith in him. He never tried to choke Jeff Van Gundy or any of his teammates and led an overachieving Knicks squad from the lowly eighth seed of the Eastern Conference to the NBA finals.
I had lunch with an elected official (Democrat) in Portland, Maine, last Tuesday while the veep question was still up in the air. I asked him who he thought would get the nod. "Biden," he said with a rather sheepish look on his face. "Have you heard something?" I inquired in disbelief. He didn't answer the question directly but just shook his head again. "Looks like Biden," he said.
I was absolutely incredulous. "Biden?" Ignoring my lunch, I stared out into space. To me, Tim Kaine seemed like a no-brainer. He's governor of Virginia, a swing state that Obama could win. He's Catholic, which might come in handy when the inevitable anti-Obama infanticide commercials start airing in September. He speaks fluent Spanish. Si se puente, bitches! Also, as first term governor of Virginia, he is decidedly not a Washington insider. Change -- that's why we're all still paying attention, right?
That night, I turned on the cable news networks to find they were all over Biden. What the frack?
Like NBA players, I think there are two kinds of politicians -- we'll call them Type A and Type B. Type A players are the money athletes/politicians, those who make the key plays when real stakes are involved. Type B people are capable of racking up all sorts of impressive stats when nothing is on the line (i.e. during the regular season) but never seem to rise to the occasion in the big game.
Now, don't get me wrong. Generally, I think Biden is quite capable and I know he has a distinguished record as a Senator and all of that. He also has a well-documented knack for putting his foot in his mouth at the most inopportune time. Remember how his 2008 presidential campaign started? He announced he was running and then almost immediately sabotaged his own chances by declaring that Obama was "clean" and "articulate" [for a black man].
Interestingly enough, after his presidential bid all but ended with that remark, he actually performed ably in the debates and otherwise comported himself like a man who could get the job done. Nevertheless, when his presidential bid ground to a halt after Iowa everyone I knew that was following the race breathed a sigh of relief. As for me personally, I didn't quite get around to calling him a bum -- more like a decent guy that everyone understood didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being president.
As the week rolled on I tried to reconcile myself to the possibility of an Obama-Biden ticket. True, Biden may bring a certain gravitas to the campaign and he is an Irish Catholic who speaks fluent white working class (I just reminded myself of the little old lady in "Airplane" who taps a stewardess on the shoulder as she's trying to communicate with two black passengers to let the stewardess know that she "speak[s] jive . . . ").
Additionally, his foreign policy credentials are impeccable. Bottom line - he's a white guy with white hair and lots of experience who can communicate with the very demographic that Obama hasn't yet mastered. I get it. Plus, Biden is a guy that you really want to like especially given his tragic/heroic past as a family man. Nonetheless, despite the rational arguments, something still nagged at me about Biden.
Then I watched his speech on Saturday afternoon. As I listened to him "bluster," flub and gaffe his way through his (clearly under-rehearsed) inaugural speech as veep candidate it hit me. For all of his credentials and experience, Biden might be one of those Type B guys.
The contrast between Biden and Obama couldn't have been more pronounced even with Obama mis-announcing Biden as the "next president of the United States." Obama, despite his "inexperience," is clearly Type A, and gave a ringing, inspiring speech to open Saturday's festivities. Then, well . . .Biden. It wasn't exactly Hendrix following the Who at Monterey if you know what I mean. I will say that despite the awkwardness of Biden's speech it was delivered with Biden-esque passion and did have its high points.
Like Sprewell, Biden is a guy that I was not entirely enthused about before he joined my "team" and, like Spree, I'm now trying to give Biden the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, even as I listened to the pundits declare the occasion a success, in the immediate aftermath of the speech, I kept picturing the (seemingly) inevitable Biden-Romney debate. Romney sitting up there like the chameleon that he is, effortlessly confounding everyone by shifting his stance on any and all issues at will and right in front of our eyes, devilish/idiotic grin on his face, while Biden flub-dubbed along, fumbling and stumbling. Yes, I know Biden performed much better than that during the recent Dem debates, but nonetheless, I couldn't get the vision out of my head.
When I shared these thoughts with my wife, she shrugged. "Maybe it's all theater," she said matter-of-factly.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Maybe that's his job. You know, to NOT be the smooth one. To talk to everyday people in their own language . . . "
At first, I dismissed this as nonsense. Then, I saw one of those Michael Jordan/Cuba Gooding Jr. commercials for Hahnes' underwear and predictably started thinking about Jordan's championship teams. Jordan, the ultimate example of a Type A player, didn't necessarily need a team full of ultra-alpha Type As, but instead found success when his talent was augmented by teammates who had specific roles to fill. Teammates who were content with their limited role.
"That's it!" I thought. Biden can be a successful veep candidate IF he accepts his limited role and performs it well. However, one of the first things a role player needs to accept is that he is NOT the main guy. Obama is the Jordan on this team, and Biden, well... it remains to be seen whether he's more like a Luc Longley or a Steve Kerr. Given Biden's prodigious mouth, his six Senate terms and his two presidential runs, it remains to be seen whether or not he can actually handle his new gig as the number two guy.
But the more I think about this ticket, the more it makes sense. While Obama has clearly recognized the need to be more aggressive in attacking McCain, he's obviously more comfortable above the fray, where he can get away from politics as usual and perhaps reincarnate himself as the inspiring "change" candidate of a few months ago. Biden is ready and able to fill the attack dog role, both offensively and defensively, which frees Obama up to do what he does best and most effectively. In terms of the white working class voters, I don't suppose that Biden could do any worse with these voters than Obama's doing now. Ditto for voters concerned with Obama's perceived lack of foreign policy experience.
Either way, Biden is now a role player, and it will be most interesting to see: 1. How the Obama team decides to deploy Biden (besides the obvious attack-dog role); and 2. If Biden can come off the bench and get the job done for the Obama squad in the coming weeks without throwing the whole game in the process.