Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama's Veepstakes Catastrophe

I often heard, over the couple of months leading up to the national party conventions, that the vice-presidential selection by the major-party nominees amounted to the first defining test of the candidates' qualifications for the office.

If that's true, Barack Obama's selection of Senator Joseph Biden as running mate should disqualify him as President of the United States.

As the shape of the presidential horse gains clarity, it's looking like the Illinois Senator failed his first major test, the "veepstakes." As James at The Real World indicates, the selection of Biden "remains one of the great mysteries in the history of presidential campaign politics."

It really is striking, for example, that while Obama thought it wise to throw his change advantage under the bus (Biden's a 66 year-old, 35-year veteran of the Senate), the GOP nominee made a bold decision-making masterstroke in the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his veep pick.

Election pundits like to point out that voters don't vote for the vice-presidential nominees, and thus the veep pick tends to have a marginal impact on the final voting outcomes. That may be true, but 2008 has already turned out to be an election year like no other, and the decision-making going into the choice for No. 2 spot may indeed prove a more significant factor this year than has been true since Lyndon Johnson consolidated Democratic electability in 1960. The difference this year, however, is that it's the Republicans who are getting a boost from the running mate.

Bud White offers a very concise analysis as to why Obama's selection of Biden is turning out to be a disaster:

Obama’s choice of Joe Biden, I suspect, will go down as one of [the] worst political decisions in recent memory. John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin will be remembered as one of the best.

Biden reinforces Obama’s worst traits: egoism, verbosity, elitism, and D.C.-insider status.

Palin, of course, reminds us of the best of McCain: fresh, unconventional, funny, and willing to battle the D.C. insiders.

Like John F. Kennedy, Obama was suppose to represent a new generation of leadership. But Biden is a dead weight on Obama; he entered the senate before much of Obama’s base was born.

Some argue that Biden, like Lyndon Johnson, brings gravitas to the ticket. Douglas Schoen is of this opinion. He writes:

Witness the single biggest decision that Obama has made thus far: choosing Joe Biden as his running mate. The pick helped squelch concerns about Obama’s perceived lack of experience and foreign policy savvy. More importantly, it signaled to moderates that when it matters, Obama makes sensible, pragmatic choices.

What Schoen fails to note is that this is a change election. Americans aren’t looking for the presidential candidate to supplement his credentials with a Washington insider, they are looking for attainable solutions for our economic woes and a smart exit strategy from Iraq.

Biden only emphasizes Obama’s weakness on foreign affairs, and he fails to bring Obama any electoral votes. Although it’s often stated that the Daley machine won the election for Kennedy in Illinois, it was actually Lyndon Johnson who guaranteed Texas for Kennedy and thus the election. Even if Kennedy lost Illinois, he would still have become president. Biden, unlike Johnson, doesn’t heal the Party’s divisions nor does he bring votes.

White goes on to elaborate further how Johnson worked in 1960 to unite the Democratic Party's ideological and regional factions. Now, of course, it is Sarah Palin who's working in similiar fashion to consolidate the GOP coalition under John McCain.

When Obama first announced his selection of Biden my first thought was, "Oh no,
Biden's a plagiarizer..." And while Biden's botched run for the presidency in 1988 hasn't been of much interest in the press, his endless bloviating and gaffe-making are proving to be the kind of liabilities that drag down a ticket.

Not only that, the controversies surrounding Sarah Palin - and the left's bitter campaign of political demonization against her - have worked to keep the media focused on the GOP campaign 24/7, essentially muzzling any attempt at positive message-making from the Obama camp.

The signs are now emerging in the Democratic Party that Biden's pick did nothing to help Obama's chances (
the Politico asks, "Could Clinton Have Palin-Proofed Dems?"), and that Barack Obama - having lost the momentum - will play defense and catch-up for some time.

Meanwhile, another poll,
Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, has McCain/Palin leading Obama/Biden by a statistically-signifcant margin (and the GOP lead in Gallup's daily tracking polls is holding up)..

While it's way too early to declare a meltdown for the Democrats, the despondency on the left is heavy, and for partisans who'd been coasting all year against "Old Man McSame," and ridiculing the GOP for offering "Bush's third term," it must be very painful to see Democratic fortunes looking so tentative and vulnerable.