Jonah Goldberg

Joining Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cambridge cop Sgt. James Crowley and President Obama was a fourth "surprise guest" at last week's "beer summit": Vice President Biden.

Given that the scheduled attendees looked more awkward than Sen. Robert Byrd at the NAACP Image Awards, Biden's presence made lots of sense. If you were Obama, wouldn't you want an oxygen-sucker such as Joltin' Joe to Hoover through all those painful silences with a vomit of words?

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No doubt, Obama figured: It doesn't matter what he has to say, so long as he keeps talking long enough for the press to get its photo-op without Crowley tasing Gates or Gates flipping over the table to shout, "Do you know who I am?" Biden could just simply switch on his mouth's autopilot and jibber-jabber about Iraqi Kurds, socket wrenches, gay basset hounds, Social Security, World War II, World War II-and-a-Half, World War II-and-Three-Quarters and whatever else popped into his mind. Anything to eat up the time would do.

This theory's appeal lies in that it's very hard to figure out what Joe Biden is doing in the Obama administration in the first place, especially since every time he lends the benefit of his experience and insight, the White House corrects him.

Obama's entire campaign was predicated on "turning the page" and bringing a "fresh start" to politics. In particular, Obama insisted that his opposition to the Iraq war was more than merely prescient; it illuminated his superior judgment and fresh thinking.

Yet, when tasked with his "first presidential decision" -- as the cliché about veep picks goes -- he went with Biden, who voted for the Iraq war before he opposed it and who represented the quintessential business-as-usual senator (his main backers were a credit card company and trial lawyers).

Obama said he picked Biden for his unparalleled foreign policy experience and, "above all," because Biden was "ready to step in and be president."

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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