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VPs a presidential balancing act

by Archives September 16, 2008

In a heated presidential race, what will voters prefer, a pit-bull in lipstick or a good old fashioned cup of Joe? With both national conventions come and gone, both US presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama have pushed their running mates into the media spotlight. While both choices were extremely strategic, and will surely affect the outcome of the race, it is an open question as to what the two VP nominees are really worth.
When Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama chose Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate, it was clearly to offset his own perceived weaknesses in military and foreign affairs. Biden added age, stature, experience and . . . well, experience to the ticket. But despite Biden’s warm reception amongst Obama’s followers, and his own perceived presidential characteristics, he may make Obama more vulnerable by exposing his Achilles heel.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee John McCain was shockingly transparent in his choice of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his second-in-command. Now you might be asking what this gun-toting pro-lifer brings to the table; the answer is a whole lot of nothing. Despite a good track record and having very few skeletons in the closet (Palin actually pushed her troubles into the limelight, having her unwed 17 year old daughter join her with the father of the child at the Republican national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota). She certainly isn’t making up for any of McCain’s faults. The Governor’s real job was just to shake up the ticket.
But how much is Palin really worth to McCain’s campaign if he is successful and later has to hand over the power to her? Before being Governor of Alaska, Palin was the mayor of her hometown Wasilla, which has a population of just over 7,000. The argument that governing a town of fewer than 10,000 translates into being qualified to manage a population of over 300 million is a hard pill to swallow.
On the other side, Biden’s qualifications to seize the reigns should the need arise do not leave the public cringing. Having been a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination himself; he’s apparently coveted the oval office for some time. But some of what Biden brings to the ticket is unfair as Obama will still have to be the decider.
The vice-presidency is traditionally a do nothing position and the last eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration has been an anomaly. Cheney has wielded considerable influence over Bush during his presidency and the public has come to accept the dominant and new role of the vice president. But there is no indication that this is how Obama or even McCain plans on handling the show. The qualifications of Biden, which ultimately establish Obama as a reliable president, are dubious as Biden would only step up if Obama was unable to perform.
In the end, the way each candidate chose his running mate illustrates what they think of the other. Obama mustered an experienced and trusted figure like McCain, and McCain has thrown in a historically ground-breaking wild card, playing off the shock value that having someone other than a white male brings to the ticket. But with all the hips on the table, the vice president is only there to reinforce the policies of the president, so the focus should remain on the candidates themselves.

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