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What Happened to ‘The Change We Can Believe In’?

The McCain camp is out swinging with the obvious rejoinder: “There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be President.” Conservatives are licking their chops. But you will hard pressed to find a more devastating assessment than this from Marc Ambinder:

Biden premised his presidential candidacy on the notion that Obama was unqualified and not ready from day one. You can expect that the McCain campaign or the RNC will run a national television advertisement featuring Biden’s many and various quotations to this effect. . . That Obama (apparently) picked him demonstrates a recognition that the Democratic ticket ought to be more than just about Obama’s personality… or a statement of bipartisan pragmatism…  it’s easy to float on gossamers when the world is safe, but when it’s burning down, a guy like Biden is just the ticket.

When the world — or a campaign — is burning down you need real commander-in-chief material? Yikes. Even the New York Times can not avoid the obvious, that Obama went with “a running-mate who could reassure voters about gaps in his resume, rather than to pick someone who could deliver a state or reinforce Mr. Obama’s message of change.” (And Politico puts out a handy guide to the varied reasons why Biden poses a problem for The One.) Ron Fournier of the AP penned:

In picking Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, Barack Obama sought to shore up his weakness — inexperience in office and on foreign policy — rather than underscore his strength as a new-generation candidate defying political conventions. . .The picks say something profound about Obama: For all his self-confidence, the 47-year-old Illinois senator worried that he couldn’t beat Republican John McCain without help from a seasoned politician willing to attack. The Biden pick is the next logistical step in an Obama campaign that has become more negative — a strategic decision that may be necessary but threatens to run counter to his image.

There is a common thread here: Biden’s not a bad guy, but he potentially makes Obama’s problems worse, not better. When virtually every story talks about “filling in gaps,” “making up for shortcomings” and “addressing concerns” I think a fair number of voters will say, “Wow, I guess there are a lot of gaps, shortcomings and concerns about Obama.”

The Obama camp’s own summary of Biden’s strengths seems peculiarly like a list of Obama’s own weaknesses. (“Joe Biden brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines, and a direct approach to getting the job done.”) You can’t help but observe that it would be nice if the same could be said for the top of the ticket. Is Biden really “McCain-lite” —  or the “anti-Obama”?  Fournier writes:

So the question is whether Biden’s depth counters Obama’s inexperience — or highlights it? After all, Biden is anything but a change agent, having been in office longer than half of all Americans have been alive. Longer than McCain. And he talks too much. On the same day he announced his second bid for the presidency, Biden found himself explaining why he had described Obama as “clean.”  And there’s the 2007 ABC interview in which Biden said he would stand by an earlier statement that Obama was not ready to serve as president. It seems Obama is worried that some voters are starting to agree.

But if Obama himself doesn’t believe in “the change we can believe in” — the newness of politics and the implications of  his own non-experience — why should the voters?



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