Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Is Marc Ambinder Crazy?

In a post assessing Obama’s VP shortlist, Ambinder writes this

Sebelius and Kaine are both governing choices, not campaign choices. They’re not going to match Obama’s enthusiasm levels; they’re not going to do all that well at the VP debates; they’re not even going to solve political problems (even Kaine).  But they are solid; they are centrist-in-style; they are Washington outsiders; they know how to balance budgets and deal with Republicans. As an historical analogy, think Clinton’s choice of Gore.

Choosing Biden or Bayh would put in the White House strong and knowledgeable legislators who would be expected to do heavy lifting with allies and adversaries. both would do well at the debates; Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he’d be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).  The downside here is the same as the upside: the focus will be on the ticket and not on Obama, per se.

It seems to me that Ambinder is dead wrong. Not only are Sebelius and Kaine appealing because of how perfectly they fit in with Obama’s message of unity. They are red state governors who have been successful, though far more successful in Sebelius’ case. While both certainly would be assets in office, again, Sebelius more than Kaine, in my estimation, neither have a ton of governing experience. They are both governors, but neither has been in office longer than six years. Plus, as outsiders, they don’t have a grasp on how Washington works and how to govern from the White House.

Biden and Bayh, on the other hand, are creatures of Washington. They know how the legislative process works, know what has worked and failed for past presidents and have a lot more experience in government than either Kaine or Sebelius. Plus, the worry that anyone could overshadow Obama on the ticket seems perposterous to me. Obama is the biggets thing in American politics since sliced bread. There is no way his number 2 will over shadow him in the fall campaign. It simply isn’t going to happen.

In short, it seems to me that if Obama wants to reinforce his campaign narrative with his VP choice, Kaine or Sebelius is the way to go. On the other hand, if he wants a governing partner who can help him steer legislation through the sausage factory, Biden or Bayh seems the way to go.

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Biden for Veep?

I think Ezra Klein is largely right in his case for Joe Biden as Vice President.

In the 2008 election, he was the only Democrat who really figured out how to talk about Republicans and foreign policy. All the other candidates on the stage started from the presumption that Republicans were strong on national security, and voters needed to be convinced of their failures and then led to a place of support for a Democratic alternative. Biden dispensed with all that. He started from the position that Republicans had been catastrophic failures on foreign policy, and their ongoing claims to competence and leadership should be laughed at, and even mocked.

When Rudy Giuliani said, simply, “America will be safer with a Republican president,” Obama responded with a traditional, more-in-sadness-than-in-anger statement. “Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kind of politics. America’s mayor should know that when it comes to 9/11 and fighting terrorists, America is united.” The release goes on in this way for eight more lines.

Biden, by contrast, laughed at Giuliani. He mocked him. “The irony is, Rudy Giuliani, probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency, is here talking about any of the people here,” said Biden at one of the debates. “Rudy Giuliani… I mean, think about it! Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else!”

That’s Biden’s great strength. He’s the single best foreign policy advocate the Democrats have. Obama has some of these strengths as well. He’s the most confident Democratic presidential candidate on foreign policy issues in a generation, perhaps since Johnson. But its is hard for Obama to be an attack dog. It just isn’t his personality.

But it is Biden’s. He’s made a point of it recently, going after McCain on warrantless wiretapping, Lieberman on the Democratic foreign policy tradition and Bush on appeasement. He revels in being an attack dog. He skewers Republican foreign policy arguments with gusto and is completely comfortable doing it. Plus, as Ezra points out, he has a long, and mostly positive, relationship with the press, who universally regard him as a foreign policy expert.

To me, the case for Biden boils down to the fact that the only real chance McCain has at winning the general election is making it all about foreign policy. Biden helps neutralize that. He allows Obama to outline his own positive vision of American foreign policy, while outsourcing the most virulent attacks to Biden, who is better than any other Democrat at it.

Biden does have downsides. His plagiarism of Niel Kinnock would inevitably come up, he is old, he has a reputation as being gaffe prone, he wouldn’t do anything to help expand the map and he isn’t the greatest campaigner. But Biden has a single big strength, which may well overwhelm all his weaknesses; his ability to attack on foreign policy.

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Veepstakes

Now that Obama is starting his vice presidential search process, its as good as time as any to take a look at the potential VP candidates on both sides. So how should Obama and McCain go about making their picks?

So it’s an idea the candidates might consider. But whenever they make their picks, there are essentially two models to follow (in addition to picking someone from a key swing state, which is so twentieth century). There’s the Cheney model, in which you select a running mate who shores up your weaknesses, or the Gore model, in which you find someone who reinforces your strengths. In 2000, Dick Cheney appeared to be everything George W. Bush wasn’t: experienced, serious, knowledgeable and steady. In 1992, Al Gore appeared to be a virtual clone of Bill Clinton: young, Southern, ideologically moderate, and fresh. Both picks were extremely effective.

Marc Ambinder has some informed speculation up about the possible candidates. For Obama his list is:

1. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) — Obama really likes her; that’s very important.
2. The Virginia boys: Kaine and Webb
3. Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) — the Clinton stand in.
4. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ)
5. Sen. Hillary Clinton — there’s a fine balance between subtle pressure and overt hectoring

Wild card: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)

I think a lot of these would be good solid picks for Obama. They’re all in some way hybrid picks, with both Cheney and Gore elements. I’ve long though Sebelius was a great option. She’s got executive experience, but in many ways she personifies Obama’s change message. First, she’s a women, which would highlight the trailblazing nature of the Democratic ticket. Secondly, she is a popular, moderate governor from a red state, who has had incredible success winning Republicans over to the Democratic party. She’d highlight Obama’s bipartisan appeal and provide an actual example of what he wants to do with the country.

I’m not wild about a Kaine pick. First, I’m not sure he guarantees Virginia for Obama, and I think Obama could win it without him. Secondly, he doesn’t have much of a record as Governor. He’s faced Republican obstructionism, but he’s been manifestly unable to work across party lines to find acceptable solutions. Also, Democrats would lose the Virginia governorship if he were elected.

Webb is a different story. He’s got great military credentials and a real appeal to culturally conservative, Appalachian voters. He’s been a shocking effective Senator thus far, getting his GI Bill passed while putting McCain in an impossible political situation doing it. He also passed his Truman Commission for the Iraq War, which is looking into contracting abuses and war profiteering. He has a knack for proposing legislation dealing with the war that even pro-war Senators can get on board with. He’s a former Republican who has the ability to bolster Obama’s message of brining people together. Also, he’s a great attack dog, if a somewhat suspect campaigner. His response to Bush’s State of the Union in 2007 was the most effective I’ve ever seen, dwarfing Sebelius’ effort this year. He’d be hard to reign in, but he would really be a strong pick.

Strickland would only be an OK choice. He’s a former congressman and an ordained minister, which would be a plus, but he’s not particularly dynamic or nationally well known. He would probably bring along Ohio though. However, if you’re looking for strong Hillary supporters there are better options. General Wes Clark would be an outstanding choice, as would Senator Evan Bayh.

Napolitano would be a solid, Cheneyesque pick. She’s got great executive experience and has been effective in running Arizona. She also might be able to put Arizona on the map, which would be a plus given Obama’s preexisting strength in the rest of the Southwest. However, her record on immigration might be a little suspect, given that she signed the toughest employer sanction law in the country. That could lead to her being seen by Latino voters as anti-immigrant, a problem given Latinos preexisting affinity for John McCain.

Hillary herself may be the best option. She would bring the party together allow Democrats to present a united face in the fall. On the other hand, she would mobilize the right and could make Obama look weak if he is seen as being forced to pick her.

Biden or Hagel would be outstanding selections. There isn’t a better foreign policy attack dog than Joe Biden, whereas Hagel’s opposition to the war and status as a Republican, and close friend of John McCain, would emphasize Obama’s bipartisan appeal. Both are probably longshots, Biden especially given his habit of putting his foot in his mouth. On the other hand, picking Biden and publicly forgiving him for his infamous “clean” comments could help bridge the gap to white voters upset at being branded racists.

Ambinder’s GOP list:

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)
2. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
3. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-NY)
4. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
5. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Pawlenty would be an interesting choice. He’s a conservative Mid-Western governor who would satisfy the right. He’s also young, energetic and a good campaigner. On the other hand he’s not terribly popular. He’s never won more than 46 percent of the vote and probably wouldn’t allow McCain to carry Minnesota.

Romney would be a terrible pick for McCain. He’s a phony, electoral loser and blatant opportunist. He couldn’t bring his home state along and wouldn’t be anything more than a sop to the right who have for some reason adopted him as a hero.

Bloomberg would be a great choice, if he’d do it. There’s also been speculation that he’s favoring Obama. If he did go with McCain he’d emphasize McCain’s reach to the middle and put a popular executive on the ticket. He’d have a real appeal in parts of the country the GOP hasn’t competed in in for ever and would add real balance to McCain’s ticket, while still emphasizing his independence.

Sanford would be another interesting choice. He’d pacify worried social conservatives, yet still emphasize McCain’s reformer and budget hawk credentials. A McCain-Sanford ticket could make fiscal responsibility and pork busting central elements of their campaign. It could be a very strong ticket.

Thune would be another interesting option. He’d bring social conservatives solidly on board and has proved an ability to go toe to toe with Democrats, having beaten sitting Democratic leader, and Obama confidant, Tom Daschle in 2004. He’d be the best attack dog of the bunch and would provide solid regional balance for the ticket.

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