Saturday, August 23, 2008

The First Decision

A good deal of nonsense is written about VP choices. Pundits analyze about how a VP nominee can help win states, or voter groups, mostly ignoring how little they really do either. The last VP who can have a state victory attributed to him was Walter Mondale in 1980. And in the last 50 years, only Mondale and LBJ can be said to have determined elections by virtue of winning a state the candidate might not have.
What VP candidates can do is make those potential voters who have doubts about the Presidential nominee more comfortable. Remember, for most Americans, this is the first decision they see a potential President make, and if they are looking for a signal, this is where they get it. When the candidate is an insurgent type, running against Washington, the choice tends to lean toward someone with foreign policy credibility, as outsiders rarely have that. The history of this is that winning outsiders always pick someone everyone knows and has the missing experience the top guy lacks. So Reagan picked Bush, Clinton picked Gore, Bush picked Cheney – choices which confused people a bit, since Reagan and Bush had a nasty campaign, remember “voodoo economics”? Pundits were stunned at Clinton picking Gore, since they represented the same demographic and region. But the choices worked, as people knew them and were comforted by the expertise they brought.
This was why the choice of Joe Biden was right. There are many voters who have doubts about Obama’s experience, especially in foreign policy. Many more don’t know him and had he chosen someone they didn’t know either, it would have hurt. Biden, regardless of what you think of him personally, is a politician of substance, a heavyweight whose knowledge of the world is not questioned by anyone. To those waiting for a signal from Obama, this is the one they needed. Older people in particular know and respect Biden. I expect this, combined with the convention, to give him a big jump in the polls, moving him over 50%.
A word about Biden himself : I have serious problems with Biden, who has been a water-carrier for the banking industry in some very unpleasant ways and whose foreign policy expertise has not stopped him from being horribly wrong from time to time. But Biden, more than anything, is a real person. His personal tragedies have given him the kind of underpinning most politicians don’t have. A middle-class upbringing is a good thing, especially because his father had been wealthier before financial setbacks reduced him to a working stiff. After the death of his first wife and child, he chose to commute to work, taking the train to and from Washington every day, so he would be there for his kids. He still does it, like most Americans. Those people waving at him this morning as he left for Illinois were not just waving at a famous guy who was from their town, they were waving at a neighbor. Oh yeah, he knows how many homes he has – one

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