Sen. Barack Obama is obviously looking at his own real or perceived
weaknesses and going after the strengths Sen. Joe Biden brings to his
campaign. What does he get in Biden?

Experience in Washington and in foreign policy.

Polls have consistently shown voters trust Sen. McCain more than Sen. Obama on foreign policy and national security issues.

“Biden talks about foreign policy the way the rest of us talk about
baseball,” said Larry Rasky, a longtime political adviser to the
Delaware senator. “He lives it and breathes it.”

Sen. Biden also has been a fixture for a generation on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, where he developed a reputation as a staunch
partisan in some of the earliest and most vitriolic battles over the
Supreme Court. As chairman of that panel, he presided over the
controversial confirmation hearings of conservative jurists Robert Bork
in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991. (He voted against both. Judge
Bork’s nomination was defeated. Justice Thomas was confirmed).

I recall clearly Biden’s performance – which some network anchors
joked about, Biden got so verbally animated – in the Senate
confirmation hearings for both Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel
Alito.

Which is another thing Obama gets, a running mate well known to be verbally animated.

That will be a staple of Republican attacks in coming
days. About 6 a.m. Saturday, the McCain campaign released a 30-second
television it said would air in key states, that opens with Sen. Biden
being asked about comments he had made saying Sen. Obama wasn’t ready
to be president. “I stand by that statement,” he said. It then shows a
separate television clip of him praising Sen. McCain.

That’s already airing, and it is effective.

Another possible weakness in the Biden pick: The verbose
lawmaker is known for regular verbal gaffes that prompt him to retract
them. Last year, when he announced his presidential candidacy, Sen.
Biden’s comments about Sen. Obama made news when he referred to the
Illinois senator as a “clean” African-American. “I mean, you got the
first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and
clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook,
man.” Stunned by the reaction to his comment and clearly embarrassed,
Sen. Biden quickly issued an apology, both to Sen. Obama and the
public. At a candidate forum shortly afterwards, Sen. Obama said he was
convinced that Sen. Biden meant no offense by the statement.

Time recalled that gaffe as the lead in its piece on Biden.

The day Joe Biden officially launched his 2008
presidential run in February of 2007, he virtually ended it with a
classic Biden gaffe — this one involving the man on whose ticket he’ll
be a part of in the race for the White House…Although Obama brushed
aside the comment, other prominent African-Americans and much of the
Washington political class came down hard on Biden.

“Much will be made” of that comment in the coming days, Time says,
but they turn Biden’s reputation for animated attacks into a plus. 

Most of all, where Obama is reserved and cautious in a
political knife-fight, Biden comes out swinging. Tapping Biden is a
signal that the Obama campaign is ready for a battle — and to take the
risks that come with it. 

Actually, Obama’s camp has been swift and strong in swinging back at
the McCain camp, so that’s misleading. But on to more important issues.

Obama also needs help with key voting blocks such as
Catholics and white, blue-collar swing voters. Biden ranks with Ted
Kennedy among the Senate’s best-known and longest-serving Catholics.

Let’s look at that, because we’re going to be hearing that a lot in the coming weeks.

Barack Obama’s chosen runningmate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden,
is a Roman Catholic who would become, if elected, the first Catholic
vice-president of the U.S. Like many Catholic elected officials in the
U.S., he runs afoul of church teachings on abortion rights, but cites
church teachings on a variety of social justice concerns. His selection
is likely to rekindle the debate over whether Catholic politicians who
support abortion rights should receive Communion.

This revives the issue of the Catholic divide, between those who
‘run afoul of church teachings’ and interpret them to fit a liberal
view of human rights and social justice…..and those whose public
actions are informed by Church teachings on all matters of human rights
and peace and justice.

Sen. Biden openly embraces his Catholic faith. But…

According to Project Vote Smart, Biden voted with
Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America 100 percent of the time
in 2006. He differs from the Catholic Church’s leaders in other areas
as well — he initially supported the Iraq War (although he has since
become a critic), he opposes a federal ban on same-sex marriage
(although in 1996 he supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act), he
supports the death penalty and he has supported embryonic stem cell
research.

Fundamental to that record is his position on the right to life,
before discussing the morality of war or the definition of marriage.
Because arguments over the rest of the issues of the day don’t hold up
coherently if they aren’t premised on all rights stemming (as it does
in the Constitution) to the right to life. Which is what the Church
teaches.

The piece looks at the Catholic divide, and cites this press release today by Fidelis, though it only cites a couple of lines. Here’s more:

Fidelis warned late last month that a pro-abortion
Catholic choice as a vice presidential candidate would offend many
Catholics who have struggled with the scandal of prominent pro-abortion
Catholic politicians like Senator Biden.

Fidelis President Brian Burch commented, “Barack Obama has re-opened
a wound among American Catholics by picking a pro-abortion Catholic
politician. The American bishops have made clear that Catholic
political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person,
including the unborn.  Sadly, Joe Biden’s tenure in the United States
Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion.”

Obama is hoping Biden brings the Catholic vote. However…

“Now everywhere Biden campaigns, we’ll have this
question of whether a pro-abortion Catholic can receive Communion.
Senator Biden is an unrepentant supporter of abortion in direct
opposition to the Church he claims as his own. Selecting a pro-abortion
Catholic is a slap in the face to Catholic voters,” said Burch.

The Catholics Biden will attract are more in the camp the Boston Globe piece quotes next, the group called Catholics United.

“Senator Biden’s well-known commitment to his Catholic
faith has inspired his advocacy on issues such as genocide, universal
health care, education, workers’ rights, and violence against women.

(There are those, especially involved in South Dakota’s sweeping task force report, who believe that abortion is violence against women. Including organizations of women who have suffered from abortion. But back to Catholics United…) 

We are optimistic that Senator Biden’s history of
seeking practical means of addressing abortion will help move our
nation beyond the divisive, acrimonious, and unproductive debate that
has come to surround the issue.

(What makes it divisive, acrimonious and unproductive would make for a good examination.)

Senator Biden accepts his church’s teachings on human
life and can work to advance these teachings in ways that Americans of
all political persuasions can support.

That’s a contradiction. If Sen. Biden accepted his church’s teachings on human life, he could not support abortion.

Catholics United is especially hopeful that operatives
on the far right will refrain from using Senator Biden’s faith and the
teachings of the Catholic Church as political weapons in the coming
campaign. Faith and values should be used to unite Americans behind
solutions to the key challenges of this age – war, poverty, lack of
health care, and a looming climate crisis – and not as partisan wedges
to divide voters.”

What about operatives on the far left? Catholic operatives, among
others on the religious left (that we hear little about in the media)
use the teachings of the Catholic Church as political weapons. It’s the
bishops who apply those teachings as the basis for morally informed
choices in public life, as Fidelis points out.

Biden’s own bishop, Bishop Michael Saltarelli of
Wilmington, Del., has said that the issues pertaining to the sanctity
of human life are the “great civil rights issues of this generation.”
 
Bishop Saltarelli denounced the notion that politicians can ‘personally
oppose’ abortion, but refuse to pass laws protecting the unborn.

“No one today would accept this statement from any public servant:
‘I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not
impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’ Likewise, none
of us should accept this statement from any public servant: “I am
personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal
conviction in the legislative arena,” said Bishop Saltarelli.

Faithful citizenship. Here’s more. Now that we have a Catholic vice-presidential candidate, it will be a good reference source from now to election day.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....