Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Real Significance of the Biden Pick

Forget what you’ve been reading about “experience.” Forget about foreign policy. Forget about working-class. Forget about Catholic. Those themes are just a self-justifying narrative from the Obama campaign meant to buy a few good news cycles before Denver. The fact is, come November, voters don’t really care who the VP is when they vote for a President.

But they do hear what he says. The real reason Biden got the nod tonight is because Obama needs a pit-bull, and Joe Biden is ready to bark. This is someone who will, as my father put it rather scatologically, “Shove it up their ___.”

Sort of like this:

And that’s what Obama needs. Consider: 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.

For most of this summer, Obama thought he was immune to this narrative. (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.’) He ignored the GOP attacks on his character, went on his “world citizen” tour, and left McCain untouched.

But as the polls suddenly tightened in the last few weeks, the Obama campaign realized it was in a dogfight, and they needed to shoot back. Their apoplectic (and successful) reaction to McCain’s fuzzy memory about his houses shows they’ve figured this out (even as they let other McCain gaffes slide by all summer). The Joe Biden pick is part-and-parcel with this new strategy. He has the manner and elocution to shred Republican myths: that McCain has demonstrated foreign policy judgment, that he’s a “maverick,” that he cares about working-class Americans.

Tell Hillary Clinton that “rich” is defined as making over $5 million a year, and you’ll get a five-minute lecture on what she learned in the Senate and as first lady. Tell Evan Bayh and he’ll calmly talk about his Indiana boyhood. Tell Tim Kaine and…well, who? But tell Joe Biden and you’ll get the kind of look he delivers in the last second of this video:

And that’s the kind of thing (the ONLY kind of thing) that a VP can do that will actually resonate with voters.

To be sure, you won’t see the fangs immediately. The start of the DNC in Denver and the meme about Biden’s verbal gaffes means it’s going to be all scripted smiles and a short leash for the first few weeks.

But starting on about September 15 I'd guess, Biden will come out swinging. If I had to predict, I’d say the Obama campaign is basically going to purchase a permanent sleeping car on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited corridor, and Biden’s going to spend the entire fall traveling between Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburg, and Philadelphia, reminding out-of-work and underemployed Americans that John McCain’s entire solution to their woes is…to cut taxes on Mitt Romney.

The best historical analogy for all this is Eisenhower’s choice of Richard Nixon in 1952. Like Obama, Eisenhower was a genial, sunny guy trying to end a long period of dominance by the opposing party—but unable to attack on his own because of his disposition.

Despite despising him personally, Ike put Nixon on the ticket to go after the Democrats and do his dirty work—something Nixon relished and Ike detested.

I see Obama’s pick of Biden in the same light—the guy to attack the GOP while Obama floats above it all with his promise of a “different kind of politics.” It’s a great 1-2 combination. And it means, thankfully, Obama finally figured out how to throw a punch—or at least hire someone else who could.

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30 Comments:

Blogger Toney said...

Great post EW. And you're absolutely right. I think that's part of the reason that the last two Veep picks were such poor choices. They looked good, they had legislative experience, they complemented their candidate nicely (Edwards was a southern charmer vs. Kerry a New England elitist; Gore wanted to save the Earth from warming vs. Lieberman wanted to save it from video games), but they just didn't bring the heat like Biden will.

Finally, since I've never "called" anything in my entire life, I would like to shamelessly gloat that I "called" this on Tuesday, even in the face of being told Biden was out (can't figure out how to markup an link, but it was the previous post talking about veeps).

8/23/2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Only loosely on topic, but I had this thought in the bar last night. We know that young people tend to vote to the left, but only when they actually vote.

What would happen if the DNC pressured greek organizations to make voting an absolute requirement for membership? Civic pride is supposed to be part of what they are all about, right? The DNC wouldn't have to stoop to actually telling them what/how to vote -- their politics are already more or less in line with the dems platform. So, the line would be, "We're not telling you how to vote, we're just telling you each do your part, according to your personal beliefs."

Maybe this already happens, and I just don't know about it. I didn't exactly go greek, so I wouldn't know.

8/23/2008 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the fraternity vote & kegger. That is exactly what democracy needs.

Also LOL @
"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."

Do you seriously envision Republican politicians all laying on their backs in couches being fed grapes while Democrats are somehow working in the salt mine coming up with every penny for the "middle class" that they can? Puhleeze. Although there are legitimate (although relatively minor) differences between the parties themselves, politicians are politicians no matter what party they are in.

8/23/2008 2:16 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

2:16 - Let's start with what I agree with you on: politicians, regardless of party, do tend to succumb to scandal more often than one would think.

As for the rest, I couldn't disagree with you more. You look at this and tell me which party has more fiscal responsibility. You look at what class has prospered the most during the last 8 years... it's not the middle class. Name off all the bills that were introduced in a Republican dominated Congress (since Gingrich's coup in '94) aimed at the middle class. I'll slap myself once for each one you put out there.

That paragraph by EW is so well written I called my wife at work to have her read it.

8/24/2008 1:22 AM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

Tell Hillary Clinton that “rich” is defined as making over $5 million a year,

I don't understand why you would want to take "he thinks you have to make $5 million to be rich" as your point to stand on.

You know, when I hear a politician define "rich," I think of it as meaning "this is the level at which I would be willing to raise taxes." When I hear Senator Obama say, (paraphrasing, I hope not too badly) "rich is, if you're raising a family, definitely over $250k, and if single, maybe $150k," I hear him justifying that he's going to raise taxes on families making over $250k and singles making $150k by repealing some Bush tax cuts and making some income at the high end pay FICA.

If a politician said "I think making $50k qualifies you as rich," I wouldn't think, "oh, this is a person who's middle class like me." I'd think, "he's going to raise taxes on people making $50k." Most politicians are at least rhetorically in favor of middle-class tax cuts, after all.

All this is related to how the common definition of "rich" for most Americans is "someone who makes more than me" and how the vast majority of people consider themselves "middle-class."

8/26/2008 10:17 PM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

You look at this and tell me which party has more fiscal responsibility. You look at what class has prospered the most during the last 8 years... it's not the middle class. Name off all the bills that were introduced in a Republican dominated Congress (since Gingrich's coup in '94) aimed at the middle class.

Well, I looked at your chart, and I see that there were surpluses under the "Republican dominated Congress since Gingrich's coup in '94." Isn't the "every bad thing from '94 to 2000 was the Republicans fault and every good thing Clinton's doing" a little odd?

Also, your numbers are a bit old. They stop at 2002, with projections for 2003 (not too far off) and 2004 (worse than reality). I would go by the more recent numbers. By the same total budget column that gives a surplus of $236 million in 2000, we see that the actual number for 2003 is -$377.6 million (not -$401), the actual number for 2004 is -$412 (not -$480), and the numbers for 2005, 2006, and 2007 are -$318 million, -$248 million, and -$162 million.

I can of course see why you would want to pick a chart that uses the endpoints that best make your case, and ignore the next three years. Using the estimated values for 2003 and 2004 (especially with 2004 so far off) is pretty egregious at this point, though.

8/26/2008 10:25 PM  
Blogger John Thacker said...

And one could also make a plea for charts that use percentage of GDP or at the very least inflation-adjusted numbers rather than raw numbers. That -$74 billion in 1976 looks small on the chart, but it was a whopping -4.2% of GDP. By comparison, the massive -$413 billion in 2004 was -3.6% of GDP. Huge, to be sure, but some perspective is in order.

8/26/2008 10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite silly. Both parties represent the "middle class" in the sense that they give them financial benefits for free or at least it seems. Nobody represents the poor. The rich need no representation.

The dog and pony show continues. Ohio's and New Mexico's marginal voters will determine the winner. However, the result is largely meaningless so long as Congress continues to be a worthless bunch. My complete conjecture is that the direct election of senators made HR elections irrelevant but those are the only elections with a small enough electorate to matter. Thus, here we are, somewhere between Sulla and Caesar. Or maybe even before Sulla. Obama, Mccain, it matters not. The only constrant on the stupid, path-dependant policies of the US is the credit market.

As Carville, he'll tell ya. X amount of money is going to get pissed away. Whether it is on GM or health care, it largely doesn't matter.

Bankruptcy is the end result until the electorate accepts that "something for nothing" is not a viable strategy.

8/27/2008 2:26 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

We're proscribing public enemies and giving their land to veterans?

I must blog about this.

8/27/2008 4:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cute. But Tim Kaine is the governor of Virginia. He will likely be a democratic candidate next year.

And Obama is considered an elitist because, as Ezra Klein points out, his life story is seemingly effortless. The working class in the midwest don't believe someone who grew up in Hawaii, went to Harvard law, was a community organizer in Chicago, and went to Rev. Wright's church (recall: "the U.S. of KKK A.") can identify with their situation.

McCain, though, spent years in a POW camp. He's an American hero.

Right or wrong, it's obvious why Obama's easier to paint as an elite.

8/27/2008 5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll bite... who is farther ahead, Iran or Korea?

8/27/2008 7:36 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

The one that actually tested nuclear weapons. But that's just a guess.

8/27/2008 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. Wasn't that test sort of a failure?

8/27/2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

Which one? The Iranian missile test failure or the North Koreans getting a nuclear reaction?

8/27/2008 9:38 AM  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

"Consider: 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."

Rubbish. Those poles reversed thirty years ago. Hereditary money is more Democrat - entrepreneurial money tends more Republican. It's a wash.

Your insight about the Biden nomination looks sound, however.

8/27/2008 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elitism in political thought and discourse isn't based on someone's background (for example, Obama's life history is not one of an elite, while McCain's may be); rather, it is a defining charateristic of a political platform. Democrats became the party of the elite as they have placed themselves as the benivolent oligarchy, ruling down on the middle class and the rest of the country from above. Their policies may be well intentioned, but they command, order and compel. Democrats might suggest that they are the party FOR the people, but they cannot plausibly suggest that they are the party OF the people. That difference is critical, antithetical to the American system and illustrative of the pessimistic, elite foundation on which the Democratic party seems to be built.

The Democratic platform is one of inclusion only so far as its various compotent toe the line and conform to their dogmatic views. Political elitism is paternalistic, self-righteous and dismissive of those who would disagree or offer alternative debate. To the extent the Democratic party exhibits those characteristics, it has become the party of the elite.

8/27/2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

they command, order and compel.

And torture...oh wait.

8/27/2008 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Shalom Beck said...

Obama went to Punahou, the second toniest private school in Hawaii. I haven't heard that he was a scholarship student.

8/27/2008 10:57 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

EW is dead-on about the mechanics of the Biden pick.

Commentary about "One of the most ludicrous aspects of American politics in the last generation..." reveals, however, that both sides have their myths - myths ripe for "shredding".

Anonymous is also dead-on about "elite attitude" vs. "membership in an elite".

Whether it's upbringing, acquired attitude or (counterproductive) policy, some parties and politicians can't help themselves. They patronize, condescend or "talk down to". Usually to their opponents, but often to their perceived consitutents as well. No one wants to be patronized or condescended to and even dumb, ignorant, bitter, gun-clinging Jeebus-botherers know when someone is "talking down" to them.

For good or ill, the Democrats make that mistake (in public, at least) more often than the Republicans. (The media play a role to be sure; they help perpetuate the narrative of smart, cosmopolitan Democrat/dumb, uncouth Republican.)

That was the genius of Bill Clinton; he may have been the smartest, best-informed guy in the room, but he didn't rub your nose in it.

8/27/2008 11:49 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

"And torture...oh wait."

Clever, but wrong. "Command, order and compel" was clearly intended to mean "the middle-class..and the rest of the country". Are you seriously suggesting that Republicans torture (or would like to torture) the middle class? Or the rest of the country?

Torture is wrong. Torture is counterproductive. Torture is un-American. And I haven't noticed that it is part of anyone's domestic policy - yet.

Any suggestion to the contrary is, well, a little hysterical.

8/27/2008 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the label "elitist" should be a complement. What's so great about being a barbarian?

8/27/2008 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, I mean *compliment*--d'oh!

8/27/2008 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis of the Biden pick, and some real hope that Democrats might finally fight Right Wing smears. Just imagine what Republicans would say about McCain if he were a Democrat: "War hero? Hell, he is a Traitor, betraying his own country under torture, confessing in writing to War Crimes against the Vietnamese! He betrayed his fellow troops also, violating the Code of Conduct for American Prisoners of War, as well as committing treason against America! What kind of signal of weakness would that send our enemies?" But Democrats don't stoop that low [anymore]. As for the federal deficit arguments here, just how duplicitous is it for Bush to hide the Iraq and Afghan War costs ($120-$200 Billion a year) off budget? Indeed, the total cost of the Iraq War alone will total one trillion dollars!!! How did the Republican President avoid impeachment, no less their candidates keep getting elected? Obama, save us somehow!

8/27/2008 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tell Evan Bayh and he’ll calmly talk about his Indiana boyhood."

Excuse me, but Evan Bayh's father was a senator in D.C. while he was growing up. He graduated from St. Alban's High School in D.C., where Albert Gore also went. While it makes sense for both of them to go to live and go to School where their parents live, the claims to have grown up in their fathers' home states is weak, at best. That's not really a criticism of Mr. Bayh (or Mr. Gore). But, it is a fact.

BTW, I did grow up in a small town in Indiana (pop. 2000), so I know what that means.

8/27/2008 7:57 PM  
Blogger jeff said...

"Just imagine what Republicans would say about McCain if he were a Democrat:"

Project much?

"But Democrats don't stoop that low [anymore]."

The hell they don't. Forgot already the accusations against Obama during the primaries? How about those who accuse McCain of not deserving his military pension? And yes, go to Kos and you can find the argument you accuse republicans would make should McCain be a democrat.

8/27/2008 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait for the look Biden (D-MBNA) gives the camera when asked about his Bankruptcy reform bill.

8/27/2008 8:47 PM  
Blogger Cincinnatus said...

Right after 9/11, Biden floated the idea that we should send Iran $200 million "no strings attached". It seems like he should find a different example of why he doesn't like Guliani.

8/27/2008 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Biden is more "rambling gas bag" than "pit bull."

8/27/2008 9:48 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Geez, I haven't checked this thread in a while. Apologies.

John Thacker - The reason I used the chart I used is, plain and simple, because it's the one that popped up when I ran a quick google search. Not because I'm trying to used massaged data at all. Mildly insulting. In fact, you insinuate that the "estimates" were so far off because somewhere was trying to make the data say something it wasn't. Rather, that chart likely came out in 2002, when those numbers ACTUALLY WERE estimates. To say that it's "egregious" is petty, short-minded, and a tad moronic.

The congressional budget numbers you showed are great though. They make my point even better than I could have. During Clinton's tenure, he was presented with an annual deficit of -$290 billion, and over the first two years (before the Gingrich coup - btw, you didn't actually point to any middle class-promoting bills) he reduced that down to -$203 billion, turning that into a surplus of $236 billion before he left office.

Bush then immediately turned that into deficit. Sure, it's become LESS of a deficit in recent years, but it's deficit nonetheless.

Finally, that chart uses the best indicator that my chart didn't. Debt to public slowed and actually WENT DOWN during the Clinton administration. It has done nothing but skyrocket during the Bush administration.

Just the fact that you are trying to argue that the Republicans are more fiscally responsible and cater better to the middle class is really really funny. I'll quite literally sell a kidney for every metric you show that says so.

8/28/2008 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Palin pick is a lot more interesting than the Biden pick.

Also the issue of fiscal responsibility is largely orthogonal to "working for the middle class."

Lastly, the greatest harm to fiscal responsibility was the creation of entitlement programs which are essentially impossible to get rid of and take up over half the budget. Said entitlement programs of course were created by democrats.

8/29/2008 9:49 AM  

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