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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why Obama's conventional Veep choice should free McCain to make an unconventional one (Palin or Jindal)

Barack Obama, who is at least superficially a very unconventional presidential candidate, has now picked an exceptionally conventional vice-presidential running mate in Joe Biden. Biden was born in 1942; he was first elected to the Senate in 1972, when Obama was 11 years old, and Biden has been there ever since. Biden got zero traction among voters in his own party in either of his own two presidential bids. For those who can't distinguish between seniority and experience, Biden might appear to be a "safe" choice, one whose long Senate tenure arguably balances Obama's own brief and thin list of accomplishments. But the one thing that Biden has proven himself to be — both as a presidential candidate and as a senator — is a self-absorbed gaffe machine. My only question is not whether, but the relative degree to which, by November, Biden will have proved himself to be an embarrassment to the Obama campaign. And that depends not only on how many gaffes Biden makes, but how many Obama and McCain make during the same period (since theirs would likely overshadow Biden's).

I am confident that in between his gaffes, however, Joe Biden will endlessly and enthusiastically repeat the Obama campaign's talking points. Already-committed voters for either side may pay brief attention to his gaffes (defending or ridiculing them, depending on their already existing preferences), but other than that, they will mostly ignore him. As for undecided voters, or potential voters whose real decision is whether to show up at the polls or not, I do not believe that Biden is capable of connecting with them in any powerful (subconscious or emotional) way. He is more plastic, and less inspiring, than either Obama or McCain.

So what does Obama's choice of Biden mean for McCain's own Veep selection? Does it mean that McCain ought also play it safe? Or does this create a new and unique opportunity for McCain to exploit? I presume you've read the title of this post, so you already know what I think the answer to this question should be. But here's my reasoning behind the recommendation:

*******

For starters, one thing is absolutely clear now: Whatever else, Obama's choice of Biden didn't bring something to the Democratic ticket that McCain himself can't already counter in spades. Indeed, Biden was obviously chosen by Obama to try to match some of McCain's strengths — long Senate service, particularly with respect to foreign policy matters — but Biden's addition to the ticket doesn't require that McCain pick someone else, in addition to himself, who shares those qualities.

And because Biden's only in the second slot, no amount of perceived experience on his part can completely overcome Obama's own short and thin record. Indeed, since both parties' presidential nominees became clear, we've always known that when it comes to experience, the GOP ticket would be superior to the Democratic ticket — and that's true regardless of who either nominee picks for the Veep slot. For voters who value experience highly, the GOP ticket is already the superior choice. Long years of service are therefore a less important qualification for the McCain ticket's second slot because he need not worry about having to play catch-up on that count. And voters normally expect a Veep nominee to be the less experienced of the two.

Biden is also very much a known quantity. The odds of America becoming suddenly infatuated with Joe Biden, and that rubbing off on Barack Obama, are zero. McCain now knows that Obama's conventional choice is not going to somehow unexpectedly morph into a brilliant choice. He doesn't bring any battleground state definitely into the Democratic fold. And, frankly, the likelihood that Biden will be a gaffe-free Veen nominee is also about zero. Compared to where it might have been if Obama had announced that, for example, Sam Nunn or Hillary Clinton were his choice, the bar has been set fairly low.

*******

I've read several conservative pundits whose opinions I respect argue that Obama's selection of Biden means McCain ought to pick Mitt Romney. So far, however, I haven't seen anyone make a compelling, specific argument as to why Romney would be a better choice now than he would have been had Obama picked, say, Hillary Clinton or Bill Richardson. Instead, their arguments seem to be fairly generic ones, a restatement of the reasons why they like Romney anyway.

He was never my first choice, but based on their respective policies, I also preferred Romney to McCain during the GOP primaries, and by the end of them I ended up liking Romney substantially more than I did when they began. I won't be horribly dismayed now if McCain were to pick Romney. And there are, by sharp contrast, quite a few other names being bounced around whose selection would indeed dismay me deeply.

But except for his LDS religious faith, Romney would also be an extremely conventional Veep selection. He's as plastic and uninspiring as Biden, and just as unlikely to connect powerfully with the undecided or swing voters who presumably will decide the election.

To me, Obama's cautious and conventional choice ought simply highlights the strategic advantage that McCain could seize by going unconventional. With no need to directly counter Obama's choice, then instead of mirroring it, McCain ought to exploit it — to seize upon it as a chance to engage in asymmetric political warfare. Obama's hunkering down and digging in, so now is the time to get behind his lines. Or in football terms: Obama has stacked the box, assuming that McCain is going to run the ball up the middle, and he's already fully committed to that formation, so now is the very best time to call an audible and go deep.

That means Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal.

*******

If McCain picks Romney, or someone else fairly conventional (e.g., Pawlenty or Portman), I know I'm going to have to set my DVR to record the vice presidential debate because I can't be certain in advance that I won't fall asleep during the middle of it. But oh, how I — and, I think, how all of America — would relish watching either Palin or Jindal take on Joe Biden!

The Dems would expect it to be Quayle versus Bentsen all over again, but Joe Biden is no Lloyd Bentsen — silver hair-plugs do not translate into genuine gravitas. Because Quayle was a traditional, privileged white male, there was no potential backlash when the Dems mocked him for his youth and seeming shallowness; Dems would find it less easy, or more risky, to mock either Palin or Jindal. And either Palin or Jindal are far better at thinking and speaking on their feet than Dan Quayle was. Quayle wasn't as bad as his reputation eventually became, but neither was he ever the genuine hope for the future of his party that Poppy Bush seemed to think he'd be. Palin and Jindal are the real deal.

The vice presidential debate almost certainly won't be won on substantive debating points, however — on their merits, Quayle's answers weren't that bad and Bentsen's weren't that great. What very well could "win" the VP debate — and more importantly, what could even affect the outcome of the election — is the flavor, tone, and the visuals of the event. That includes identity politics of the sort that I usually deplore, but that can't be ignored, especially when one's trying to figure out how to capture undecided and swing voters who are seeking a visceral connection of some sort with either campaign.

Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal standing at the GOP's lectern at the vice presidential debate — especially across from Democrat Joe Biden, as stereotypical an old-school politician as has ever lived and breathed — would transform the Republican Party's image in the minds of literally millions of voters who presently associate it exclusively with rich, white, old men. And that's something no amount of television advertising buys or direct mail brochures could do. And it's true almost no matter what anyone actually says at the debate.

By picking Joe Biden, Barack Obama has handed that visual to John McCain and the GOP on a silver platter. Should that gift be squandered?

Even though I'm a big fan of Gov. Jindal, I still am more enthusiastic about Gov. Palin for this particular race at this particular time, and it's for two reasons, each of which can each be summarized in a single word. The first word is "Energy." And the second word is "Hillary." The first is the best domestic issue for the GOP, on which Gov. Palin is uniquely qualified as both a symbol and a spokesperson. The second is the source of a whole lot of disaffected woulda-been Democratic voters who are looking for an excuse to rebound in a way that secretly (but very satisfyingly) shoots the finger at Barack Obama.

*******

At the beginning of this post, I described Obama himself as "at least superficially a very unconventional presidential candidate." But in fact, the lesson of the entire 2008 presidential campaign so far — a lesson again re-affirmed by his pick of Biden — is that Obama is a very conventional politician who's running a disciplined, almost constipated campaign. He's far better at that than Hillary Clinton or, for that matter, Joe Biden gave him early credit for, which is why he beat them. And it wasn't until Hillary loosened up and started taking chances — a change that, in hindsight, came too late — that she started getting real traction against him.

I don't think McCain is naturally risk-averse, and I suspect he will indeed go with his own gut, rather than let his advisers push him into a choice he otherwise might not have made. But I fear that McCain will show his maverick streak — poke his thumb in the eye of the GOP establishment and its conservative base — by picking a Tom Ridge or a Lindsey Graham. So if there are any Republican angels out there who can whisper my words into the grumpy old man's ear as he sleeps, please whisper these:

"You're not Bob Dole, and you've never wanted to be. Yes, be unconventional, my friend, but not in a way that makes your would-be supporters despondent. Give them firm cause to back you, and a pleasant surprise, by choosing someone who's unquestionably conservative. Give all America inspiration by choosing someone who's fresh and energetic and emblematic of the new century, instead of the one just past. You're the candidate who already connects with practical voters who value security and honor; now bolster your ticket's appeal with someone who can connect with romantic voters who most prize hope and progress. Go deep, John McCain: Pick Palin!"

Posted by Beldar at 03:36 AM in 2008 Election, Energy, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) dchamil made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 10:25:32 AM | Permalink

Beldar, I hope you copied all this to the McCain campaign, just in case the angel is on vacation.

(2) stan made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 11:15:32 AM | Permalink

I'd love to see Palin. I'm not sure that McCain will go for it. McCain is presented as if he is a maverick. I think he's more of a bulldog. He has basic, not particularly enlightened, views. His instincts seem generally OK. A look at his argument for campaign finance reform is instructive. He just didn't think it very nice for people to say mean things about his friends in Congress.

I just don't see him having the inspiration to see Palin as a home run.

(3) PC14 made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 12:14:27 PM | Permalink

"Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal standing at the GOP's lectern at the vice presidential debate — especially across from Democrat Joe Biden, as stereotypical an old-school politician as has ever lived and breathed — would transform the Republican Party's image in the minds of literally millions of voters who presently associate it exclusively with rich, white, old men. "

Right On, Right On, Right On, as those militants of color used to say back in the 70's. That was the money sentence, Beldar.

I hope Biden is a temporary distraction and that we don't take the heat and pressure off Obama but continue to peel away the protective coating.

(4) charlie dorfman made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 12:40:53 PM | Permalink

Right on, Beldar. I've posted on numerous occasions my agreement with you on Sarah Palin. By not choosing Hillary, Obama has left the field wide open for McCain to blow up all the preconceptions of the Republican party. I really believe Palin could be a 2% overall vote swing by helping to grab the more moderate and disappointed Democratic woman's vote. In a tight race, that's a clincher.
Unfortunately, I have very little faith that McCain will grab this opportunity.

(5) April made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 2:03:35 PM | Permalink

I have a very humurous picture in my head of Sarah challenging Obama to a one on one game of basketball. She's probably wipe the floor with him.

(6) Michael made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 7:10:31 PM | Permalink

Isn't the controversy (relating to her sister) surrounding Palin a dangerous thing right now? You know that the press will jump all over it.

(7) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 7:38:57 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Come now, tell us what you REALLY think...It suddenly occurs to me another reason why I, personally, would not pick Palin: should McC win, Palin on the ticket means that my hero Mitt will never be Prez. I don't think Mitt should take the slot if offered because there's too much bad blood between them. Only if Mitt is absolutely sure that McC will a) win and b) kick the bucket before his term is out, should he accept.

I wouldn't worry about your message getting to the GOP angels. I would much rather hear how you are pulling the strings in the Obama campaign. Certainly the uninspired pick of Biden has done much to make Palin more likely to be McC's pick, fitting right into your master plan. I have no doubt that if McC/Palin win, you will promptly be vilified by the noisome ochlocracy at the Daily Kos. After all, you, like Karl Rove, are from Texas, proof positive that you are the head of the sinister camorra pulling McC's strings. Fate worse than death for you, I think.

Biden's selection promises a swell show this fall. Obama made his name as an anti-war candidate, but with the war going much better, this shining armor is rusting, and starting to hamper his movements. The contrast with Biden, who hollered for the war in 03, and only switched about the time he said Obama wasn't ready to be Prez will be all the sharper, and more entertaining for us on this side of the aisle. The attack ads are writing themselves. To be sure, the press will ignore the grotesqueries of the Democratic ticket, digging themselves a bit deeper into the hole, but that's to be expected. Almost as amusing will be the stiletto antics of Billary, trying to fool the suckers that they are loyal. Should Obama lose, look for a colossal massacre on the Democratic side. This, more than anything McC can do, will help the GOP win in 2012.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(8) The Drill SGT made the following comment | Aug 24, 2008 7:56:28 PM | Permalink

Arguably Biden does help with mid-America Catholic Democrats, a demographic that Obama lost to Hillary badly and really needs to pull back into his camp.

(9) stan made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 8:20:55 AM | Permalink

Mid-America Catholic Dems are going to hear Rev. Wright's rabid denunciations of America. And they are going to hear about Obama's votes for infanticide. I don't think that there is a Democrat anywhere whose presence on the ticket could overcome those negatives.

(10) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 9:21:43 AM | Permalink

Palin, NOT Jindal. Jindal has only just taken on a tough job, fixing Louisiana. If less than a year into that job he publicly applies for another one, and spends months with his attention on that other job application instead of doing the job he's just taken on, then he'll show himself unworthy of either job. If he does get elected VP, what happens to Louisiana?

Palin is also new at her current job (though she's been at it for more than twice as long as Jindal), but the crucial difference in my mind is that Alaska doesn't need that much fixing. Even if Alaska loses both its Governor and its Lieutenant-Governor to Washington next January, it can easily find competent replacements. Alaskans will understand that the nation needed Palin and Parnell more than they did, and move on to the reserve bench. Louisiana has no reserve bench.

(11) Donna B. made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 2:25:51 PM | Permalink

Milhouse, you are so right about Louisiana having no reserve bench. I've come to think of Jindal as our last hope.

Plus, I think Palin would be the stronger candidate right now.

(12) SeattleRite made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 2:30:30 PM | Permalink

Any comments on Medved's recommendation of Kay Bailey-Hutchison? None of Palin's (few) downsides and a nice temptation for the Clintonistas who are bitter at O.

(13) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 5:47:51 PM | Permalink

I'm a fan and supporter of Sen. Hutchinson, and Medved's absolutely correct in noting both the quantity and quality of her experience. I think she has good instincts. Moreover, I think she's a genuine, committed conservative who nevertheless has a good ear for how certain conservative positions may alienate liberals and centrists.

I also agree with him, however, that charisma and "star quality" are not among her long suits. Don't get me wrong, she's at least as good a speaker as Sen. Hillary Clinton, and substantially better than Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. But I genuinely believe from the videos I've watched that Gov. Palin is a better communicator who will connect with more voters and with greater vividness.

I also think that, unfairly but inevitably, anyone from Texas would be at a disadvantage in this election cycle with undecided voters who may be open to the idea of voting for McCain, but who maintain strong negative feelings against the perceived Bush dynasty.

Objectively, Sen. Hutchison is better qualified to be a "heartbeat from the presidency." She's vastly better qualified than Obama himself. Some non-trivial number of voters would indeed be drawn to a ticket that includes her based on her gender. And I'd vastly prefer to see her as the GOP Veep nominee rather than someone like Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham, or Joe Lieberman.

I don't think, though, that Sen. Hutchison would generate an across-the-board curiosity, and then enthusiasm, of the sort that I believe Gov. Palin would generate. To return to football terms, I think choosing Sen. Hutchison would be a screen pass -- a play that would indeed be well calculated to exploit Obama's conventional choice, and that might score, but that really is just aimed at avoiding a loss and maybe getting a first down. I still think McCain — to counter all of the other factors working against the GOP ticket this year — needs to go deep.

(14) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 25, 2008 7:49:38 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: You could also object that should McC choose Hutchison, for the first time in American history, all four spots in the top two tickets would be filled not just by Senators, but by serving Senators. The Senate's ego is inflated enough with the current three. No more.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(15) Mongo Mere Pawn made the following comment | Aug 26, 2008 2:44:45 AM | Permalink

Beldar,

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Senator McCain should select Governor Palin as his running mate. I would like to expand somewhat on your "in the moment" argument, though.

Who is the best running mate to hit the Dems on energy? Palin, hands down. She is solid on ANWR. She is solid on drilling. She is the only Republican with an energy achievement to tout during this election cycle, i.e., the Trans-Canadian Natural Gas Pipeline. She also has more credibility against Big Oil than either Senator Obama or Senator Biden, given her resignation from the natural resources council and her withdrawal of the Thompson leases.

Who is the best running mate on social issues? Again, Palin by a long shot. I think Senator Obama's "above my pay grade" statement at the Saddleback forum opened the door for the abortion issue to take front and center in this campaign, but in a manner that benefits Republicans. The reason Senator Obama couldn't say that a baby is entitled to human rights when every reasonable person would have answered at least upon being born is that, if he so answered, his vote against the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act is pretty strong evidence that he thinks infanticide is okay as long as the mother doesn't want the baby. Indeed, he even called the National Right to Life Committee a bunch of liars on the Christian Broadcasting Network immediately after the forum because they had actually found the documentation proving he voted against the identical language that the US Senate voted for by a margin of 98-0. Now, Speaker Pelosi has picked a fight with at least one Cardinal and a couple of bishops of her Catholic faith by suggesting on Meet the Press Sunday that there is some dispute as to when a baby is fully, morally human in Catholic doctrine. The Democrats are spluttering on an issue they usually demagogue because its been defined in the worst possible way by Senator Obama's vote against the BAIPA. Governor Palin's strong pro-life position, including walking the talk by having her Down Syndrome son this past spring is an inspiration to the social conservative community, a constituency that needs something to become enthusiastic about Senator McCain. And, there is a great clip of her announcing her pregnancy and answering a question about the impact on her ability to do the job in a manner of which even Gloria Steinham would have to approve, i.e., by observing that women have been able to work, take care of their families AND carry babies for a long time, and she expected to do the same with no problem.

Who is the best running mate to keep the Hillary meme going through election night? Again, Governor Palin is simply the best in this regard, hands down. The second Senator McCain announces one of the guys as his running mate, the disgruntled Hillary voters meme dies. And there is a real chance that there will be some blowback against Senator McCain since he clearly has been courting her voters, especially women, running two ads in the last 48 hours directly at them, and if he goes with one of the guys, it will be like he cynically toyed with their affections simply to leave them at the altar, just like Senator Obama did.

On the other hand, if he announces Governor Palin as his running mate, the Hillary meme picks up steam out of the Democrats convention, knocks the stuffing out of any bump Senator Obama gets from his acceptance speech, energizes our convention and gives the MSM something new to talk about to the point of ignoring any of the attacks coming from Senator Biden.

Her experience level and this trooper story are potential negatives, but her selection is starting to look like a karmic event. Who would have thought that drilling would have been such a huge issue this time around? And who would have ever thought the Democrats would have picked a candidate who thinks infanticide is okay in certain instances? And the female vote is pretty much the equal of the minority vote in this race.

Under normal circumstances, I wait on Governor Palin. But the lay of the land makes her the best choice, period.

Just my thoughts.

(16) Ted made the following comment | Aug 26, 2008 4:15:59 AM | Permalink

Despite the Dems and the allied main stream media’s desperation to see Romney as McCain’s Veep, Mitt is clearly out, with (1) Obama doubling down on the class warfare theme (McCain’s 7 houses) and (2) McCain doubling down with ads showing the hypocrisy of Biden attacking Obama in the primaries — Romney did way more than that contra McCain.

This leaves only Govs Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty. Pro-abortion Ridge and Dem-Lieberman were never real considerations, despite relentless media goading. Pawlenty’s lackluster TV performances, coupled with Palin pizzazz, the primacy of oil drilling and the ticked off women/Hillary voters, does now portend a McCain/Palin checkmate on the Dems. This is so albeit the Dems and liberal media dare not mention Palin’s name, that is, everyone but…..

And if there’s any question as to Palin being uniquely positioned and able to more than nullify Biden in debate, see the excellent discussion at palinforvp.blogspot.com

Team McCain, well done!!!

(17) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 29, 2008 9:44:09 AM | Permalink

It could be disinformation but the morning buzz is McCain has picked Palin and that would be fantastic on so many levels. I first heard about Palin in depth here at your blog and, either way, kudos to you for knowing talent when you see it.

(18) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 29, 2008 11:32:02 AM | Permalink

YES! YES! YES! I never actually believed that he would do something so sensible. Now I may actually vote for him! (If I had a way to vote for Palin and *not* McCain I might do that, but it's not possible.)

(19) dbb made the following comment | Aug 29, 2008 11:51:17 AM | Permalink

I'm afraid this is a disasterous choice. I have spent many, many hours researching and reading about Palin, and frankly, she brings a real corruption (abuse of power) problem of her own to the ticket. Joe Biden will argue circle's around her, and she, frankly, has absolutely no clue about foreign policy or other national issues.
Sorry--McCain's gamble will prove to be one that his campaign will regret.

(20) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2008 12:28:18 PM | Permalink

dbb: If you want to make your stand with a self-admitted child abuser (Tasered his own 12-year-old stepson) and admitted user of deadly weapons to commit crimes (game poaching), be my guest. The so-called "scandal" is incredibly thin. Her own constituents, which have heard the whole story -- and realize it's something invented almost out of nothing by the disappointed third-place finisher Gov. Palin whipped in 2006 -- know better, and there are many good reasons she's the most popular politician among her own constituents in America.

Everyone: New comments about Gov. Palin, pro and con, on today's post please.

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