September 10, 2008
By Armando Vega
The conventions are over, platforms laid out, and vicepresidential picks made public. We are officially into the home stretch of the race for the White House.
The choices presented by the two candidates make for an interesting case study, on political and substantive grounds.
On the one hand, Senator Barack Obama’s tapping of Senator Joe Biden for the job addresses the candidate’s shortcomings on foreign policy matters, as Biden has been the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate and is regarded as an expert even by adversaries on foreign relations matters. Biden may also help the embattled candidate shore up the “working class” vote, often defined by pollsters as white voters with less than a college education. This in turn could bolster his support in battleground-state Pennsylvania, particularly given Biden’s connections to Scranton. In addition, the notoriously reserved, subdued Democratic Presidential nominee will be well served by the attack-dog role Biden won’t hesitate to serve.
There are concerns, however. Biden’s is a history of political gaffes. Though now ancient history, he allegedly plagiarized a speech by Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party, in 1988. More relevant now is the Senator’s history with foot-in-mouth situations, particularly when he intends to offer compliments to members of minority communities. Witness his awkward attempt to ingratiate himself with the Indian community of his state by offering that “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” More memorable are his embarrassing remarks of “praise” to Senator Obama himself, on the historic nature of the Illinois Senator’s candidacy, presented the day of his own announcement for the Presidency in February (Biden’s candidacy was short-lived): “I mean, you got the first mainstream African- American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
The New York Times has speculated that Obama had another incentive not often considered by the pundits in making his selections. “At his age, it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.”
That age dynamic is flipped when considering the Republican ticket. This has brought concerns that 72-year John McCain, who’s survived a bout with skin cancer, has placed the “next-inline” spot for the Presidency at the feet of Sarah Palin, a woman whose experience as governor of a state with a population less than a quarter the size of Chicago was preceded by her tenure as mayor of Wasilla in that state, population 7000.
On the other hand, McCain’s choice for Vice-President could serve to bolster his support among women, in particular Hillary Clinton supporters, a significant number of whom have yet to coalesce around the now official Democratic nominee. Palin’s conservative credentials would also shore up the base of the Republican nominee, who’s notoriously had issues galvanizing traditional party constituents.
In usual Presidential election cycles, the vice-presidential pick isn’t of high relevance. The top of the ticket is generally the overbearing consideration in voter’s minds. But for both candidates, the possibility of the mantle of “Leader of the Free World” being hoisted upon the shoulders of their respective Vice-President’s becomes very real. Obama’s candidacy is of a historic nature, but it is for that reason and others that repeatedly throughout his campaign the specter of assassination has been raised. Likewise McCain’s age, history with melanoma, and even the torture he endured for years at the hands of his captors in the Vietnam war have all been raised as concerns.
So how wise were the candidate’s respective choices? As far as the political implications go, we’ll find out this November.