Monday, August 25, 2008

Barack, Hillary, Bill, and Biden: I Was Wrong Once

My prediction was wrong. I figured that the only way Hillary Clinton would be playing along so well and willingly with Barack Obama's victory in the primary election contest -- pledging her support and all that -- was if it was somehow in her interest to do so. That part was surely correct. What was wrong was that I thought her interest must have been some sort of deal for her and, later, perhaps, for Bill Clinton. Barack has now chosen Joe Biden as his vice presidential candidate. So there was apparently no promise for Hillary. I can only guess that she saw it as being in her interest to be a good sport and keep her powder dry for the next presidential election, in 2012. Conceivably she also thinks she can still put on a challenge of some sort at the Democratic convention, but I don't think she would seriously bank on that. We'll see what happens at the convention, with her speech and all, but it seems she is increasingly out of the picture. On to the choice of Biden. Will I be right on this one? I find the pick problematic. Biden is definitely a Washington insider. He is also an old white guy. This cannot be highly reassuring to those who see the Obama candidacy as a call for change. Not female. Nothing exciting about him. He's knowledgeable in foreign affairs, which might make him a good secretary of state. He's something of a loose cannon, verbally speaking, which could make him a liability in the election contest. He may help in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, but he's not at all a household word, and I'm not sure how much people care about the vice president's resume. Unlike JFK's choice of Lyndon Johnson, he won't deliver a key state like LBJ delivered Texas. I'm glad that he takes stands opposing Obama sometimes -- glad that Obama wants something of an opposite number to challenge him -- but that's not really a meaningful criterion for a vice president as distinct from, say, a political advisor. Obama seems to have wanted someone who would provide a weight of experience, but that cuts both ways: it could seem, to some people, like the elder statesman is the one who should be running for president, while the relatively inexperienced kid should be his understudy. Certainly the choice of Biden seems unlikely to deliver a bounce in the polls, a wave of excitement, or anything that will get anyone very much fired up. My take on the matter is that Obama is becoming cautious, worried about his weak spots rather than concentrating on his strengths, and that he is therefore making himself weaker in the process. I don't know if Obama should have chosen Hillary, necessarily, but I do think he has suffered from a failure of imagination and courage here, and has diluted his message and appeal as a result. I'm not reading every last word about the election contest, so I may be missing something, but it seems like he's responding gently to McCain's jabs. If, as some say, the role of a vice president is to be the attack dog during the contest, I don't know why Biden (who is McCain's self-styled friend) would be a better choice than Clinton. I would think he needed a seasoned, demonstrably successful fighter. I guess he just didn't want to be dragged down by the Clinton baggage, which is understandable, but he could have gotten beyond that with time; he would have reasonably expected to make his own mark on the presidency and the world. Anyway, some dust is now settling. Bill Richardson didn't get the nod, despite betraying Hillary. John Edwards was evidently not the type that Obama was looking for, so his affair apparently didn't knock him out of the running. I would actually think that the ideal running mate for Obama would have been someone who would make him look conservative and/or thoughtful by comparison -- someone whom he could portray as a foil, a proponent of views he found too extreme -- but maybe I'd be wrong in that. What we're going to get, instead, is a campaign of politics as usual, and that's too bad. This wasn't the year for that.