With the Olympics finished, Americans need to find something to watch after a two-week immersion in delayed yet fascinating television.

There’s a new game on TV.

It’s presidential politics ’08, with the Democratic Party’s convention now under way in the Mile High City, and the Republicans opening on Labor Day — what a touch — in the Twin Cities.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has picked a running mate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, a Washington fixture whose strengths — foreign policy and demographic alike — complement Obama’s clear power to captivate and lead.

Biden looks like a good choice, right? No, according to some of the pundits. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, political blogger Jerome Armstrong sees the Biden choice as “an exclamation point to the triumph of cynical, win-at-all-cost politics.”

Armstrong argues Biden is “the ultimate Washington insider” who will fight charges from the other side. “It all adds up to what could be the dirtiest, ugliest campaign of the past 80 years,” Armstrong believes. “2008 is a campaign that’s become more politics as usual than change we can believe in. … Choosing Biden shows that the Obama team’s reverence for a new politics has been mugged by reality.”

Armstrong clearly thinks about this stuff a lot. But he may be looking past the obvious.

One reality for Obama is that he needed to demonstrate gravity on world affairs to assure America’s undecided voters. He could have hardly picked better than Biden, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Admit it — you’ve never heard of South Ossetia, and couldn’t find it on a map even after Georgia, the country, and Russia fought about it earlier this month. Biden has been to Georgia. He thinks about Darfur and post-Musharaff Pakistan. His Web site has a picture of Biden with the late Egyptian Anwar Sadat. We’re talking weight.

And we’re talking scrappiness. Biden has his flaws, yes, but he has integrity, too, and he’s been through enough travails to pick his battles, and win some of them. Biden and Sen. John McCain have worked together in the U.S. Senate for years, and they call one another “my friend.” They are genuinely friendly, too, but make no mistake — they don’t agree on subjects, and they’ll get after one another. Does that make for a dirty, ugly campaign? Not if the conflict is substantive. Not if it’s about American foreign policy, the federal deficit, war, Social Security, energy, the economy, rather than houses and hairlines and age. Voters must make the distinction between personal attack and legitimate disagreement over issues. We need more of the latter, less of the former.

We’re not sure who Jerome Armstrong wanted on the Obama ticket. He doesn’t say. Obama could have picked a relatively anonymous Democratic governor, a Washington “outsider.” But would that have helped his chances to win? Armstrong knows Obama has no lock on a November victory. “In order to govern,” Armstrong writes, “you have to win first.”

This crucial decision shows Obama as a man who knows his weaknesses as a candidate, and sought someone to fill out the ticket. Next week, we’ll learn who McCain is running with, and there is further pressure on the Arizona senator to make an excellent decision.

Barack Obama will address the nation this Thursday night from Mile High Stadium. Will Barack have the appeal of Jamaica’s Usain “Lightning” Bolt, world’s fastest human? We’ll have to tune in. — DPP

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