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The best thing to say for Barack Obama’s choice of Senator Joseph Biden as a running mate is that it might have been worse. OK, a lot worse: Joe Biden is not Dick Cheney, after all. But neither is he the mythical character portrayed by reporters–a senator who is wise and thoughtful, deeply experienced and always affable, loyal and liberal, blah, blah, blah.

Biden is a club member–the old Washington club that Obama says he intends to displace. Choosing him has limited political merit, and is mainly to reassure folks that an Obama White House will include an experienced old hand who has chaired the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. Biden knows the way through the Washington labyrinth, a valuable asset for a less experienced President. But, as usual, the Washington press corps got carried away in extolling Biden’s virtues simply because he’s a guy they know.

For many years, Biden has carried water for the credit-card industry and its usurious lending practices. He helped engineer the draconian bankruptcy bill, which has tightened the screws on millions of families sinking into debt. Odd that this accomplishment is usually left off his résumé. Defenders would say the senator was merely representing his home state, where several of the largest credit-card banks are located. Delaware has long been famous as a legal free-fire zone for corporations. If President Obama sets out to reform corrupted corporate capitalism, he will have an expert at his elbow. The mainstream press is also trumpeting Biden’s appeal to the common man, hailing his blue-collar Scranton roots–even though Biden supported the key “free trade” bills of the 1990s, including those producing NAFTA and the WTO, which have harmed workers everywhere.

Biden’s reputation as a foreign-policy thinker is likewise grossly inflated. Like so many Democrats, he jumped on board for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. When disaster ensued, he admitted error and became a staunch critic. But he then embraced an arrogant kind of neocolonialism by promoting the partition of Iraq into three sub-regions. If Iraqis wish to divide their nation into ethnic enclaves, they can decide this themselves–no need for condescending lectures from US senators. Biden is also among the enthusiasts for expanding the NATO alliance eastward to squeeze and encircle Russia. That strategy has blown up in the faces of Democrats and Republicans with the recent clash in the Republic of Georgia. Does Joe Biden believe, like John McCain, that the United States must come to the defense of the reckless Georgian government, which taunted Moscow and wound up getting its butt kicked? On some important matters, Barack Obama is in big trouble if he follows the counsel of this particular elder statesman.

On the other hand, Biden was instrumental in the fight to overturn the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and he has a stellar record in fighting for progressive judicial appointments. Plus, he wrote and pushed through the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and he has a solid environmental record.

You wouldn’t know it from the media frenzy over Veep selections this summer, but the fact is that running mates have rarely been decisive in presidential elections. The voters will make their choice in November between the competing visions of Barack Obama and John McCain.