Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Obama is Clever... But Is He This Clever?

NOTE: The scenario laid out below is entirely a hypothetical one. Remember that while it could happen, I am not saying it will happen, and in fact I think it probably won't happen.


It’s been a tough few days for some of the Obama faithful, who are getting increasingly anxious about a combination of their team’s dip in the polls, McCain choosing a fringe right-wing vice-president, and Obama’s slow, steady approach to campaigning when they want him to lash out. I’ve already weighed in on this subject, saying clearly that I think there’s nothing to worry about, but it continues to be a concern for many.

In fact, some Democrats have gone so far as to suggest that if Obama doesn’t take the lead back from McCain soon, that he should consider dumping Biden and asking Hillary Clinton to join the ticket. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that I doubt this will happen – it’s simply not Obama’s style to make this sort of a panicky move, and I doubt he would betray Biden in that manner unless things got truly grave (which they are not).

But what if it wasn’t a panic move at all?

Who Suckered Whom?

As McCain’s fortunes have turned in recent days, I’ve read quite a few sneering comments from his more rabid supporters, suggesting that McCain suckered Obama by tricking him into not taking Clinton, so that McCain could then choose Palin. This allowed McCain to take some of the Hillary supporters and other women voters, while simultaneously shoring up his base among evangelicals, and in their view, means Obama has “blown the election”.

Why would this be a trick? Most observers felt that McCain would only choose a woman running mate if Obama did not pick Hillary Clinton. Why? Whatever differences I may have with Senator Clinton, it is undeniable that she is a formidable campaigner, and there simply isn’t anyone on the right at the moment who has her profile or experience. Yet if Obama had chosen Clinton, he’d have brought with her not just her supporters but her baggage: lots of media gossip about possible power struggles within the ticket; Republicans trotting out old scandals and attacks; mockery from the right about him “having to choose Clinton to avoid losing”; and of course, Bill would come along for the ride. In some ways, it was a no-win situation for Obama.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

A confluence of events – the laments about Hillary needing to join the ticket, the wording used by Biden on a Sunday talk show, the meeting between Obama and Bill Clinton this Thursday, among others – put my imagination into overdrive. What if it wasn’t McCain tricking Obama, but the other way around? What if the Biden selection was a ruse from the very start, designed to get McCain to pick a weak female running mate against whom Hillary could campaign more easily?

It’s So Crazy, It Just Might Work

I suppose you might call this the Hillary Screen Pass; it would be analagous to the play in football of the same name where the idea is to get an aggressive defence to attack the quarterback, who then throws a short pass over them to a receiver. A move like this would certainly be risky, and there would definitely be some drawbacks – that Clinton hate machine is still alive and well in the GOP. But the more I looked at it, the more I became convinced that if Biden were to drop out in late September and Hillary were to join the Obama ticket, this would be a game-changer of staggering proportions.

First of all, the flip side of a “boring” pick like Biden who doesn’t give you a boost in the polls is that if he withdraws, it doesn’t hurt you either. On the other hand, bringing Clinton onto the ticket would draw millions of women who were voting for McCain because of Palin. Furthermore, where many of the new voters for Palin seem to be just making red states redder, Clinton would have major appeal to moderates, and could really impact some key battleground states. Michigan and Pennsylvania, two essential states for Obama, would likely go solid blue, Florida would be a real race, and Ohio could become a problem for McCain again.

The big change would also completely knock the wind out of the whole Palin story. She would go from being the big story to yesterday’s news overnight.

The entire political chivalry issue that the Republicans are trying to use to hogtie Obama and Biden would also go straight out the window: it would be woman against woman and Clinton could go straight for the jugular with no whines about sexism. The VP debate would be one for the ages.

As for McCain, his hands would be tied. He gambled on Palin and got a boost of votes, enthusiasm and donations out of the deal; if he tried to dump her, he’d have an even bigger revolt on his hands than if he had just gone with Lieberman. Also, I believe that after the convention the VP cannot be forced off, only convinced to withdraw, and I wonder if Palin would do so now that she’s tasted the national limelight.

Somewhat Random, Somewhat Relevant Observations

So what got me thinking about this in the first place? Just a few things I noticed:

First, Obama and his team have never seemed to lack in confidence throughout the general. It could be my imagination, or maybe they just have nerves of steel, but it’s always seemed to me like they knew they had an ace in the hole. Of course, it could be anything.

Second, Joe Biden’s characteristics make him the perfect ruse for this sort of move. As mentioned earlier, he’s “boring”; this means he wouldn’t cause any shockwaves either by being selected or dumped. Choosing him would also have been a greater temptation for McCain to choose someone younger and less experienced than, say, if Biden had picked Bayh or Warner. Using Biden preserves some of those “stars of the future” for a later contest. Finally, his depth of experience and reputation for running at the mouth at times would both reduce the chances of him committing any sort of harmful gaffe.

Third, Biden is on the record as saying he didn’t really want to be VP. I don’t know Biden well, but his scrappy personality suggests to me that even if he didn’t want the VP job, this sort of political trick is something he would love to be a part of! Consider the answer he gave Tom Brokaw this past Sunday when asked why he accepted the job despite saying he didn’t want it:

“Well, I told you exactly what I thought, and it was true. I, I was very satisfied in the job I had as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and I thought I could help the ticket that way. And – but Barack asked me to do it and I had committed to him, and if he wanted me – whatever he wanted me to do, I'd do, because I think this election is so critical.” (Emphasis mine.)


Fourth, a plan like this could be a reason for Hillary Clinton’s solid but unspectacular speech at the DNC. It could also explain why she has been somewhat subdued in her campaigning for Obama so far, and especially, why she hasn’t been going after Palin. Maybe she’s saving her best punches for later?

Fifth, Obama and Clinton have been negotiating over this and that over quite a long period of time, and Obama and Bill Clinton are meeting again this Thursday. Of course they could be discussing anything, but...

Sixth, as pointed out by a reader, Andrew Sullivan has been wondering for a while about why Joe Biden hasn't yet released his medical records.

And last but not least, I personally think the whole primary season “Clintobama Melodrama”, as I call it, has been grossly overplayed by the media. I further believe that the more fringe supporters of each candidate hate each other far more than Clinton and Obama themselves do. Obama is one cool cucumber and Hillary Clinton has been around the block a few times. It’s also been pointed out many, many times that they have nearly identical policy views. Given all that, I feel pretty confident that they could come up with a plan to share power that would work, if they really wanted to.

Okay, You Can Put Away Your Tin-Foil Hats Now...

Anyway, it’s only a crazy theory from an overactive imagination; like I said before, I am not saying I think this will happen, nor do I even necessarily want it to. From what I have seen so far, Joe Biden is an excellent campaigner who is doing great work for the ticket, and I don’t think Obama needs to throw any Hail Mary passes. But Obama is just clever enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if this were in the cards all along.

And boy, would that VP debate be fun! :)


MATT J. H. said...

This would be great if Obama did it, but its far fetched. Not just far fetched, but redickulous from no Drama Obama.

Note2Self said...

How would Obama dump Biden? I mean, wouldn't that show a weakness in loyalty and judgment?

Charles M. Kozierok said...

My thesis is that he won't be dumping him, that it was planned from the start. He draws in McCain, gets everyone thinking McCain has tricked him with the female VP pick, then 65-year-old Biden withdraws for "health reasons", Clinton jumps in and it's a whole new ballgame.

Jon said...

Dude, you are waaaay overthinking this :)

Wait about three weeks and then test the waters. If things are the same as they are now, then we can panic and start creating "rescue scenarios" for Obama.

Even obama's campaign manager is telling everyone to stop hyperventilating over these polls. The RNC and Palin shook things up and the polls are all over the place. Lets give these polls enough time to find an equilibrium, and analyze from there.

Scott said...

You are desperate already. Obama is not strong enough to dump Biden, his own biggest fan. Obama fell prey to his own arrogance or insecurity,through which is drawn a blurred line.

soozzie said...

Surprise me more, supersize me, a la Bavid brooks?

Charles M. Kozierok said...

Thanks for the replies, but some of you apparently haven't noticed -- despite my saying it more than once -- that this is a hypothetical scenario. I am not "desperate", I am not calling on Obama to do anything, and I am certainly not hyperventilating, considering that I wrote this just yesterday. :)

Michael said...

I had the same thought a few days ago. Seeing it in print gives me hope that I'm not insane. The trick will be in how O manages to dump Biden. My doctor will happily write him an 'excuse'.

VegnaBlitz said...

An interesting thought. Incredibly unlikely, but a fun read.

Jonk said...

All this clamoring for Hillary as VP still won't die, yet do we even know if she would've accepted it? Certainly some of her surrogates (Howard Wolfson comes to mind) had mentioned her as the VP choice, but she never seemed to display any interest for the gig.

It very well could have been the case that Barack learned that, if offered, Hillary would decline the VP slot -- possibly even publicly* and thus making Barack look like an idiot for asking her and being turned down.

* = not necessarily herself, but through surrogates such as Wolfson

MuMu said...

This would be funny if it was not so important. The BHO messed up, he belived the rag sheets that he was the One and so fell to the sin of pride. Come on, how will he pay for all the toys he wants? Higher taxes when America is in a depression. His Gas plan is to tax you so much no one can afford a car hence they do not need gas. Get a life, HRC wants the top spot.