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Never Let the VP Become the Story

[Howdy folks. I haven't blogged here in quite some time, but with things heating up in the election I thought I'd add my voice to the chorus of punditry. So here goes...] Never let the running mate become the story. That's something that Obama understood and McCain didn't. So what does each vice-presidential choice tell us about the candidates? It speaks volumes about a single trait: confidence. Like a lot of people, I wasn't initially enthralled by the pick of Biden. It seemed too safe a choice; it didn't seem to enhance Obama's "change" brand; and it looked a little too much like ticket-balancing. This week, of course, the Biden choice looks pretty smart. "No Drama" Obama wanted Biden to do the job without distracting from the top of the ticket. He did that at the convention. He gave a rousing speech; he tore into McCain a bit; and no one could doubt his qualifications. The party and the pundits nodded and moved on. Had Obama wanted drama, he would, of course, have picked Hillary Clinton--and we'd see nothing but Clinton coverage between now and November. In contrast, McCain picked Palin because he wanted to make a splash--because he needed to distract from his own weakness with his base. And Palin has indeed become the headline--but for all the wrong reasons: her abuse of power, her weird "Alaska First" politics, and of course her teenage daughter's pregnancy. McCain chose Palin for three reasons, all of which reflect weakness: 1. He needed a sop to his right-wing base, particularly to evangelicals, who don't trust him. (He couldn't pick his "real" choice, Joe Lieberman, because Lieberman is pro-choice and the convention would have rebelled.) 2. He deluded himself into thinking he could appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters--by choosing a woman who believes exactly the opposite of Clinton on every issue. (The only way to appeal to Hillary Clinton supporters would have been to pick Hillary Clinton.) 3. Pure shock value. McCain bet so completely on the "surprise" effect of picking the unknown Palin that he did a lousy job of vetting her. We weren't going to see any interesting skeletons in the closet of Lieberman or Romney. In short: Palin was a panic choice, not from a "maverick" (the real maverick would have picked Lieberman, and to hell with his base), but from a candidate convinced he is going down to defeat without a game-changing miracle. And what does Obama's choice of Biden tell us? That Obama really did follow what every presidential candidate always says is the guiding principle: pick someone who is ready to step into the job on Day 1. He didn't pick Biden to fire up his base, to compensate for his own shortcomings, or to appeal to some neglected constituency--there would have been better people to pick on each of those. He picked Biden because Biden is actually the guy who would be a good vice president--because Obama thinks he is going to win. That's confidence. And it also turned out to be smart politics.
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