A VP candidate enters the race. And just days later the top of the ticket is doing cleanup, trying to convince the media his No. 2 did nothing wrong. But of course, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been nearly pitch-perfect; it was President Obama who had to venture out to the media (okay, it was People magazine and Entertainment Tonight, but still) to explain Joe Biden’s obnoxious comments to a Virginia audience that Republicans wanted to put “y’all back in chains.” The president seemed to have concluded that this was a serious enough issue to require expenditure of his own political capital.

The Associated Press reports:

In an interview with People magazine on Wednesday, Obama said Biden’s remarks meant consumers would be worse off if Republicans succeeded in doing away with new restraints on financial institutions.

“In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that,” Obama said.

Biden made the comments Tuesday in Danville, Va., while saying that Republicans want to deregulate financial institutions - or, as Biden put it, to “`unchain Wall Street.”

Hundreds of black people were in the audience when Biden added, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” . . .

“The truth is that during the course of these campaigns, folks like to get obsessed with how something was phrased even if everybody personally understands that’s not how it was meant,” Obama told the magazine. “That’s sort of the nature of modern campaigns and modern coverage of campaigns. But I tell you, when I’m traveling around Iowa, that’s not what’s on people’s minds.”

Now that is rich for a campaign that has played the gotcha game from day one. But the press doesn’t quite manage the same level of faux outrage as when Mitt Romney said he didn’t worry about the poor as much as the middle class because the poor has a safety net, which, he added, may need to be fixed.

Two prominent African American politicians nevertheless let Biden have it. Former Democratic congressman and now Republican Artur Davis blasted Biden. (“It’s a divisive tactic that’s insulting to African Americans.”) Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder (D) did as well. The Post reports:

“Without question they were appeals to race,” Wilder told CNN. “And if you don’t argue with that, then you understand that, then the next question is why? Why do you feel you need to do that? But the more important thing that I got out of this was Biden separated himself from what he accused the people of doing. As a matter of fact what he said is, they are going to do something to y’all, not to me, not us. So he was still involved with that separate America. And I’m sick and tired of being considered something other than an American.” . . .

“If Hilary were on that ticket today, based on the job she’s done as secretary of state, I think there would be a clearer advantage the president would be seeing,” said Wilder, who was elected Virginia’s governor in 1989 and briefly ran for president in late 1991. “It’s not going to happen. It’s too late. I think she’ll be getting herself together for 2016.”

“What the president needs to do is to disassociate himself from trying to show anybody that division is what this administration is about,” Wilder told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Ouch. Biden is the ham-handed bearer of the Obama message. When advisers say the president needs to “turn out the base,” Biden thinks he’s helping to do just that. He is unfortunately without any internal censor or tact.

The incident is noteworthy not because Biden is a racist. He’s not. However, it does suggest the acute double standard in assessing the parties’ VP picks.

And, yes, Obama chose Biden and Romney picked Ryan, so it says something about the judgment of the two presidential combatants. That Obama felt the need to do damage control suggests the Obama team is rattled by Romney’s skewering of the president’s in-the-gutter tactics.

Most important, however, is that Biden has laid bare the ugly divide-and-conquer strategy that is at the heart of the Obama campaign. He didn’t mask it as well as the president usually does, but the Obama campaign is out to pump, by any means necessary, its base. If that means unilaterally changing immigration law or using fiery rhetoric or calling Romney a felon, so be it. Biden reminds us in what low regard his boss holds the voters (disdain, some might call it) and how antithetical that approach is to the ultimate goal of a presidential contender, which is (in case it got lost in the mud) governing in a diverse and polarized society.