LOS ANGELES – Poor Joe Biden.
On paper, you could make the case that he’s the most experienced and capable candidate in the race for the White House. He is running for president after 24 years in the United States Senate, not the 24 months Barack Obama spent there before deciding to become a candidate.
In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, he was really the only candidate to offer a comprehensive and thoughtful response that connected the crisis in Pakistan with the short shrift we have given to Afghanistan and the fight against Al Qaeda there, which in turn encourages extremists and extremism across the border. Sounds right.
In a speech in Iowa, the Delaware senator, who has gotten himself in trouble more than once for saying what he shouldn’t, couldn’t resist taking a swipe at his fellow candidates for the emptiness of their responses.
"Observe what's been going on in Pakistan and you'll see not many candidates have spoken out," Biden said. "And those few who have spoken don't make a lot of sense."
Pressed later, no doubt in the hopes that he would name one of the frontrunners, he singled out Bill Richardson instead, who has more foreign policy experience than any number of other contenders, but whose suggestion that Musharraf step down and make way for a coalition government ignores the fact that there isn’t any coalition to make way for. Biden attacking Richardson is not exactly front page news, or the stuff of headlines. By tomorrow, I promise, it will be forgotten even by those who bothered to note it in the first place.
Responding to the common view that he is running for Secretary of State rather than president, Biden sensibly points out that no, he’s running for president, but why would anyone want a president who isn’t also qualified to be Secretary of State?
I won’t name names, but you can fill in the blanks. Pick your party. You won’t find a lot of contenders for Secretary of State. Mike Huckabee? I don’t think so. John Edwards? Not on the short list. You get my drift.
But it doesn’t matter.
That’s the irony of presidential politics. Joe Biden is about to disappear in the back of the pack, to be winnowed out in Iowa, not because he’s not qualified but because it doesn’t matter that he is. It doesn’t matter that he understands what’s wrong with our policy in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter that he has a whole series of solutions to problems that we should be worrying about around the world. Being qualified doesn’t get you the media attention and the money that are essential to be taken seriously as a candidate. If you’re not taken seriously as a candidate, you don’t get the media attention and the money. It’s a vicious cycle, at least when you’re on the outside, which is where Biden is, and breaking it is almost impossible.
Biden is not, to state the obvious, a woman or a minority. He is not as good a speaker as Edwards. He doesn’t have Oprah on his side. He doesn’t have a spouse who was president. He is not, in any way, shape or form, a political rock star.
This year, Huckabee is the only candidate of either party to break out of the second tier, and he has done so in large part by appealing to the ideologues in his party. But Biden is not an ideologue’s candidate. He’s just a qualified guy who might make a fine president at a time when we could really use someone in the job who understands how the world works, and doesn’t, and what role America should play in it. And that is not enough. Not even close.
Sorry Joe. Nice try, anyway.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.