Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama-Biden 2008

Well … OK. This is where everything seemed to be going for awhile now. With so many attacks on his national security cred and a short public-service resume, (relative to previous contenders for the presidency), it just makes sense that Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has tied up with clean, articulate Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., of Delaware, the warhorse with wit, the elder statesman of the Senate.

By picking Biden, a veteran of 35 years in the Senate, as his vice presidential running mate, Obama answers the critics who’ve long indicted him with the crime of relative inexperience. Biden is the lunch-bucket aspect to Obama’s Ivy League mien, the gray hair to Obama’s youthful drive, the inside game to Barack’s three-pointer from downtown. Unlike his younger counterpart, Biden truly speaks Washington.

With this combination, Obama’s message of change is married to the solidity of experience. When they appear together later today, at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. (where Obama’s campaign began 560 days earlier), the stage just may be set for a photo-op of the future.

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It all came together in stealth mode, or something close to it. Some time between 1 and 2 a.m. eastern time on Saturday morning, MSNBC, among how many others, announced via “Democratic officials” that Obama had selected Biden for the ticket. The Obama campaign had tried for weeks to keep the news a secret until supporters could be told first, by text message. The leak spoiled the texting party, but more surprising was the fact that, in the informational oxygen of the Internet age, the campaign kept this hushed-up as long as it did.

We were led to believe that the outcome might have gone in another direction. The media jabbered for weeks about a “short list” of potential running mates, a grab bag of names, including Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh. Indeed, in what might have been a masterful head fake by Team Obama, KMBC-TV of Kansas City reported on Friday that

“…the answer to who [Obama] would name as his running mate may have come down to a bumper sticker printed in Lenexa [Kan]. KMBC's Micheal Mahoney reported that the company, which specializes in political literature, has been printing Obama-Bayh material. That's Bayh as in U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Word leaked out about the material as it was being printed up by Gill Studios of Lenexa.”

Nice try.

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The choice of Biden shores up Obama in the broken places. In the Senate since 1972, Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a strong presence on matters related to defense and national security. He’s the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is no stranger to the rough & tumble of presidential politics, having run twice before.

Biden's working-class Catholic roots are thought likely to help Obama middle- and working-class voters in battleground states like Ohio, and in Pennsylvania, where Biden was born and raised. A son of Scranton, Pa., Biden shares a history in that city with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who made much of her roots there during the primaries.

Biden’s life has been tempered by tragedy. His first wife and a daughter were killed in a traffic accident in 1972, before Biden even took office. Biden battled back from that personal disaster to become a mandarin of the Senate, widely respected by colleagues and by his constituents in Delaware. One of Biden’s self-described high points as a senator was the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act, something that’s likely to help with women voters nursing the collapse of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

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That’s on the plus side of the ledger. Unfortunately, Biden has a history of being long-winded, and has also committed more than one embarrassing gaffe on the campaign trail. This downside presents a challenge for the Obama campaign. “The big challenge for Biden is to going to be to stay focused, to keep his mouth shut, to not answer in 15 minutes when he can answer in two,” said Newsweek’s Howard Fineman on MSNBC this morning. Team Obama’s immediate need, Fineman said, may be to “keep him on a pretty short leash, lest his enthusiasm run over the banks.”

No sooner than the announcement been made than the opposition apparatus of Sen. John McCain, Obama’s challenger, kicked into high gear, using some of Biden’s own statements against Obama during the primaries. “There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden,” said McCain spokesman Ben Porritt in a statement, conveniently forgetting the harsh criticism from McCain himself. “Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing _ that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.”

For her part, Sen. Clinton spoke glowingly of her primary-season antagonist, calling Biden “an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant.”

“Sen. Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Sen. Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country,” said Clinton, whose persistent hopes for a vice-presidential nod officially evaporated this morning, but whose name will be placed in nomination in Denver, purely as a formality she and her supporters had insisted on for weeks.

The Republicans will do their best to emphasize the previous differences between Obama and Biden, but McCain’s options in this area are more limited. If McCain taps former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as his running mate, as has been more or less expected for months, McCain faces a new challenge based on the personal dynamic.

“If I were John McCain, I’d hear the footsteps already,” said MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, advancing the McCain-Romney tie-up scenario. “Romney and McCain don’t like each other. That’s more serious business than having had a tiff or a kerfuffle or two during the primary season. When you’ve got two guys who clearly don’t have the right chemistry against a guy and another guy who might well have it … I think the public’s going to see a comparative advantage going to the D’s on the question of who’s got the right partner at the dance.”

And if this turns into a battle of soundbites meant to embarrass a nominee for his choice of a running mate, McCain’s gonna have splaining to do himself if he picks Romney:

A lot of splaining to do.

That part of the general election equation has yet to play itself out; McCain’s reportedly set to make his veep announcement on Aug. 29, his 72nd birthday, if it isn’t leaked beforehand.

But for now, the Obama-Biden ticket has been received by Democrats as a tandem that makes sound political sense. Intelligently joining gravitas and youthful drive, and composed of two inspirational personal narratives, it's a ticket that could effectively unify working-class centrist voters and the millions of younger and minority voters who've already sided with the Obama machine.

An old Navy man, John McCain knows what “general quarters” means. It’s a signal for a naval crew to prepare for battle. If the McCain campaign hasn’t sounded that alarm before, it certainly will now.
Image credits: Biden: Public domain. Obama and Biden:

1 comment:

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