23 August 2008

Changemonger/Bombthrower '08

As our (second) 11th-hour poll predicted yesterday, Sen. Obama has chosen Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.

Despite the title of this post, I have a deep respect for Biden. His wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident before he turned 30, and he took the train home every night from Washington to Delaware to care for his two sons that survived the crash. (He took the oath of office at his sons' bedside.) Biden continues the practice to this day -- he literally rides the train to work.

He was the only Democrat at a fall 2007 debate to halt the anti-war, cut-and-run rhetoric of Obama, HRC, Edwards, et al. and point out that the situation in Iraq required a well-reasoned exit strategy. Biden crafted an intriguing one: Splitting the country into four provinces based on its pronounced ethnic divides, with allowances for each unit to have its share of oil revenues and essentially govern its own affairs, with some American troops remaining as a security force. Such is probably why he garnered less than 2% of the vote in Iowa, and dropped out soon afterward.

Overall, this is a strong choice for Obama for several reasons. First, and most obviously, Biden is a foreign-policy guru, the Dems' answer to Sen. McCain, and he shores up what is so clearly Obama's biggest weakness. Second, Biden loves to argue, and will be a highly effective attack dog against McCain and his yet-to-be-chosen running mate. I worry that his attacks on his longtime colleague McCain will be highly damaging. Third, if elected, Biden clearly won't be a "yes" man. Obama has seemingly surrounded himself with people who believe him to be some sort of political messiah, but I trust that Biden will cut through the crap and shoot his boss straight. Fourth, his roots in Pennsylvania and blue-collar Irish-Catholic background will be highly beneficial to strengthening the Pope of Hope's hold on Pennsylvania, an absolute must-win.

Though Biden was a wise choice, however, there are downsides.

First, one of his biggest assets -- his mouth -- is also his greatest liability. Biden, like McCain, sometimes can't help himself from saying highly offensive things. Despite being a political veteran, Biden's slips of the tongue are legendary and sometimes highly damaging. In 2006, he noted, "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

Second, Biden has said a few less-than-flattering things about Obama himself, and reportedly, McCain plans to air ads centered around Biden's criticisms of his boss. In 2007, he cracked, "If the Democrats think we’re going to be able to nominate someone who can win without that person being able to table unimpeachable credentials on national security and foreign policy, I think we’re making a tragic mistake." Later last year, he noted about Obama, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

Third, aside from a purely speculative effect on Pennsylvania, Biden offers Obama no distinct electoral advantage. Gov. Tim Kaine almost assuredly would have delivered his home state of Virginia, one of the most crucial battlegrounds of the election -- instead, it remains a toss up. Sen. Evan Bayh would have put his home state of Indiana in play -- instead, McCain will probably win it easily. Even Sen. Claire McCaskill (guffaw!) would have had some sort of effect on Missouri and its 11 electoral votes. But Biden's home state of Delaware was already a lock.

Fourth, the choice of Biden does nothing to assuage the complaints of the 18 million Democrats who cast their ballots for Sen. Clinton. It still baffles me why the Changemaker didn't include HRC on his final short list. If one includes Florida and Michigan, HRC garnered roughly the same amount of votes as the Hopemonger. It's stunning why Obama didn't even consider her, and he must be prepared to deal with the reality that her supporters will likely remain unhappy.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the choice of Biden -- unlike, again, Gov. Kaine -- runs directly counter to Obama's message of "change" and his image as a Washington outsider. While he's highly unspecific about what "change" actually refers to, he probably isn't talking about a 65-year-old who has spent over half his life in the Senate. One of McCain's most potent potential attacks -- and one he hasn't used yet -- is on Obama's laughable image as a change agent. Especially with the choice of a true Washington insider as his running mate -- and one who, according to Politico, has taken over $5 million in donations from lobbyists since the beginning of 2007 -- Obama looks even more like just another liberal from Chicago. Choosing such a deeply ingrained political veteran certainly doesn't comport with Obama's rhetoric that he intends to bring a "new kind of politics" to Washington.

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