Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm not sure if I like this Kool-Aid

On the one hand, as some talking head noted this morning, Joe Biden, Barack Obama's recently selected running mate, can probably tell you how many homes he has without checking with his staff. He's spent 36 years in the Senate and though he won't be seen anytime soon standing in line for food stamps, he's of modest means compared to his Senate colleagues. That's significant when you consider how many elected officials manage to build a sizable fortune while serving in office. Biden's got integrity.

On the other hand, I've always regarded Biden as something of an arrogant windbag, and as Obama himself has correctly noted, experience doesn't always translate into good judgment, and Biden did not demonstrate the latter when, like Hillary Clinton, he gave George Bush his blank check for Iraq.

There's a third hand, which is that vice presidential nominees rarely if ever have much impact on the final outcome. They aren't difference makers. At best, they can boost your momentum, like Al Gore did for Bill Clinton in 1992, and at worst, they can kill it, the way Dan Quayle did for the first George Bush in 1988. (And what difference did that make in the end?) The days when a pick can truly blow up in your face, like Tom Eagleton did to George McGovern in 1972, are probably long gone. It's too hard to hide your skeletons anymore, and any presidential nominee nowadays that did such a poor job of vetting a VP pick doesn't deserve to get elected.

I heard one pollster this week say that Obama simply needed to pick someone who would make it through the first 72 hourrs without any problems, and so Biden, a rather known quantity, is a safe pick -- perhaps too safe, according to the AP's Ron Fournier:

He picked a 35-year veteran of the Senate - the ultimate insider - rather than a candidate from outside Washington, such as Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; or from outside his party, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; or from outside the mostly white male club of vice presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't even make his short list.

The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn't beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden selection is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative - a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.

Let's face it -- Obama has already demonstrated that he doesn't want to be another noble Democratic loser, and if his brand has to take a hit in the process, so be it. John McCain certainly doesn't seem to be fretting too much over the damage his reputation as a maverick is taking as he tries to make nice with the same evangelicals he spurned in 2000. Something tells me Obama already has the votes sown up of those who want a new kind of politics -- at least those who want it on the left. Sure, he could have made a more daring pick, and I might have been happier if he had. But for far too many voters, Obama is risky enough.

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Blogger djhlights said...

Even though Biden is not my first choice, he is a good one though. I agree with you that I always felt he was a bit of an arrogant ass, but knew his shit.

My family has some experiences with Biden, considering my fathers side of the family is from Wilmington DE. Both of my hard core conservative uncles who are die hard GOP vote for Biden every six years.

In June, I was in Wilmington for business and I met up with my one uncle, a retired firefighter who was injured in the line of duty, at a little out of the way home-style restaurant in the "little italy" that was filled with families of firefighters and cops and sitting in the corner was Joe Biden. I was brought by my Uncle over to meet him and we talked. I was quite impressed. As my uncle and I walked away, he whispered in my ear, "For a politician, he's one of us. He knows that the guys he grew up with are cops, firefighters, or priests. He doesn't forget it and he get's it"

More importantly, my uncle who has no problem using the the n word and had issues with Obama along those lines even though the GOP has driven him nuts was leaning for MCCain. He called me to say he's voting Dem for the first time since Carter.

Biden will hold PA blue and will possibly help get the rust belt. He can talk to the working man that Obama can't.

We'll see but it might just work.

10:00 PM

Blogger Schultz said...

Good analysis of the pick. I think the key statement is

Let's face it -- Obama has already demonstrated that he doesn't want to be another noble Democratic loser, and if his brand has to take a hit in the process, so be it.

Obama picked Biden because he wants to win AND he wants to have a VP who could work well with him. There are a lot of voters still on the fence. They don't want to vote for another Republican but there is a perception that Obama does not have enough experience. I think Biden will help bring some of these fence sitters over to the Obama side since he fills that experience gap, especially in foreign policy. I think Kaine and Sebelius, while being new faces in the Democratic party, would have been a huge risk if selected by Obama.

10:07 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

It's good to hear a story like that. I hope you are right.

1:54 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Just a note -- my comment above was in response to DJ's comment, but I think Schultz makes a good point.

Building on that point, there is one recent VP pick that I overlooked, perhaps because of all the baggage he has picked up during his tenure as vice president -- Dick Cheney. I'm sure Biden would not be pleased by such a comparison, but let's remember that Bush faced some of the same criticism as Obama: He was a political lightweight whose term and a half as Texas governor left him without the requisite foreign policy experience. (Not to mention the problems he had with conservatives because of his father.)

Cheney seemed like a safe if boring pick, someone who brought experience and gravitas to the ticket. I don't think Cheney made a huge difference, but I do think his presence on the ticket made it easier for people to vote for Bush despite their doubts.

1:59 PM


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