Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The real reason Obama picked Biden

All the political commentators are wondering why Barack Obama picked Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate. And none of them can seem to come up with a good reason.

Biden is much older than Obama and he's been a senator for more than thirty years, so he hardly fits Obama's message of "We are the change we have been waiting for." And Biden is from Delaware which only has a few electoral votes, so he doesn't add much to the ticket in that regard. Biden has a lot of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, so he probably knows where Azerbaijan is, and he probably knows that the Georgians in the news a lot lately don't eat grits and gravy. But Biden being so experienced is a bit of a two-edged sword. Having Biden on the ticket may reassure some folks, but it may also reinforce the concern among other folks that Obama himself doesn't have much experience.

So why did Obama pick Biden when he could have picked someone like Governor Ed Rendell? Rendell is younger than Biden, and he's a much fresher face on the national scene. And Rendell might have some real clout when it comes to winning Pennsylvania's big electoral vote count.

I think Obama picked Biden because guys like Rendell, guys with a future in politics, dodged when he asked them. They think he won't win. And running for vice-president on a losing ticket is about as healthy for a political career as getting caught in a love child controversy.

Which brings me to John Edwards. He ran for VP with John Kerry in 2004 - and they lost. Being an old VP nominee didn't help him a lot when he ran for president this year. He got trounced by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and that was before the love child controvery hit the papers.

Then there's Joe Lieberman. He ran for VP with Al Gore in 2000 - and they lost. Joe Lieberman more recently found himself ganged up on by members of his own party in Connecticut when he ran for the Senate again. Being an old VP candidate of their party didn't cut much mustard with them.

Most of you have forgotten Jack Kemp, so I'll tell you he was a football player and then a long time congressman. He ran for VP in 1996 as the running mate of Robert Dole. They lost, and nobody has heard of Jack Kemp since then.

Here are some more loser VP candidates - Dan Quayle 1992, Lloyd Bentsen 1988, Geraldine Ferraro 1984, Walter Mondale 1980. All losers, and all have gone nowhere since they lost. There's a pattern here. Running for VP is outright political poison if you lose.

And what if you win? One of the country's countless forgettable VPs memorably described the office of Vice-President of the United States as not being worth a pitcher of warm spit. Less than a pitcher of warm spit, that's what you get if you win!

If you lose you're almost certainly headed for the political graveyard. No young politician with half a brain in his head will accept an offer to run for vice-president unless he's pretty darn sure the presidential candidate he's tying himself to is going to win.

So now you know why Obama picked Biden to be his running mate. The young Democratic Party politicians all turned him down. They've been watching Obama's poll results decline ever since early Spring and they don't like the trend. They're acting excited about Obama, but they think he's a sinking ship and they don't want to go down with him.

Barack Obama picked Joe Biden because he couldn't convince any of the other nationally known Democrats to run with him.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting column.

I knew Hillary would never have accepted a nomination for Vice President; because, quite frankly, I couldn't imagine her being content with the #2 slot. I also think she and Michelle Obama would have fought like two cats in a box.

But I had not considered the other points you brought up, and find them to be quite interesting.

Can you apply your theory to the Republican side and predict McCain's running mate? If not that, then who do you think will refuse the nomination?


sully said...

Good question about the Republican side. It occurred to me as well after I posted the Biden thing, along with a further thought about how politicians see the VP nomination in general.

I think strong self sufficient up and coming politicians like Ed Rendell and Hillary Clinton will not accept a VP nomination unless they are almost sure the ticket will win. It's just not worth the risk because even if you become VP there is no guarantee that it will lead to the presidency. Al Gore, for instance, was VP for two terms with a fairly popular president and then he failed to win when he ran in his own right. Nixon also failed to win in his first try for president even though he was VP for two terms to a very popular president. In this regard we have an odd system which tends to result in relative weaklings or old folks ready to retire or very junior folks being selected for VP.

So let me put my thinking cap on about the Republicans. I think McCain will win, but I don't think he's by any means a sure thing. On the other hand McCain will almost surely be a one term president and he's not a big favorite with much of his own party, which makes the VP spot potentially more valuable than it would be with a candidate like Obama who is young and who is a big favorite with the core of his party. Another risk that Obama present, which McCain doesn't, is that a young president might dump a VP and choose another when he runs for a second term.

So I think McCain's VP spot is pretty desirable to a strong politician like Romney, especially because Romney will always have trouble getting elected to the Senate, for instance, in liberal Massachusetts. But his VP spot might not be so desirable to someone like Hutchinson who can keep her Senate seat in Texas til she dies. On the other hand Hutchinson might calculate that with her on the ticket she and McCain will almost certainly win.

A long way of saying I think the Republican side is more complicated, and I'm much less convinced about my logic than on the Demo side.

Sully said...

And another thing about the Republican side. I think all the talk about Jindal and Palin is proof of my assertion that VP candidates are usually from among the weaker less experienced ranks. Both are like Obama, much too inexperienced to be considered for President.

Condoleeza Rice is another talked about person who would not even be considered if stronger politicians were open to a VP spot. Rice is experienced and smart and all that, but she has never once run for an elective office. She has never given a campaign speech or been in a position where she has had to react in real time to the kind of criticisms that elective politicians throw at one another and the kind of traps media types set for them.

There are 20 or so Republican governors and 48 or so Republican Senators. Most of them have no interest in the VP nomination.