Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama-Biden!

Yesterday at work, I was responsible for updating the front page of our Web site in case Barack Obama announced his running mate. I had a photo collage of the top four candidates at the ready, the idea being that I'd crop out the other three and fill in the right name and mug in a ready-made promo once the pick was announced. This entailed me keeping an eye on CNN while fulfilling my other duties.

Glancing at cable news in a noisy newsroom, with no sound as a benefit, is a sublime bit of frustration, like pondering a work of art that you almost get, but not quite. With so many words flying across the screen, it's easy to get the wrong impression about almost anything. Hence my near false start when I glanced over to see, "Obama has chosen his running mate," followed by, "Tim Kaine." Then, a few minutes later, "Obama has chosen his running mate," followed by, "Hillary Clinton." And again with Kathleen Sebelius and Joe Biden and a few other names that may or may not have included Natalee Holloway. As it turns out, CNN was filling time with profiles on each of the veep hopefuls, as well as others who have influenced the Democratic ticket; for each profile, the respective name popped on the screen. With the sound turned up and rapt attention paid, that probably made perfect sense. But in my circumstances, I wondered how many casual viewers left with the completely wrong impression.

I've since thought back to every time I've ever been at a mechanic's shop, restaurant or anywhere else where Fox News and networks like it silently scrolled in the background. Multiply that by millions, and it's easy to see the value of a well-placed "Obama's baby mama." In an election largely defined by a candidate's middle name and "facts" that don't hold up to two seconds of scrutiny, it's important that legit news organizations avoid splashing words on screen that can be misconstrued.

And, no, I never wound up cropping that photo. I wasn't going to call Dewey over Truman.

But now it's official. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is already being attacked by the McCain campaign as a concession that Team Obama is inexperienced in foreign policy (Biden is chair of the Foreign Relations Committee). As if the whole point of a running mate isn't to balance out the ticket in areas in which the candidate himself admits to lacking gravitas! By his own campaign's logic, John McCain won't even pick a running mate, because that's just a sign of weakness.

Biden, like every other finalist for the secondary slot, has his strengths and faults. Here's what I wrote about him after the July 2007 YouTube debate:

Joe Biden

Why I would vote for him: Favors a complete change in structure for the tax system. "It was a mistake," Biden bluntly says about No Child Left Behind. Has well-thought-out withdrawal plan for Iraq, which has (briefly) seen light of day in Congress. Was responsible for the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, and said of a questioner, "If that gun is his baby, he needs help."

Why I wouldn't: Said withdrawal plan cannot happen in short time, as Biden so angrily drove home. Frequently went off-topic on key questions. Very cranky, particularly when rejecting diplomacy as a choice in the Darfur situation. Said he would not be a public servant for minimum wage.

Biden, like McCain, is an establishment senator known for strong policy stances. Like Obama, he is known for his oratory. He represents an appropriate balance and thus is a solid addition to the Democratic ticket.

The only immediate pitfalls I see are potential flack from the Clinton crowd (forgetting that an Obama-Clinton ticket would have had zero balance) and that some brilliant punmeister will coin "Obama bin Biden" (let it be me, for strictly Kevorkian purposes). Hardly the worst obstacles to overcome.

If you hear a faint rumbling this morning, it's the sound of thunder being stolen from McCain. He knows it, too. So turn up your TV; the words are only beginning to fly.

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