Thursday, June 12, 2008

Obama's Insider Conundrum

Authenticity is a fine line to tow in democratic politics because it opens one up to the charge of phoniness, the ultimate bete noir of bloggers, and, more importantly, internet donors. And woe unto he (or she) who has to answer to disappointed internet donors after they are photoshopped in this digital age with scarlet letters spelling Phony (The Corsair sips a fruity 2005 Quintessa). Presumptive Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama is in between a rock and a hard place right about now. The exodus of James Johnson exposes the candidate to: a) further charges that he has an "associate problem" -- the dominant Republican narrative against Obama -- but it also illustrates: b) a powerful limitation that the anti-establishment campaign line that he ran on places upon him.

Is "Experience" evil, de facto, in a democracy in a change election? Picking a running mate is not only the most important decision a candidate can make, it is also the most politically inside decision a candidate can make. And therein lies the problem for the junior Senator from Illinois: How does Obama make an inside pick when he has run one of the most insurgent, change-oriented and defaintly anti beltway candidacies in American history? And if the Senator cannot pick people to surround himself with that are too tainted by the stink Washington, is he getting the best minds? Does the authentic, anti-Establishment campaign automatically exclude the most effective administrators with the most experienced politicians?

Much has been said about the benefits of picking a running mate early on in the game. An early running mate can help pick up the slack against Senator McCain's many chatty surrogates -- the President and Senator Lieberman immediately come to mind. It is not inconceivable that if Senator Obama made a pick immediately following Senator Clinton's concession he might not be in such a tenuous position. Also, Obama is clearly tired from that intercontinental bare-knuckled intellectual brawl with Clinton -- for further reference see: smoking, Obama -- that Hillary only barely lost. But if Senator Obama had not picked Hillary as an immediate running mate, he may be in even worse shape. If Obama picked immediately, say, Senator Jim Webb -- a pretty revolutionary and Jacksonian "Let's bust up the fucking Georgetown tea party" character in his own right -- he would almost probably have alienated the Hillary bloc out of the gate. Finessing the Clinton bloc, especially if Obama is not going to pick Hillary as a running mate, entails time. And time may be Obama's enemy if he wants to be perceived as not to be calculating and dissembling.

And so Senator Obama is in the odd position of navigating the picking of a running mate, which requires a lot of insider calculations, in a manner that doesn't publicly suggest that any of these things actually occurred internally.

Not an easy maneuver at all.

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