By Sarah Lai Stirland
Barack Obama’s campaign finally texted his choice for vice president in the wee hours of Saturday morning: As reported, he’s chosen Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate.
Though he’s known best for his foreign policy credentials, the 66-year-old senator’s work on the Senate Judiciary Committee has put him in the middle of most of the defining issues of the internet age — epic fights over intellectual property, privacy and antitrust law.
The role of the vice president in influencing an administration’s tone and policy varies with the character of the executive teams occupying the White House, but as Al Gore demonstrated while Bill Clinton’s vice president, there are plenty of opportunities for the veep to push specific items to the top of the agenda.
“They can be a thought leader, a convener, a driver of national strategy, an exhorter to industry,” said Larry Irving, a former adviser to the Clinton White House, earlier this week.
Biden, a 30-plus-year veteran of the senate, has been a strong supporter of civil liberties. Most recently, he diverged from Obama’s position when he voted in July against a controversial bill that legalized President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The legislation also provided legal immunity to the telecommunications providers subjected of dozens of lawsuits for participating in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
And during the fall 2005 senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Biden grilled Roberts in his views of privacy in the high-tech age — an issue Biden said was of equal importance to Roe v. Wade.
But Biden’s most-recent reputation in D.C. on telecom issues is more ambiguous, particularly when it comes to net neutrality. Though he ostensibly supported the concept as a presidential candidate during this election cycle, in hearings on Capitol Hill he’s been a hesitant supporter for pro net-neutrality legislation.
On the intellectual property front, Biden doesn’t seem to have strayed from the rest of the judiciary committee democrats’ stance of being more of a friend to Hollywood than to Silicon Valley.
Like many other members of congress, on the relatively infrequent occasions when he does talk about intellectual property, his focus is on piracy. He co-chairs the congressional international anti-piracy caucus. Earlier this year, the group fingered specific trading partners, countries where it said digital-copyright piracy had reached “alarming levels.” The group of countries included China, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Greece and Spain.
The group didn’t recommend any specific sanctions against the countries, but Biden repeated an often-heard line on the Hill at the time.
“Our ideas, our music, our books, our movies, our innovations are just as precious as any tangible property,” he said. “With new technologies coming out at warp speed, this global problem will only get worse.”
Back in 2002, Biden also authored a controversial anti-counterfeiting bill that was amended to include a draconian provision that would have made it a de facto crime to replicate a digital-rights management under any circumstances. Critics decried the idea because they said it would crimp individuals’ ability to play their media on devices of their choosing. Violators of the law would have faced prison sentences of up to five years and civil penalties of up to $25,000.
Though he might be known for his foreign policy credentials, Biden often is no diplomat.
As Slate‘s John Dickerson joked in a recent Twitter post, Obama might introduce the senator from Delaware and explain his pick by saying that he’s a “clean and articulate” and “a nice-looking guy.”
Biden caused a furor in February 2007 when he was quoted on Obama by The New York Observer.
At the time, he said: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Biden subsequently apologized for the remark.
But when they’re timed right, his blunt remarks can also be a riot. During the CNN YouTube debate last July, when asked about what they liked about the candidate next to them, Biden quipped that he didn’t like anything about Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
Then he added: “But the thing I like about him most is his wife.”
Kucinich is married to 31-year-old Elizabeth Kucinich, who’s six foot tall and made a striking impression on the campaign trail with her long red hair and good looks.
In an obvious ploy to build its databases of voter contact information, the Obama campaign promised that it would let supporters know about his vice presidential pick via text message.
The campaign has drawn out the release of its announcement for so long that some people started to prank each other with fake texting announcements.
Twitter became an often hilarious watercooler network of Obama VP pick jokes as people frittered away their Friday wondering who it would be.
“Just warning you Obama, if your txt wakes me up I’ll be much less enthusiastic about your veep choice,” tweeted Joel Davis late Friday night.
The warning, it turned out, was prescient: Obama texted his choice for Biden at 3 am Saturday morning East Coast time.
The message urged supporters to watch the first Obama-Biden rally at 3 pm Eastern on Barackobama.com.