Opinion: Biden's best 'running mate'? The president he served

Former president Barack Obama said all the right things while trying to rally influential Democrats around Joe Biden’s campaign during an online call last week. He decried the Trump Justice Department’s undermining of the rule of law, lamented the country’s drift toward tribalism and declared himself “pretty darn invested” in this year’s election. Video: Obama calls Trump administration’s virus response ‘chaotic disaster’ (MSNBC) Traditionally, former presidents have sought to balance competing imperatives during election years. They try to be loyal party supporters and defenders of their own legacies on one hand, while remaining statesmanlike and muted in their partisan critique on the other. George W. Bush dutifully endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, but he disappeared after that, and if he landed even a glancing blow at Obama, none of us heard it. His primary goal is to be loved (and reelected) by a base of distrustful Americans, and he’s willing to demolish the credibility of our institutions — legal, scientific, media — to achieve it. Gallery: Joe Biden through the years (USA Today) It’s a safe bet that every living ex-president feels that way — and all of them have some responsibility to speak out. But probably none remain as personally admired and as vibrant as Obama, whose election in 2008 still stands as the most aspirational and unifying moment in modern American politics. His strongest argument lies in the idea that the country has undertaken a radical experiment with disastrous consequences, and what it most needs is to restore stability and integrity to the White House. And so Biden, who has described himself as a bridge between moments, would be well served to think of himself as having two running mates this year: one who represents the party’s promising future, and one who summons its hopeful past.