So Obama’s going with Sen. Joe Biden, rather than Evan Bayh, Tim Kaine, Sam Nunn, Katherine Sebelius or Hillary Clinton. Interesting – a choice which on the face of it plumps for avoiding risk, by attempting to neutralise what the Obama campaign sees as current advantages for McCain (foreign policy and Washington experience), yet also posing enormous risks, partly through Biden’s position as a Washington insider, in a year Obama has capitalised on his theme of ‘change’.
It doesn’t help that Biden’s mouthy, fell out of the 1988 campaign for allegedly plagiarising a speech by Neil Kinnock, and voted to authorise the war in Iraq, although it’s a further sign of Obama tacking to the centre and sticking to his promise (in a sense) of bi-partisanship. My concern is that the moves he’s already made to rush to the centre have been the primary reason for his dip in the opinion polls.
Biden though should effectively be able to act as Obama’s attack dog, in the same manner as Cheney has for the Idiot Bush, in an election where the Democratic Party has become increasingly concerned at the presumptive candidate’s refusal to slam his opponent. Just as Kerry’s once unassailable lead in 2004 started to get mercilessly attacked by Bush and his proxies, and he refused to slam them in return, falling down the polls quite quickly as a result, the same has started to be true in 2008. Hopefully Biden will be more effective than John Edwards, although the risk will remain that he might outshine Obama himself.
The question of Hillary Clinton will have to be answered however at the Convention next week however, and what to do about her wayward supporters. Wonkette amusingly discounts their phenomenon but many observers in the last week in particular have seen Clinton’s aggrieved supporters as the principal reason for Obama’s decline in the polls. It seems insane to think about it, considering just how extreme McCain’s platform really is, but there appear to be many female and blue collar voters in the US who claim that because Obama beat the first woman to come within a stone’s throw of winning the Democratic nomination for President, they’ll vote for the other guy out of spite. Perhaps Hillary has something to gain by egging them on, judging Obama’s candidacy as ultimately weaker than hers after all, but surely there could be no circumstances where anyone with even a shred of morality left could vote for McCain?
The BBC’s Richard Lister points out some important other points which have likely contributed to the turnaround, and it will remain to be seen whether Biden can help counter them:
As relatively high fuel prices caused many Americans to forgo their annual road-trips, Mr McCain also pushed his energy policy message calling for new offshore oil drilling.
Mr Obama once opposed that idea, but now supports limited new drilling and that flip-flop has been a gift to the Republicans.
It is that kind of “bumper sticker” issue that Mr McCain has been able to capitalise on more effectively than Obama, clearly defining his candidacy.
When asked about offshore drilling, Mr McCain is for it.
Mr Obama is much more nuanced: he is for it in some circumstances, but sceptical that it will really work.
Or take Mr Obama’s less-than-successful appearance with Mr McCain at a religious forum earlier this month.
When both were asked: “When does life begin?”, Mr McCain immediately said: “At the moment of conception”.
Mr Obama first said that answering the question was “above my pay-grade” before adding that he was in favour of legal abortion “not because I’m pro-abortion but because, ultimately, I don’t think women make these decisions casually. I think they wrestle with these things in profound ways.”
Try putting that on a bumper sticker.
There remains an enormous risk that we could have a repeat of 2004 for most of the same reasons: a nuanced, intelligent and moderate candidate, too aloof to hammer his extreme, folksy opponent into the ground. In 1992 Bill Clinton cultivated the same air of celebrity, but wasn’t afraid to be ruthless at the same time. From the start I believed that Hillary in turn could and would effortlessly slam McCain as her first priority, although considering the depth of their friendship that might never have been true. Whether it’s the reasons mentioned or (once again) a largely extremist American media doing the GOP’s bidding, we can only hope that the choice of Biden was the best one, and that the Convention will initiate a political knockout against McCain.
More ominously though the Slate believes race might well yet be the decider:
Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month’s CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth examining in detail if you want a quick grasp of white America’s curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say the country isn’t ready to elect a black president. Five percent of white voters acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.
I hope they’re wrong.