Presumptive Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama did not choose Joe Biden as his VP mate. Republican rival John McCain did. McCain made the VP choice for Obama easy even before Obama became the likely Democratic presidential pick. In May, McCain hammered Obama as being inexperienced and naïve on foreign policy issues. The tone, the tempo, and emphasis of McCain's attack were set. In the next few weeks McCain repeated the points about Obama mantra-like. He was too untested on foreign policy issues, and too inexperienced, and green to fight the terrorism battle and to be hard nosed enough on national security. Obama took heed of McCain's attack points against him.
The polls back up McCain on the claim that he's far stronger on national security. A Pew Research Center poll in June found that nearly half of Americans still say that Obama is not tough enough on national security and McCain is. Though most voters still rank the economy as their number one worry, and that supposedly works to Obama's favor. Obama's number one worry, though, is still being outflanked by McCain on the issue of national security and foreign policy concerns.
Biden's long years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put him at the center of action and even decision making on key foreign policy matters. His centrist stance on the war, plus his age, he's 65, and elder statesman image made him the made-in-heaven choice to foil McCain's set foreign policy and national security greenhorn hit point against him.
Obama is hardly the first recent presidential candidate deemed a neophyte, if not hopelessly far behind on the learning curve, on foreign policy and national security issues. Bush W. carried the same political albatross. He did the smart political thing and picked the older, experienced two stints Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his running mate. He was also a consummate party insider, who reassured party regulars that the White House would not stumble when hit with a foreign policy crisis. It did on Iraq, but at the time the perception was that it was the right move.
McCain's attacks weren't the only things Obama heeded in picking Joe. Obama took heed of history. President Bush in 2004 pounded Democratic rival John Kerry in 2004 as being soft of anti-terrorism and national security. Kerry didn't get it. He picked moderate Southern Democrat, John Edwards, as his running mate. It didn't do a thing to help Kerry burnish his credentials as a tough guy on Bush's signature issues. This time around they're not the compelling issues that scare and concern millions of voters as they did in 2004. But they're still issues that resonate with millions of voters, especially the much coveted, moderate to conservative independent voters.
Finally, Obama heeded the polls. Republicans and independents say that they want a VP who has strong national security and foreign policy credentials. Democrats say the same thing. In a July poll by the Clarus Research Group, a majority of Democrats rated foreign policy and national security just below the economy as key concerns, and that the Democratic VP should have strong credentials on both. There is more to it than that. Democrats also worried over voter perception that Obama is weak on foreign policy. This could handicap him as a one dimensional candidate, and that could spell big trouble for him at the polls.
A massive viral email stealth campaign has kicked into high gear on the internet targeting Obama on his national security toughness. It doesn't stop there. This slippery campaign also questions his patriotism. Before the West Virginia primary, a piqued Obama snapped at one reporter who questioned whether white voters in the state saw him as un-American that he was a practising Christian and that his grandfather was a World War II vet.
Biden is on the ticket soley to parry McCain's hit point that Obama is a greenhorn on foreign policy and national security. Time will tell whether Biden will be much good in doing that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).