8.24.2008

THE WASHINGTON GAFFE MACHINE

BY CINCINNATUS
I
As soon as the word hit the streets that Senator Joe Biden of Delaware was Barack Obama's Vice Presidential choice, I immediatley knew that the Democrats' White House chances were all over. That isn't to say that Joe Biden single-handedly derailed Obama's campaign, but with Obama's sagging poll numbers and loss of steam, most were expecting the announcement of his running mate to re-energize the race and catapult him back into a strong lead. Any astute observer of the media blitz that followed should have picked up on the lack of orgasmic delight with which it was covered as compared to preceding Obama campaign proclamations. And so I'm fairly certain I'm not the only one who saw the end for Barack at 3AM on Saturday morning.

There are two distinct problems with the Biden choice that, while I'm sure the Obama campaign took into account during their rigorous vetting process, are in fact a kiss of death for their presidential aspirations. The first and most serious is that fact that Biden was, as he has always been, a plain-spoken and singularly fierce opponent of Barack Obama's during the early Democratic primaries. The second is his affliction with "foot-in-mouth" disease, a chronic ability to undercut himself with embarrassing and very public gaffes.

While campaigning against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden, along with the other contenders, was one of the most vocal critics of Obama's complete lack of experience and repeatedly said that he was not ready or right for the White House. Said Biden "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." I've been hearing arguments that this is a particularly mild criticism, however, the fact that it vocalizes precisely the same doubt that a large number of American voters have about Obama is damning. And in politics, it doesn't matter how long ago you said something. When it's repeated over and over again in campaign ads, it becomes an issue you must defend yourself on constantly. Of course since Saturday, Biden has become part of Team Obama and is beginning to testify before large crowds about his born-again conversion. But this just makes him look like a flip-flopping sycophant, and I guarantee you that he'll be confronted with his primary season Obama criticisms at every press conference and interview. While Obama has said that he was looking for a vice-presidential pick that would give him honest advice and even voice disagreement with his policies, this will not serve to soften the impact, no matter how many times the media desperately recycles that statement. This is solid-gold fodder for the McCain campaign, and they've been running with it since Saturday. A campaign ad reminding America of Biden's statements hit the air immediately in an effort to blunt the fanfare surrounding the announcement (see it here on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF7Q0ghdTn4). By all appearances it is having the effect McCain intended. The argument can be made, however, that McCain will encounter the same obstacle if he taps Romney as his VP. While I agree to a certain extent, the big difference here is that Romney never said McCain wasn't ready or qualified for the office of president, he just said he was more ready and qualified.

The "gaffe-factor" should never be underestimated with Joe Biden either. After all, he has joined a superficial campaign that, in lieu of substance and good ideas, is entirely about words and looking good on television. His most famous Obama-related verbal impropriety came off to most Americans as condescending and flat-out racist. In February of 2007, he remarked "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man." Perhaps one of the most idiotic campaign statements made since Walter Mondale's proud announcement that he would raise taxes as president, it is made all the more unfathomable by the fact that Biden said it the day that he announced his own run for the presidency. In a single day he managed to alienate Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Mosely Braun, and their vast networks of allies even as he endeavored to win their support. But we can go back even further to Biden's first run for the White House in 1988, when he was forced to drop out after plagiarizing comments made by a British politician. Yikes. The list goes on and on and will get longer and more auspicious in the months to come. As vice-presidential candidates have historically had the duty of serving as the ticket headliner's attack dog, he is in a position to irritate and offend a much wider audience, which is the last place Obama should want him. It will, however, make for great television, which is ironically the only thing the Obama campaign has had going for it.

2 comments:

Hariolor said...

I can't disagree - I knew from the time Hillary stepped down that it'd be Obama/Biden, I just hope McCain picks someone with some economic common sense to balance out his hair-brained energy initiatives.

Luscus said...

Biden was picked for three reasons:

1. He's from Scranton, PA and has serious draw in the state

2. Foreign Policy Experience. I think his foreign policy is irreprehensibly moronic, but he's sat in the chair long enough for people to think he clears this hurdle.

3. He's older, white, and appeals to the working classes.

He'll be a good attack dog, which means that McCain needs a bigger, meaner one (with Harvard credentials and perfect hair?). Kind of odd, though, to see three Senators in the mix...look to see more criticism of the ticket's lack of executive experience.