Thursday, June 12, 2008

An Early Stumble

My favorite quote from the campaign trail this week:

"I'm not hiring a vetter to vet the vetters."

Barack Obama said that, after the Wall Street Journal reported that longtime Democratic insider Jim Johnson, hired by Obama to lead his search for a running mate, had gotten some sweetheart home loans from collapsing subprime lender Countrywide Financing.

Johnson ended up resigning from Obama's veep committee. The news that the presumptive Democratic nominee hadn't properly vetted the man who would be vetting his vice presidential choice makes some Democrats even more nervous about November than they already were. Obama has called his choice of a running mate "the most important decision" he'll make before Election Day. Yet he's already botching it. Jim Johnson seemed like a safe choice for the assignment; after all, this guy is the consummate Washington insider, and he performed the exact same task for Fritz Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.

Hmm, maybe that's part of the problem. First of all, Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro, though seemingly inspired at first, ended up being more problematic than helpful. Kerry's choice of John Edwards made little difference in that campaign. But why is Barack Obama, who's supposed to be new, fresh, different and exciting - a candidate who says he embodies change so much all by himself that he won't actually have to make any if he's elected - turning to an old D.C. hand like Jim Johnson? Is he trying to pull a George W. Bush, who sought to make up for his own lack of experience and gravitas by leaning on GOP wise head Dick Cheney (so much so that Cheney himself got the number two slot)? There's nothing wrong with seeking sage counsel for such a critical decision (although I will argue in a later blog that it's really not so critical, from a campaign standpoint, as everyone thinks). But come on Obama, if you really want to be different - THEN BE DIFFERENT. Let's bring in Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam to be in charge of vetting. Or maybe a Vietnam Vet who came home and became a veterinarian. The more Obama makes this kind of mistake, the more he'll seem like just another politician, and the less the voters will believe his advertising.

By the way, I was curious about the etymology of this particular meaning of the word "vet" (it's meaning number three in my OED). It turns out it comes from the Latin word "veto," which we all know - as in, checking someone out thoroughly so you can veto the choice if you find anything bad. Such as a cozy Countrywide loan or three on their balance sheet.

Check out the latest polls on our website. Obama is pulling away from McCain in all of them, although that may just be the post-primary, Hillary-endorsed-him bounce. We'll go into some greater detail on the polls in our next post, unless something else leaps out of my brain first. Also, speaking of brains, give yours a tickle by trying this week's trivia question. The answer may surprise you!