Obama on the Ropes

Democrats are fired up about Obama. Belying Will Rogers’ adage that as a Democrat he didn’t belong to any organized political party, this year finds the DNC uncharacteristically well funded and startlingly organized. Running against an incumbent likely to go down as this country’s worst leader in history, Democrats couldn’t ask for a more favorable political climate. “Watergate is the last time things were so overwhelmingly tilted against the Republicans,” Duke University political scientist David Rohde tells the Bloomberg wire service.

McCain ought to be a pushover. At a time when Americans are tired of Iraq as well as the “good war” against Afghanistan, the GOP standard bearer’s narrative is military: career Navy, POW, wants to send more young men and women to Iraq.

Yet the latest Gallup poll (conducted August 22-24) has Obama neck and neck with McCain, with 45 percent each, with a two percent margin of error. CNN (August 21-23) yields identical results, a 47-47 tie with a 3.5 percent margin of error. What’s up?

This year’s presidential race, as I’ve been saying for months, is Barack Obama’s to lose. And though he hasn’t committed any major gaffes–no joy rides in any tanks or senior moments when asked how many houses he owns–he hasn’t taken the swings he needs to wallop this thing out of the park.

Obama leaves nothing to chance, coolly hugging every twist and turn of the campaign trail with pre-2000 Rovian efficiency. His campaign’s professionalism is a welcome departure from the witless incompetence that has characterized the last eight years of federal governance. But it comes at a price–the same joylessness of inevitability that killed Hillary in the primaries.

Joe Biden is yet another sacrifice to the gods of pragmatism, a chance to boldly seize the moment squandered. Memo to future campaign managers: don’t con millions of saps into telling you their cellphone numbers so they can get a personalized spam telling them about your VP pick an hour after it’s announced on TV. Even better, don’t make a big deal about your VP unless your VP is a big deal.

In 1996 Bob Dole enjoyed a nine-point bump in the polls after announcing Jack Kemp as his running mate. Bush and Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 picked up between three and five percentage points after naming their veeps. The Biden bump was zero. Amazing but true–Joe Lieberman was a bigger asset than Biden. In Biden’s defense, big announcements don’t get much news traction when they break on a Saturday in late August.

Maybe Biden can deliver Delaware.

Obama and his advisers, probably still a little amazed that they got this far with what would normally have been a test candidacy designed to lay the groundwork for a later race, have apparently forgotten how their guy first broke out. Back in December, before the Iowa caucus, Obama was the guy who reminded Americans of a time when politicians knew how to talk and inspire them. He was young at a time when old guys like Dick Cheney were screwing up the world. He was optimistic when voters’ confidence was all but non-existent.

Remember hope? Audacity? Change? Platitudes all, and wonderful marketing for a country that was anything but post-partisan, much less post-political.

Audacity has been in short supply since Obama collected his 2118th delegate on June 3rd. Pandering to racist whites who think black guys are a bunch of child-abandoning layabouts, he delivered a speech slagging them as deadbeat dads. He flip-flopped on domestic spying, voting to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally let the NSA listen to your phone calls. He even changed his mind about offshore oil drilling, which will crap up beaches while prices at the pump remain exactly the same.

There’s nothing wrong with Joe Biden. He’s a safe pick–experienced and smart, he offers foreign policy cred to make up for Obama’s short resume. Biden will be a good attack dog, assuming the campaign decides to use him as such. But he’s an uninspired and uninspiring choice.

Personally, I’m glad Obama didn’t pick Hillary. She would have overshadowed him. John Edwards, my pick for president in the primaries and for veep after he dropped out, has been hobbled by the revelation that he had an affair (with the apparent consent of his wife, but whatever). But either Clinton or Edwards would have been a better choice than Joe Biden. They’re different, they’re controversial, they’re…a change. Unlike Biden, people would have talked about them.

Obama’s politics are neither complex nor internally inconsistent. They are opportunist. Whatever works with voters is good. “His philosophy is ambition,” Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel told the New York Times. “I see him as having a rhetoric rather than a philosophy.”

Obama’s campaign relies on imagery, not ideology. He has fans, not supporters. He won the Democratic nomination by acting like a rock star, not a politician. Turning to traditional politics (as he did by picking Biden) will expose his weaknesses on a playing field on which he has little experience–and could cost him the presidency.


12 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Big comment:
    There is far from "nothing wrong" with Joe Biden. Those of us who want change (whether we plan to vote Obama or not) are dismayed that Biden got so much praise from Republicans and Democrats. We see it as the system continuing itself.
    Further, Biden supported attacking Iraq in 1998 and 2002, both times when he had intelligence (public and private) stating that Iraq DID NOT have WMD. (In fact, his staff mocked Scott Ritter as a "traitor" after he tried to convince the Foreign Relations Committee otherwise.) He opposed Bush's handling of Iraq based on "Incompetence"…not falsehood.
    More recently, he's backed Georgia in its aggression against South Ossetia & Abkhazia, albeit less so than McCain, Lieberman and company.
    Finally, there are still some who would argue that his plagarism charge back in 1988 would be enough to defeat him now.

    On the other hand, one quality you did leave out is that his Pennsylvania roots may help put the state in Obama's column. (Of course, since I'm not in Pennsylvania, and I really do want change (as opposed to slogans), I see Biden's choice as one more reason not to vote Obama.)

  2. SDS Says:

    I can’t help but disagree. Maybe I’m overconfident, but I see September and October heavily favoring the Democrats as they finally attack McCain and he has to deal with the debates. Obama is no Lincoln or Douglas but he’ll wallop John. And so, what if Biden is, for once, a VP pick that will actually help in the governance of the nation and be reliable to take over? Better than the crass approach of naming someone to win a state, I think.

    So, yes, Edwards was less safe and would have been good. But you can’t say Webb would have been “inspiring” can you? Oooh, we just got votes from VA. We just shored up demographic X. That is dispiriting. (And yes, I know Biden might help with Catholics, but that’s secondary or tertiary.)

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t know who will win or why and I’m not sure anyone ever does. I’ inclined to think that no Democrat could win the presidency until quite a few Americans get over the authoritarian jones that began with Reagan. Wedge politics has worked for these “Republicans” and they have it down to a science. How long the technique will work is questionable. I don’t think it is a technique that would work well for the Democratic party overall, given that it is more diverse and pluralistic.

    Still, I think the simple fact that Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for president is a very big deal for roughly 40,000,000 citizens in America. Win or lose, he got this far. Even for him, that may be an acceptable outcome when all is said and done. Hardcore racists have already lost big in this election.

  4. Ted Rall Says:

    The first anonymous has a point. Several of them, actually.

    Agreed, Biden is ideologically unsound. I was thinking tactically when I wrote today’s column, not idealistically.

    Anyone who voted for the Iraq War should be behind bars.

    That includes Obama, who has voted for it several times.

  5. Aggie Dude Says:


    I agree with you completely, and I include anyone who voted for George Bush in 2004, they should be behind bars as well. It’s criminal.

    The problem with saying that, is that it never sticks on the people truly responsible. Every action, every statement, is twisted to serve neoconservatives in America -they control everything.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Well, for whatever it’s worth…

    On the Gallup daily tracking poll (which says it’s a 5-day rolling average):

    8/25: McCain 46 – Obama 44
    8/27: Obama 48 – McCain 42

    Looks like Obama got an 8-point convention bump after all.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    How long will Bush wear “The Worst President in History,” when McCain’s lining up to take him off the hook?

    Can you imagine what excesses the Repugs will commit if the voters validate the last eight years by electing McCain?

    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, folks. Bush chastised us with whips, but McCain’s got his scorpions (Gram, Scheunemann) all ready — just wait.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Anonymous @ 8:39 PM

    The quote is nice, but I see Bush as more of the Rehoboam, given following in his father’s footsteps and his penchant for obscenity. (The modern vernacular equivalent of “My little finger will be thicker than my father’s loins” is “My little finger’s bigger than my dad’s D***!”
    (For those of you who don’t get it, it’s a biblical reference.)

    In a different vein, given all the Obama promises, I’m reminded of a quote from another Illinois politician, “Together we must rise to higher and higher platitudes.”

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Good call Ted! As always. With Palin, McCain just whipped out his version of the “Shocker”.

  10. Anonymous Says:


    Okay, so you’re an Edwards guy. Now I get it.

    But if a Dem party without Edwards as pres means so little to you that you’re actively sabotaging them, why not simply go Green?

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Who Is Ted Rall and why should anyone care what he has to say. Just another annoying Talking Head.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    OMG!!! You so funny! You shure show them! Ted Rall 4 VP!!! I like little boys too, Ted!!!

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