Being Right – VP or VIP?

The pundits say Americans vote for the top of the ticket, but in naming a VP, candidates get a chance to round out the ticket and reach out to another part of the party. The question is which part of the party to go after. This is why many pundits say that the selection of a Vice President speaks directly to the candidate’s judgment, an issue that has been central in this campaign. The VP is supposed to bring something to the table, to fill a gap in the ticket. Convention said that Obama, who has a fresh exciting face but virtually no experience, would fill the ticket with a safe choice, a solid choice, a boring choice. He did. The Democrats, who recently struck unexpected gold with John McCain’s fumble over how many homes he and his wife own, are trying to sell Joe Biden as “Average Joe.” I don’t know how they expect the American public to believe that a man who lives on a sprawling compound in Delaware is, in fact, just the boy next door.

It is almost as shocking as their assertion that Biden, who is serving his sixth term in the Senate, is not really a Washington insider because he took the train home to Delaware every night. If all that you have to do to not be “part of the problem” in Washington is sleep outside the district, then McCain is really missing a trick. All this time, while he was in the Senate working against gridlock and gaining invaluable experience, he could have slept in one of his other houses. I hear he has quite a few of them.

All this attention on John and Cindy McCain’s houses and Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy is indicative of a bigger problem in American politics. Candidates are being forced to focus on their image, and less on the issues. Obama claims that he wants to focus on the issues, but categorically stating over and over that a McCain presidency would be a third Bush term is not a platform and it’s not focusing on the issues. But in his choice of VP, Obama did focus on the issues. Obama did not pick Joe Biden because he is an Average Joe who eats lettuce from the local grocery store instead of arugula from Whole Foods; he picked him to fill a crucial gap in his own record.

The pundits say that Biden was tapped because of his foreign policy credentials, and that the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia closed the deal for an Obama/Biden ticket. Filling the black hole that is Obama’s foreign policy experience is a tremendous task for anyone to fill, but Biden will have to take it a step farther. In nominating Obama, the Democrats have nominated a candidate with nothing to stand on except empty rhetoric and sweeping generalizations. They have nominated a candidate who sat on the Senate floor for about a week and a half before he started campaigning to be the leader of the free world. Biden wasn’t just picked for his foreign policy experience, he was picked for his experience. Because Obama simply doesn’t have any experience of his own.

This is why Republicans are so stunned that the Democrats are waging attacks on Governor Palin for her lack of experience. While Palin is certainly inexperienced compared to John McCain, when you put her two years of executive experience against Obama’s extremely flimsy record of legislative work, the comparison is stark. The Democrats are going to discover that when the other guy’s number two is stronger than your number one, it is not a good time to bring up the importance of experience.

The experience attacks on Palin are indicative of the Democrats’ desperation. Instead of picking Romney or Pawlenty, McCain threw a real curveball, and put a young fresh-faced female governor on the ticket. She is a maverick herself, and worked against entrenched corruption when she took office and fought for ethics reform. She has a strong pro-life record, and has energized the Republican base that McCain was leaving slightly cold. She is tough, but has natural warmth, and can give a charismatic speech that rivals Obama. The only thing Palin lacks is foreign policy experience, and McCain has enough for both of them. But in this election, with the importance of the politics of popularity, where Mrs. Obama feels the need to talk about shopping at Target and John McCain is apologizing for his many homes, the thing about Sarah Palin that most offends Democrats is that she is much more of an “Average Joe” (or rather, “Average Jane”) than Joe Biden will ever be. If relatability is really so linked to electability in this election, then Sarah Palin is going to prove to be a force more powerful than Hurricane Gustav.