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"The Real Significance of the Biden Pick":
Over at Nuts and Boalts, blogger "Earl Warren" has a pretty astute post on what Barack Obama likely hoped to achieve by picking Joe Biden as his running mate.
Thomas_Holsinger:
That's the way I see it too, and said so yesterday in Ilya Somin's related thread (new boldface though):
"3) I agree with Professor Somin that Biden's selection signifies an Obama campaign policy decision not to slide towards the center, but IMO that is more a matter of how they think the Democratic base will see it. Specifically they are worried about the lefty portion of that base not showing up in November. I.e., Biden's job is to whip up the Democratic base, particularly its lefties, with inflamatory attacks on McCain while Obama himself slides towards the center and appears Presidential by contrast. I.e., Biden is to fill Spiro Agnew's role in the Nixon administration. Bear in mind that Agnew was a moderate Republican governor of Maryland and obediently changed his spots to seem a Republican attack dog as Vice-President."

But I think Biden is a mistake as his elitism and overt disdain reinforce Obama's elitist image.
"... Obama's selection of Biden dramatizes how tone-deaf Obama and his top people are to the perpception that Obama is elitist. They just don't see it. And this will kill them in November."
8.27.2008 1:55am
Jay Myers:
Unfortunately for Obama, Biden promoted McCain as a possible running mate for Kerry in 2004 and on October 30 of last year sang McCain's praises as being qualified to be president. Meanwhile, he has spent most of the last year talking about how unqualified Obama is. There is even When Biden does a 180 immediately after being selected as Obama's running mate, even a blind man will be able to see that it is political ambition and opportunism at work. What do they call those sandal things again?

Besides, Biden is nearly as old as McCain, voted for the war in Iraq, and has been in the Senate even longer than McCain. So all of those attacks suddenly become much trickier for Team Obama. If it weren't for Biden's history of lies and gaffes people would be saying the ticket is upside down.
8.27.2008 2:07am
Anon21:
Jay Myers: I think you didn't read the linked post, or if you did, you didn't grasp its full import. Outside of people who already had strong opinions on Joe Biden before he was named as Obama's running mate last week, Biden's past essentially doesn't matter. His primary identity now becomes "Obama's running mate." The GOP pushed out a few ads pushing this "Biden didn't used to like Obama and loved McCain," but they will not continue pushing this theme because Biden as Biden isn't going to be topical after the conventions.

Other than running mates who are genuinely popular in their home states (I'm talking Mark Warner, not Evan Bayh, here), the first, last, and only effect a VP pick has on the race is the VP's role as a surrogate. Because he is as high level a surrogates as exists, and because everything he says is tied directly to the Obama campaign, controversial things that he says are newsworthy. First, that means genuine gaffes. Obama and his team bet that Biden could rein those in for the two months between now and the election. We'll see if they're right. The other thing it means is attacks. When a VP launches a brutal attack on the top of the opposing ticket, that's news in a way that no other surrogate can aspire to. But at the same time, the sound bites playing on the nightly newscasts are not the Presidential candidate himself. In a rational political world, it wouldn't matter, because voters would know the attacks were approved by the Presidential candidate. But in the world we actually live in, optics are hugely important, and low-info voters have a whole different set of reactions to seeing the No. 2 launch a tough attack than they do with seeing the No. 1 do it.

So that's about all. There have been pages of right wing analysis about why this and that from Biden's past makes him a poor choice, but it doesn't matter. No undecided voters are registering any of that; it doesn't even occur to them to care. What they will care about are the sharp attacks the Obama campaign rolls out through Biden, because the media will report and discuss them. Biden was a strong pick because he fulfills the single important role (attack dog) of a VP candidate well.
8.27.2008 3:14am
Frater Plotter:
Please keep in mind, folks, that a "gaffe" is anything that a reporter says is a "gaffe". It has no objective meaning.
8.27.2008 6:09am
Elliot (mail):
It seems odd to select a "pit bull" who has a good chance of creating more "gaffes" than those it will try to sink its teeth into.
8.27.2008 6:18am
VincentPaul (mail):
Ed Rendell should have been Obama's pick if he wanted a VP who would attack the GOP. It's not even close. Plus, if it actually came down to a slugfest, Rendell is worth five Bidens.
8.27.2008 6:23am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
jay:

he has spent most of the last year talking about how unqualified Obama is


Yes, and if/when McCain picks Romney, it will lots of fun to watch the video where Romney says McCain is "dishonest." Especially because a bunch of other Republicans have called McCain a "liar."

Biden promoted McCain as a possible running mate for Kerry in 2004


That just gives Biden a nice platform to talk about how much McCain has changed recently. Lots of flip-flops.
8.27.2008 6:58am
Jim at FSU (mail):
I think Biden's selection just further demonstrates that Obama seems to be learning the wrong lessons from the Kerry campaign.

Their ham-handed and overly aggressive ("Obama Seeks to Silence Ad Tying Him to 60's Radical") attempt to silence the Ayers ads with threats of jail and lawyers misapplies the lesson of the Swift boat controversy. The lesson should have been "don't nominate deeply flawed candidates and hope any particular flaw is out of bounds for the republicans." Instead they seem to have taken a page from the scientologists and decided "when someone says something bad about you that is true, shoot yourself in the foot to silence them."

Biden's long history of dishonest and stupid statements are a minefield that democrats could easily have avoided by picking someone else. In the end, I think Biden is going to end up as a liability for Obama.

Additionally, to the extent that Biden has extensive foreign policy experience, much of what he has written and said comes across as solid neocon. I would actually say based on his law review paper than his politics are closer to Bush than to McCain on this subject. The cherry on top of this is that Biden is as far left on social issues as Obama. Is the lesson from 2000 and 2004 that Americans want politicians that are far left on social issues while preserving a hawkish foreign policy? I would have thought the opposite.
8.27.2008 7:51am
Justin (mail):
Jim -

Give the GOP a target, and there's no such thing as a non-deepy flawed candidate. If John McCain was a Democrat, he'd be a deeply flawed candidate. Heck, he cheated on and left his wife when he had cancer! He's 800 years old! Etc. Reagan had flaws out the kazoo.

It doesn't take flaws, it takes an opposition machine. The GOP knows that, and the Democrats learned that - pick the guy you like, because no person is so flawless as to avoid attack.

But at least McCain's attacks on Obama have mostly struck the public as unfair. Good.
8.27.2008 9:12am
Norman Bates (mail):
Ah, the standard dimocrat narrative: The only reason we don't get elected is because we're so nice and the Republicans play such dirty tricks. It has nothing to do with the fact that the policies we support -- live-birth abortion, gun confiscation, nation-wide homosexual marriage, government support of union thuggery, tax policies that ensure the economy will tank, racial and sexual preferences, divisive ethnic-identity politics, open hostility to the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition, etc., etc. -- are repugnant to a large majority of Americans. The tone of the cited URL reminds me of that great line from The Producers: "Someday our Fuehrer will return again and this time we Germans will not make the same mistake we have always made before.... This time no more Mr. Nice Guy."
8.27.2008 9:25am
AntonK (mail):
Sorry Orin, but Earl Warren has totally missed the mark. Obama picked Biden solely because "Talkin' Joe's" gaffes will provide the white noise needed to mask his own. It's really just that simple...
8.27.2008 9:34am
AntonK (mail):
Earl Warren says,

"...One of the most ludicrous aspects of American politics in the last generation is how Republican politicians in Washington—who live in perfect gilded opulence, and who devote their professional lives to servicing the rich—somehow became the party of the people. And Democrats, whose legislative agenda revolves around helping the middle-class, turned into effete elites."
Amazing! This ability of contemporary liberals to wrap themselves in a fantasy that they actually then seem to believe (as opposed to just using for political purposes) is astounding. It surely is the modern equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials mass-hysteria phenomenon.
8.27.2008 9:47am
Justin (mail):
Yes, Norman, I am a Muslim Nazi trying to get the United States under Sharia law, where homosexuality is punished by death, while simultaneously requiring every American to enter into a homosexual marriage against their will. You'd think, with this being a straight, Christian nation, I'd have some trouble with that - but don't worry, when everyone's gun is taken from them by law, nobody will have guns but me. Mwa ha ha!!!

But we're not done. Abortions will now be legal until the 15th trimester! And to make this a more colorful place, the abortions will be forced if you're white. Why? Because I hate white people. Even though I'm white. Goddamn me, why couldn't I have been born black. The black people in America get all the advantages - like getting into all the cool parties, and living in exotic places like Harlem, Inwood, and East New York.

Also, since I hate money, and I want to be unemployed (it'll let me have more downtime), I intentionally want to tank the economy. That'll show those people who got better grades than me in Fed Courts. Yeah, when we're in the 1920s, nobody will work at Wachtell!

Mwahahahahaha
8.27.2008 9:57am
Justin (mail):
PS

Jim at FSU,

Other than the sycophants at Fox News, I'm not sure how many people care that Obama, you know, taught at Chicago, and therefore knew other people of the faculty there. I know you think the Ayres thing is really, really important, but there's no "there" there. The whole thing was fun when Fox News was trying to do the whole "closet-Islamo-radical" thing against Obama. But it doesn't work. Nobody thinks Obama agrees with Ayres's views on terrorism or America. That they may have worked together on an anti-poverty campaign or two would only mean that Obama is against poverty. Which I'm sure would really scar Obama at the end of the day. I can already see the ad now: John McCain - he's pro-poverty!
8.27.2008 10:02am
Anderson (mail):
JUSTIN!!! You're suppposed to keep quiet until after the inauguration!
8.27.2008 10:14am
GV:
Seriously, Justin. (At least you didn't give away our plot to surrender to the insurgents in Iraq and hand them all of our weapons.)
8.27.2008 10:42am
Anderson (mail):
You're on the list too, GV!

In non-treasonous news, Jeffrey Toobin has an op-ed about Biden, Bork, and Thomas that is Volokh-worthy.
8.27.2008 10:55am
rarango (mail):
I still contend that the VP pick matters not in the least. Unless it is something like the Thomas Eagleton thing (and senator Eagleton displayed a lot of class in the unsavory incident). Now if someone has some research that suggests the VP pick is important to the top of the ticket, please direct me to it. Research, not commentary.

Frankly I enjoy watching Joe Biden; he is, like every politician, a BSer and a thirty year pol who will, like John McCain, have created a very long legislative trail. And he frequently makes some hilarious missteps. But thats what happens when you talk a lot.
8.27.2008 10:59am
Adam B. (www):
Jeffrey ROSEN, not Toobin. They hate getting confused.

Also, Ed Rendell's too jocular to be a real pit bull against a Republican.
8.27.2008 11:21am
trad and anon:
Please keep in mind, folks, that a "gaffe" is anything that a reporter says is a "gaffe". It has no objective meaning.

No, it's well-established that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. This is considered a serious faux paus.
8.27.2008 11:25am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Nope.

Biden is there to gather any middle-aged, middle class, white males to be had.

...and-

As mentioned, people don't vote for vice presidents.
8.27.2008 11:26am
Anderson (mail):
Jeffrey ROSEN, not Toobin. They hate getting confused.

Aagh! A gaffe! That's why I'm not Obama's veep.
8.27.2008 11:45am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Republican politicians in Washington—who live in perfect gilded opulence


Kennedy, Feinstein, Kohl, Rockefeller, Kerry, Pelosi, Corzine.

None of them live in opulence. Not at all, just GOPers.

Gotta give Biden credit, he has a negative net worth. I guess he has his son get his bribes extra pay instead

I agree that this "attack dog" fanatsy theory was a reason, perhaps the reason. It worked extremely well in the primary campaign for Biden. I think it almost beat Kucinich in Iowa.
8.27.2008 11:59am
Houston Lawyer:
Here I already see the same mindset from the supporters of the losers of the last two elections. "The Republicans are too mean. If we were meaner, we would win."

All the while, I think that either party will throw as much mud as they believe is necessary to win the election. The real question is to whom the mud will stick. Hence the association of teflon with Reagan.

Kerry had a velcro suit, by comparison, and Obama likes to run around as if he were wearing white robes.
8.27.2008 12:05pm
Hoosier:
Frater Plotter:
Please keep in mind, folks, that a "gaffe" is anything that a reporter says is a "gaffe". It has no objective meaning.


No kidding! Recall that Reagan was said to have committed a "gaffe" in the 1980 contest when he called the Vietnam War a "noble cause." I don't think it counts as a gaffee it it was scripted, he meant it, and he said it repeatedly.

The problem was that Baby Boomer reporters could not imagine that a politician would say such a thing on purpose, since they all "knew" that it was so wrong. A real generational chasm yawned wide on that one.
8.27.2008 12:15pm
PLR:
"Warren's" post is helpful. I've been looking for a rational basis for liking the pick of the old war horse Biden. The attack dog theory will do.
8.27.2008 12:17pm
More importantly...:
Anyone else find Biden like Trump, though without even Trump's trace of business competence?

We have forgotten neither Biden's TTT (one of the few modern terms I like) educational credentials and performance, nor his penchant for lying about them. This man is clearly a legend in his own mind.
8.27.2008 1:04pm
Jerry Mimsy (www):
What's amazing is someone might win the election choosing a running-mate that gaffe-prone.

But that's America.
8.27.2008 1:08pm
Sarcastro (www):
Jerry Mimsy it's such a shame. Why the heck don't Americans care more about how well spoken the guy who'll be standing next to the President a lot is?
8.27.2008 1:26pm
OrinKerr:
Sarcastro,

I realize your shtick is to poke fun at people, but I'm not sure your shtick is consistent with our comment policy. If you want to keep things light-hearted, or only to respond to those who are really way over the top, that's one thing; but a sarcastic jibe towards someone who just disagrees with you seems pretty lame -- and hard to square with our comment policy. So if you want to comment here, please control yourself.
8.27.2008 1:33pm
Sarcastro (www):
[OrinKerr Noted. Poking fun only at the over the top people is indeed my intent. Milage may vary, though, and I'll try to be more circumspect.]
8.27.2008 1:39pm
Comment Comment:
Only a bunch of people who went to law school could think it's a good idea to draft a 530+ word comment policy for a blog.
8.27.2008 1:49pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

the lesson of the Swift boat controversy

The lesson of the Swift boat controversy is "Make your enemies play by the rules." That policy has helped Obama his entire career.

Alinsky Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. "You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

Identifying the commercials with the person it helps is another Alinsky tactic:

Alinsky Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don't try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

Here the American Issues Forum erred by making a straight attack ad (no issue advocacy) and by putting one of McCain's paid political consultants (for the Iowa caucuses) on their board.
8.27.2008 1:53pm
PLR:
What's amazing is someone might win the election choosing a running-mate that gaffe-prone.

It happened as recently as 1988.
8.27.2008 1:53pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
"Earl Warren" makes the following parenthetical comment: "In the reality-based community, it's hard to fathom how the African-American son of a single mother who worked his way through school can be an 'elite.'"

The answer is, we're talking about two different kind of elites, and while there is some overlap between the two, they also stand alone.

Elite #1 is the old-money/old-family elite who have been rich since forever and/or whose family has always been involved at a high level in the community - politics, military, business, etc. In short, aristocrats.

Elite #2 consists largely of self-made elitists like Obama, various celebrities and other self-made elitists.

Of course one could say that Harvard made Obama into an elitist, but I've known a few people who went to Harvard and didn't come out of the experience looking down at those of their fellow men who get their hands dirty or went to lesser schools.

It's easy to look at one's fellow man, see his flaws and consider yourself to be better than he is and able to prescribe cures and courses of action, whether they are wanted or not and whether they work or not. Welfare, abortion, gun control -- the list is probably endless; the results are more often than not what the proponent intended, because we are dealing with real people, not some construct in the elitist's mind.
8.27.2008 2:54pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Obama's old connections are relevant because it helps us decide which Obama is the real Obama:

1) The post-racial divide-bridger and aisle-crosser with moderate views on a wide range of issues. You know, the Obama that has existed for the past 2-4 years. Well, minus the aisle crossing.

2) The leftist wealth redistributor, race-baiter, gun grabber and communist sympathizer who has readily broken bread with the most radical figures from the left over the past 20 years and chaired many of the most radical leftist organizations in the country. You know, the Obama that existed before the past 2-4 years.

Remember kids, it isn't that the American people abhor Obama's message, it's that the Republicans are telling them about it. Blame the Republicans.
8.27.2008 3:32pm
loki13 (mail):
Jim at FSU,

Is it Fresno State University? Because if it's Florida State University, it explains a lot.

Go Gators.
8.27.2008 3:39pm
wfjag:
No, Prof. Kerr, neither you, nor "Earl Warren", nor any of the other commentators have got it right. The real reason is that BHO realized, as his faux Greek Temple was being planned for Thurs. night, that Joe Biden would look better in a toga than would Hillary. "It's the visuals, stupid!"
8.27.2008 3:43pm
JKB:
Well, the Dems didn't really think about the VP selection from a chanting crowd perspective.

Say "Elect Obama and Biden" 5 times really fast.

A couple of Dems have already flubbed it. I can't wait until 80,000 start chanting inside a stadium. I love comedy, especially tragi-comedy. A Greek temple oh so appropriate.
8.27.2008 4:42pm
Hoosier:
wfjag: I thought only a certain senator from WVa was allowed to wear togas?
8.27.2008 6:08pm
Crunchy Frog:

No, Prof. Kerr, neither you, nor "Earl Warren", nor any of the other commentators have got it right. The real reason is that BHO realized, as his faux Greek Temple was being planned for Thurs. night, that Joe Biden would look better in a toga than would Hillary. "It's the visuals, stupid!"

That's because Hillary has hairier legs.
8.27.2008 6:23pm
wfjag:
Not quite Hoosier. Start the chant: "John Belushi, Joe Biden; John Belushi, Joe Biden; J.Belushi, J. Biden; J.Belushi, J. Biden; J.B., J.B.; J.B., J.B." They become one and the same.

Crunchy Frog, you're close -- but, not quite. Rather, if Hillary poured a bottle of mustard on herself, everyone would be really grossed out. But, if Biden does it, will anyone really care?
8.27.2008 7:13pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Obama's selection of Biden for his effectiveness as a partisan "attack dog" is reasonable, and I don't dispute that Biden will be effective at that with the target audience. Biden's downsides might outweigh his advantages overall, but that is a different issue.

The target audience for a Vice Presidential nominee as attack dog, and for an incumbent President as one (note that Spiro Agnew was not that as VP nominee in 1968 - his role changed only after Nixon became President), is almost always the really partisan element of his party. Here it is the Democratic base, and in particular its "nutroots".

And they're simply not going to care about Biden's gaffes, if only because they'll tend to agree with those.

Now Biden's gaffes might induce wavering Democratic voters to stay home or, worse, convince uncommitted voters to vote for McCain, but that goes to his overall effectiveness as a nominee, not to his effectiveness in whipping up the Democratic base.

I happen to like Obama's selection of Biden, but for a totally different reason than most anyone "reasonable" would expect - this camapign desperately needs some comic relief, and Biden has entertainment value. His gaffes tend to be funny, and not merely for those who appreciate really good train wrecks or German cooking.

Though there is that. I have a picture of the 2008 Vice-Presidential debates in my head, in which Biden stands grining at the wonderfulness of something he's just said, while everyone in the room (including the Republican VP nominee) stares at him with bulging eyeballs and "I can't believe he just said that" expressions, plus McCain grinning and Obama covering his face with one hand.

Plus Biden is a "two-fer" (2 for the price of 1) in that, overall, I think he'll help Republicans by hurting Democrats. It's not his penchant for gaffes per se that will do this, as the particular type of gaffe Biden favors. He really goes for the disdainful, elitist, put-down type of gaffe, to a degree which is really uncommon even for outsize ego Senators.

And this is just deadly in a candidate for national office.

Worse (or better, from my point of view), this reinforces Obama's biggest weakness in that he too has an elitist image. Obama's victory or defeat depends on how successful he is in shedding that image, and Biden will make it much more difficult for Obama to shed it.

For the best possible reason, of course. Obama really IS that way. He and his people did not see that disadvantage in Biden, because they agree with his disdainful put-downs.

It couldn't happen to more deserving people.
8.27.2008 8:00pm
Jerry Mimsy (www):
Sarcastro, I agree. You know, that's the one thing they always neglect to explain. How come? Why? What for?
8.27.2008 9:04pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
bob:

Kennedy, Feinstein, Kohl, Rockefeller, Kerry, Pelosi, Corzine.


News flash: the GOP is still the party of the rich, even though some Dems are very rich. Amazing, isn't it? Here's one indication: income over $100k was one of the best predictors that someone would be a Bush voter in 2004.

I think if the survey had a cutoff at $250k or a million, the effect would be even more dramatic.
8.27.2008 10:23pm
LM (mail):
jbg,

You don't get it. When a Democrat has money, he's rich. When a Republican does, he's successful.
8.27.2008 10:32pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
lm, good point.

Another survey with a higher cutoff is here (thanks to anderson in another thread). It shows the effect I described.
8.27.2008 10:56pm
MarkField (mail):

When a Democrat has money, he's rich. When a Republican does, he's successful.


And "successful" includes marrying into money. But only if you're Republican, of course.
8.27.2008 11:23pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
"marrying into money"

Exactly. How shocking that Obama got rich the old-fashioned way, by creating something lots of people decided to buy.

Kerry was repeatedly called a "gigolo" because his wife is rich, even though he divorced his first wife before he ever met Heinz, and even though he had already been a senator for 10 years before he married Heinz. In other words, he didn't use Heinz to launch his political career, the way McCain used Cindy. If Kerry is a gigolo, what does that make McCain?
8.27.2008 11:44pm
Karan Singh (mail):
<blockquote>
income over $100k was one of the best predictors that someone would be a Bush voter in 2004.
</blockquote>

Hmmm, how to explain how 99% of DC's law firm associates are Obama supporters? Hmmm . . .
8.28.2008 8:18am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
karan:

Hmmm, how to explain how 99% of DC's law firm associates are Obama supporters?


Hmmm, could it be that your unsubstantiated anecdote is a little exaggerated?

Hmmm, could it be that some people who were idiots in 2004 are now coming to their senses?

Hmmm, could it be that "DC's law firm associates" are a very tiny subset of the large group of people who earn over $100k, and are not perfectly typical of that group, for whatever obvious or non-obvious reasons?

Hmmm, could it be that you're trying to claim that the two sources I cited aren't credible, even though the evidence you cite to support your claim is pathetically flimsy?

Hmmm, could it be that you're really too simpleminded to be able to think of all this on your own? Hmmm …
8.28.2008 9:48am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Oh yeah, here's another one. Hmmm, could it be that "DC's law firm associates" do not all earn over $100k?
8.28.2008 10:04am