Friday, February 02, 2007

Joe Biden, of course

I REALLY would like to write that Senator Biden's comments about Senator Obama will actually HELP Biden get the nomination. They have, after all, gotten him much more attention than the announcement of his candidacy otherwise would have. There's no such thing as bad publicity, right? I would like to write that, but that would be nuts. So the question is: who benefits? And the answer is: Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

If Biden does stay in the race, he might actually get a small, temporary bump from the added exposure, maybe moving him to the front of the pack of second-tier Democratic candidates, ahead of Dodd, Kucinich, Richardson, and Vilsack. But if all of the leaders stumble badly, Biden will then be passed over for somebody else, if not one of the other second-tier candidates, then perhaps Al Gore. There is just no way a major political party will nominate a candidate with the kind of baggage Biden now has. Ask George Allen. (Yes, yes, I know that the Republicans nominated W with a different kind of baggage in each of the last two elections, but for whatever reason, his baggage wasn't so visible in 2000, and in 2004 he was the incumbent.)

Biden never really had more than a very long shot at the nomination anyway. Oddly, I think the real loser here may be Obama, because in reacting to Biden's comment, he fell into a bit of a trap. Obama's initial response was that this was a non-issue, that Biden is not a racist, and let's move on. Then, in response to an outcry, Obama made the fairly obvious point that there are other articulate African Americans, some of whom have run for President. That's right, of course, but in seeming to change his stance from one of "this is silly gotcha stuff" to "I'm not offended personally but the remark is offensive," Obama appeared to morph from a post-modern uber-candidate into a fairly typical identity-politics-driven politician. If so (and I hope I'm wrong) that could hurt him a bit, and thus benefit the other plausible candidates, Clinton and Edwards.