Self-doubt, Obama and Biden
Joe Biden’s virtues as a foreign policy stalwart, especially his personal access to foreign leaders, are being overstated. Despite the opining of American analysts, he is not well known in Europe and even less so in other parts of the world.
Obama is the star feted by the world. He is the one who pounded Hilary Clinton and put the Republicans in a defensive crouch. Now there is an even chance that Biden will take some shine off the star instead of adding to it.
International audiences knew little about Biden before the primaries and starting discovering him after Obama turned on the spotlight a few days ago. Obama is loved abroad because he is a different and surprising face of America after George Bush’s abrasive presence. Biden is far from such magic and is just another senior American politician.
His value to the campaign lies in the hope that he can unite the Democratic Party’s establishment behind Obama, and above all, push voters off the fence in November.
If this is Obama’s main reason, he would have been better served by Hilary Clinton. She would have delivered most of the power elite. Nor would he have had to scramble for her diehard women supporters and undecided blue collar rural and small town Democrats. She is also a far better campaigner than Biden.
Current polls show that the 13% – 16% of undecided voters include many who traditionally vote Democratic and like what Obama says but are unsure about him as a person. Battling those doubts would be Biden’s task but carrying conviction will be very challenging.
Not least because many Americans see Obama as an “O’Bambi” and others continue to feel he is “foreign” compared to John McCain. In choosing Biden, Obama conceded those weaknesses and turned to an experienced networker who he hopes can help him to be perceived as a credible war time leader.
Disenchantment stalks those hopes because Biden, whatever his strengths, can dent those perceptions only at the margins. The real fights that Obama faces to establish that he is convincing and authentic are his own.
Even at the margins, the more Biden comes out fighting the more Obama will look fragile. He may come across as the new recruit hiding behind the veteran. The reality about Obama would stand on its head if that happens but coming back from such misperceptions will be almost impossible.
Obama is both feisty and devious or he would not have made it to the podium this week. Win or lose, he has changed the electoral process for a long time to come. He is the successful innovator of an unprecedented campaign that galvanized ordinary people disillusioned by veteran Washington politicos.
But electoral politics are more about perceptions and quick hits rather than sober evaluation of substance. Pundits regularly harangue candidates to obtain “substance” but the masses that decide usually remember perceptions of daily news cycles more readily than the details.
News cycles are vital because voter decisions in politics are rarely rational. “Who is Obama?” would not be an issue if voters dutifully reasoned their way through policies instead of being swayed by their gut.
The answer to that question is murky because many analysts and pollsters continue to underrate Obama’s grit as a fighter and as an unsullied intellect daring to question “how things have always been done”.
This is feeding into the grinding down of Obama by McCain’s new, deft and coldly efficient communication war machine. It has prevented Obama from dominating the news cycle since his return from Paris Hilton moments in Europe and could keep McCain from being eclipsed during the Democratic Convention.
Each day, the McCain people fly stories true or false that break the day’s political focus on Obama. McCain has not dominated but like an insurgent he is not allowing Obama to rule. That is enough to spoil the momentum of Obama’s rise.
Biden cannot help much in this context. He has no talent or ability to capture a day’s news cycle for Obama unless he gaffes again. Meanwhile, Obama’s energy seems to be weakening as shown by his inconclusive leads in recent polls about overall voter intentions.
Obama-maniacs can only hope this is due to poor news management and Obama has not been psyched out by political pundits and polls ringing alarm bells about his inexperience.
More voters would leave Obama than Biden brings in, if it turns out that Obama chose Biden because of self-doubt and might use him as a personal Rasputin similar to Bush’s Darth Vader Cheney.
With some Clinton Democrats still sulking in the wings, the time has come for Obama to lead from the front and enter the fray. His supporters will understand that to bring change a leader must enter the mud pit to fight the status quo. Floating above the unpleasantness while his proxy Biden does the scrapping is not enough.
Right now, Obama is leading the Democrats. When he leads all of America, he can rise above the partisan brawl to reach out for bipartisan common ground. But he is not there yet.
There is no other real choice for Obama to snuff out the dangerous embers of doubt about his audacity. If a tougher Obama together with Biden carries the fight to hostile terrain he will have used his Vice-President’s Rottweiler qualities to good effect.