By- Suzie-Q @ 3:00 PM MST
Sen. Joe Biden does his sound check for his speech tonight at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Tannen Maury / EPA
Joe Biden’s task: delivering campaign punches that Barack Obama must pull
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
10:03 AM PDT, August 27, 2008
The Democratic running mate takes the stage tonight to begin the job of attacking the GOP. As the first black candidate and a ‘post-partisan’ change agent, Obama hands are tied in that regard.
DENVER — With the vice presidential nomination speech tonight by Joe Biden, Democrats will meet Barack Obama’s bad cop — an attacker who will not hesitate to go hard after the Republicans.
But why is Obama, a gifted orator who has already defeated one of America’s most powerful political families, in such desperate need of the help?
After all, to the frustration of many activists gathered here for the Democratic National Convention, GOP contender John McCain has no compunction about taking after Obama, sometimes with harsh language. And as Hillary Rodham Clinton showed Tuesday night in her own prime time speech to the Democratic convention, she would not have hesitated to go on the attack, either, if she were the Democrats’ nominee.
But Obama has a different, and far more delicate, calculation.
In part, Obama, who tonight will formally become his party’s presidential nominee, is limited by his own decision to build a political persona as a “post-partisan” leader with a conciliatory tone designed to appease independents and Republicans.
Moreover, Obama is trying to convince America to elect its first black president – a task that requires rewriting the traditional playbook that is safe for a white candidate.
“He cannot hit back,” said Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a close friend and advisor to Obama. “He has to keep smiling. No one wants an angry African American man in the White House.”
Jackson knows that better than most. It was his father, the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who built a movement with electrifying presidential runs in 1984 and 1988 — but who campaigned by preaching tough, colorful sermons that appealed to black voters but prevented him from being a mainstream candidate.
Obama’s success – his ability to win support from whites and blacks alike – has stemmed from his ability to distance himself from Jackson and other traditional civil rights leaders.
Strategists fear that going on the attack now could upend the very careful balance that has worked so far.
Now, Obama can only hope that Biden does his part.
Biden’s speech is the expected focal point of tonight’s Democratic gathering, which will include two other highlights: the voting in which the party’s delegates formally name Obama as their presidential nominee, and a speech by former President Clinton. The convention concludes on Thursday with a prime time speech by Obama before more than 70,000 supporters at a football stadium.
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