They say any twig seems like a life raft to a drowning man. Maybe that's why supporters of the Obama campaign have greeted Barak Obama's selection of Senator Joe Biden, as his vice-presidential running mate, with such euphoria. The Annointed One's campaign has been faltering of late, and wise ones in the media have blamed the candidate's obvious weakness in foreign affairs. Mr. Biden is being widely hailed for bringing the foreign affairs "gravitas" that the ticket needs. So, voila! Mr. Obama is instantly ready to play in the foreign affairs big leagues. In Inspector Clousseau's memorable phrase, "the problem is solv-ed".
If this is truly the view of the Obama campaign, it does seem that there's a lot of wishful thinking going on. Does Mr. Obama's "Hope You Can Believe In" crusade really need "saving"? And, if so, can an old-line, middle-aged, liberal-war-horse senator from inside the Beltway really salvage it?
At least one aspect of this curious thinking stems from a Democratic Party conviction that the vice presidential candidate is actually a significant personage who not only helps the candidate get elected, but even helps govern after the election is won. In the past, vice-presidential candidates have often been selected to help win crucial states - e.g., LBJ helping JFK win Texas in 1960. But Mr. Biden comes from Delaware, which isn't exactly a Battleground state. (Delaware has three electoral votes.)
This conviction about the VP was certainly active in 1992, when Bill Clinton selected Al Gore as his VP. Senator Gore was a respected environmental activist from Tennessee. In contrast to the turbulent Clintons, he seemed like Mr. Clean. It was thought that he would strengthen the ticket. Mr. Clinton declared that Mr. Gore would have unprecedented influence in his government. After the election was won, Mr. Clinton asked Mr. Gore to reduce governmental paperwork - an apparently natural assignment, given Mr. Gore's involvement in environmental matters.
However, the task was the Democratic equivalent of being sent to the Siberian salt mines. There is absolutely no evidence that the effort produced a thing except a silly photo-op of Mr. Gore holding piles of federal documents he supposedly helped eliminate. Primarily, the paperwork job kept Al Gore out of sight, which was exactly where the Clintons wanted him. The Clintons clearly believed Mr. Gore could be influential, so he had to be kept under wraps, while being made to look important. (The Clintons don't like anyone else in the spotlight.)
When Mr. Gore ran for the presidency in 2000, he was so diminished in stature that he had to hire Donna Brazille to reconstruct him as an earth-toned alpha male. He went around wearing dark clothes and padded vests; he extravagantly smooched his wife, Tipper, on stage at the Democratic convention; and he went after the soccer-mom and teeny-bopper vote. Late-night comics cracked wise about him. Ultimately, one of the most successful politicians in Tennessee's history lost a sure-win presidential race, despite peace and a booming economy. (So much for being a "friend" of the Clintons and an "influential" vice-president.)
Nevertheless, the VP-of-significance story took on a life of its own. It went positively wild during the subsequent administration of George W. Bush, when Democrats convinced themselves, to the point of delusion, that Vice-president Cheney was the "real power" in the Bush presidency. Serious politicians and pundits, who should have known better, actually claimed that Mr. Cheney pushed us into the Iraq war to benefit his former company, the defense contractor Halliburton. In part, the "Cheney did it" idea arose from the equally delusional conviction that Mr. Bush is a "moron" who could not possibly have the competence to run his own administration.
Ergo, the "evil mind" running the Bush government must be Mr. Cheney, who has been absurdly demonized to an extent not previously seen in the Republic. On his worst day during the Bobby Baker scandals, the devious Lyndon Johnson (JFK's VP) never got such terrible press. When Mr. Cheney accidentally shot his friend Harry Whittington with bird-shot pellets during a quail-hunt in 2006, the media treated it like a Shootout at the OK Corral, noting that a sitting vice-president hadn't shot anyone since Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Actual criminals, like John Dillinger (who murdered numerous people), were rarely depicted as viciously as Mr. Cheney - a dedicated public servant who never did anything more nefarious than serve as Chief of White House Staff in the Ford administration, honorably serve six terms in the House of Representatives, and serve as George H. W. Bush's Secretary of Defense during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign. In the 1990s Mr. Cheney finally made some real money as CEO of the Halliburton Company. (The latter, of course, is Exhibit A in the left's case against him, as all defense companies are, by leftist definition, fundamentally criminal.)
Under the sway of this exaggeration of the vice-president's role, Democrats are bound to exaggerate the importance of their newest VP candidate, Senator Biden. The senator is, by most objective accounts, a perfectly respectable individual who has served in the U. S. Senate since the age of 30. Now 65, he is a long-time member, and current chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1988 and 2008, but failed to win his party's nomination either time. Of course, he is a doctrinaire liberal who fails to "balance" the ticket in an ideological sense.
Nevertheless, Mr. Biden is not unreasonable for Mr. Obama's ticket. He does add a certain sense of maturity to the young Mr. Obama, and he brings senatorial experience in foreign matters - one of Mr. Obama's most glaring deficiencies. Although Democrats try to depict Mr. Biden as a Washington "outsider", his 36 years in the Senate belie that story. Anyone serving in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body for that long can't credibly claim outsider status. His imagined appeal to blue-collar Catholic voters also seems suspect, given his uncompromising pro-choice stance. Thus, Mr. Biden is OK for the Democratic ticket, but does he reach "savior" status? Not unless you think the ticket really needed saving.
That, of course, is the 64 million-dollar question. In other words, is Mr. Obama slipping in the polls because of his perceived lack of foreign policy experience? Or is there a deeper problem that neither Mr. Biden, nor any other VP-candidate, can fix? The former is the media's conviction, but I believe the latter is the case. Yes, Mr. Obama is green as a bean in foreign affairs. His responses to the Russia-Georgia situation seemed "weak and amateurish" - in the words of Barry Casselman of the Washington Times. But his problem goes deeper than this.
Pundits and campaign officials have prattled about Mr. Obama needing to "get his message out" - their assumption being that once people know what he really stands for, all will be well. But if Mr. Obama hasn't put his message out there yet, after all his soaring rhetoric and fawning media coverage, he's probably not going to do it. No, the "message" claim won't do. Mr. Obama isn't steadily slipping in the polls because voters don't know who he is and haven't grasped his message, but because, increasingly, they do know, and have grasped it.
Mr. Obama has that smooth, unflappable persona that Americans like in a leader. He's cool and black, not angry and black. He has mastered the technique of soaring rhetoric that excites his followers and earns the admiration of even jaded old-timers like yours truly. He has the cute-family thing going, with a handsome wife and two adorable young girls. He looks good; his tall, slender form wears those impeccably tailored suits beautifully. Women swoon over him. Oprah loves him. Hollywood is ga-ga. The candidate speaks of himself in messianic language.
It is Mr. Obama's message - not his persona, his style or even his experience - that is the fatal flaw in his otherwise flawless campaign for the top prize of American politics. His message is not bold, new and hopeful. It is tired, old and retrograde. It is a rebottling of the same sour, old wine of envy politics in stylish new bottles. It pits the "have-nots" against the "haves", instead of vowing to help all Americans work, keep what they earn, and build wealth for their futures and families. It does not unify; it divides. It has all been tried before, and it has failed - abjectly, conclusively, ruinously.
But the lure of socialism is everlasting. One generation dies off, knowing that it simply cannot work, and another rises up to embrace it with the light of hope in their eyes. It all looks so new and wonderful. Surely, this is the way things were meant to be - community, generosity, each one helping his neighbor, all working together in a common interest. The cycle is unending. This is only the latest turn of the wheel, and Mr. Obama is the latest huckster peddling it.
Mr. Obama might succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of enough voters long enough to win the presidency. With the media's help, he might even look pretty good in office for a time. But, inevitably, he will crash, because his program of "change" is rubbish. When the crash comes, the disappointment of those who believed in him will be great. Hopefully, the country will survive it. We survived the Clintons. We can survive this guy.
Being of a more optimistic mind than hoping for mere survival, however, I expect a great falling-away of voters from Mr. Obama in the two months before the election. The Hope, Change, We're-the-ones-we've-been-waiting-for chorus of his long campaign will finally wear thin - as it evidently is already. (Recent Zogby polls had Mr. McCain pulling ahead of Mr. Obama by five percentage points, nationally.) Voters will look behind the curtain and find that the little man pulling the levers is actually Jimmy Carter - or someone very like him. They will not be fooled a second time.