Would Hillary have been a better choice for VP?
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Obama-Biden ticket. The stadium finale of the Denver Convention was overshadowed by the historic choice of Governor Sarah Palin by John McCain, the GOP has rediscovered some optimism, and the Republican ticket has taken a lead in the national polls. Much of this is attributed to Palin, who has both energised the Conservative base, and injected some glamour and hope into what was previously a stagnant campaign.
By comparison, Joe Biden has barely received any attention, except for a number of gaffes (a fault to which he is especially prone) including inviting a wheelchair-bound veteran to stand to receive applause, calling the Presidential Nominee ‘Barack America’, and describing his wife’s doctorate degree as ‘problematic’. Most recently, when asked a hostile question about Hillary Clinton, he tried to defend her by saying that she might have been a better choice for the Vice Presidential nomination.
Biden was always known for his malapropisms and off-the-cuff style – none of this should come as a surprise to the Democratic Party or the Obama campaign that chose him for the VP slot. What is disconcerting about his admission that Hillary might have been a better choice is that it vocalises what many in both the Party and the Country are thinking – should Obama have chosen Hillary Clinton instead?
I was very critical of the choice of Biden at the time (see comments 20 and 22 on this thread), though I have since warmed to him, and understand a little better the reasons he was chosen. However, that doesn’t undermine that there are some significant problems that are a direct result of the selection of the senior Senator from Delaware.
He is a long-time Washington politician, with plenty of experience – this undermines Obama’s message of ‘Change’ to the extent that McCain-Palin have managed to claim some of this territory with talk of being mavericks and outsiders, prepared to stand-up to Washington. Hillary has been an outsider in Washington herself, and has spent only a fraction of Biden’s 36 years in the US Senate.
Biden doesn’t excite the base, especially not when compared to Hillary. He was brought in to ‘shore up’ the blue-collar, Catholic, industrial voting men whom Obama has struggled to reach, but he does not ‘excite’ voters. He garnered barely 1% in this year’s Iowa Caucus – compared to the 18 million voters who supported Hillary Clinton. The junior Senator from New York would have antagonised some of the conservatives so delighted by Palin’s elevation, but she would have brought plenty of her own die-hard supporters to the polling booths as well.
Then we have the debates. Biden is known for long rambling answers, and for going off-script. Whilst this is endearing, it was always assumed that as the nominated attack-dog, he would at least be able to throw fire at his Republican opposite number. This will be harder to do against Palin. I have no doubt that she is more than able to rise to the challenge of robust attacks, but it is difficult (even for highly skilled debaters like William Hague) for a male candidate to ‘demolish’ a female opponent without seeming either patronising or something of a bully. Hillary Clinton would have been far better able to unleash the dogs on Palin, without having to apologise or moderate her tone.
I never thought that Hillary Clinton was the best choice for Vice President, but there is no doubt that she would have made a formidable contribution to the ticket – uniting the party, raising huge sums of money, and igniting dispair in the Republican campaign. The choice of a candidate as ‘safe’ as Biden – aimed, according to Markos Moulitsas, at appeasing the Washington and media elites – I believe forced McCain to take the gamble on Palin that has paid off so fruitfully.
Had Obama chosen Evan Bayh, I think the counter-play would have been Pawlenty (and that VP debate would have been like ‘Waiting for Godot and his economic stimulus package’); had Obama chosen Kaine or Schweitzer, I think Mitt Romney would have stood a better chance. By selecting Joe Biden, Obama ensured that McCain would respond in the only way that gave him a fighting chance – by putting a base-friendly woman on the Republican ticket for the first time. Now there is even talk of ‘PUMAs for Palin’, and Hillary Clinton continues to haunt the Obama campaign.
All tallied up, I wonder if Joe Biden has just made the truest statement of, if not his entire career, at least this whole campaign.
UPDATE: It would be remiss not to bring to our punters’ attention this story that was posted by HenryH last night. It claims there are negotiations for Biden to step down so that Hillary can join the ticket.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think there is anything in this. It would be solely Biden’s choice (I can’t think of any mechanism for removing him without his permission) and it would have to be for a better reason that just politics – ill health, for instance. This would, I think, also force him to retire from his Senate race also in November. He would not just be giving up the chance at the Vice-Presidency (and the polls are nowhere near that clear or that serious for him yet), but also his Senate career to ‘keep up appearances’. The last time a candidate retired from the ticket before the election was Thomas Eagleton in 1972 – which cost McGovern the election, losing 49 states to President Nixon. Unless Biden really is physically unable to continue, I cannot imagine that this story has even a grain of truth.