How many names of Vice Presidents do you remember in US History? And no, I'm not talking about the ones that later became Presidents. I'm talking about the Alben W. Barkleys of the world. Can you tell me three things about Charles Curtis? Charles Fairbanks? Adlai E. Stevenson? Right. In fact, the most famous Vice Presidents were often more notorious or infamous than celebrated- yes J. Danforth Quayle, I'm talking to you.
Each election brings new reasons by which to choose running mates. Back in 1976, Gerald Ford chose Bob Dole to win votes in the Farm Belt. Al Gore was trying to seem more moderate when he pointed towards Joe Lieberman for his second-in-line, though perhaps regretted it later when he lost the very controversial election of 2000 to George W. Bush. And, as Obama was getting ready to announce his running-mate, I couldn't help but think about the Kennedy-Johnson ticket of 1964--it is the model of a "dream-ticket" that this country remembers, and given the various comparisons of Obama to JFK, one that begged the question of whether we would see an Obama-Hillary ticket come to fruition.
That said, when Senator Barack Obama chose Senator Joe Biden to be his running mate, it seemed to fit with the general Veep formula: choose someone who fills in the gaps. While Obama is celebrated for being a leader, young, hip, charismatic, intelligent, and liberal, he is also criticized and scrutinized for his "amateur" experience in foreign policy and national security, and lack of time spent in Washington in general. Biden, who has spent thirty-five years in office and is Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, is a clear resume-builder for Obama.
On the other hand, Senator John McCain's selection of Governor Sarah Palin to join him on the ticket adds two things to his campaign. Firstly, given that the key word of this election, on both sides, is "change," adding Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, to the ticket, brings an "outsider" to Washington who isn't bogged down by some of the restraints that old-timers in Washington are subject to. Secondly, Palin brings a "flair" to the GOP ticket that McCain, albeit his strong resume, certainly needs if he is to steal any attention away from the "rock star" candidate, Barack Obama. If a "flair" is part of the aim, McCain has succeeded, as Palin has become a bit of a rock star herself, taking media attention with her. In just a couple of short weeks, Palin has been center stage in Election '08.
The question now becomes two-fold: Is a "flare" a lasting benefit to the McCain campaign, and is a "flare" a good thing for that ticket regardless? In the immediate future after Governor Sarah Palin joined McCain, there was a burst in power for the GOP campaign, sending it rising above Obama-Biden in the polls. However, this "burst" from "The Palin Effect" is likely to be merely a "burst." It follows that, for the first time in days, today Obama shows a 2.1 lead over McCain in the RCP Average. Perhaps that "burst" has begun leveling out.
The second question is more interesting. While I think we can all agree that McCain can benefit from a powerful woman who hunts moose and is, well, kind of hot, sprucing up his campaign, there is a thin line between a welcome "breath of fresh air" and someone who might be more of an overshadowing force. At a rally on Tuesday night in Ohio, Palin flipped the ticket, saying "that's exactly what we're gonna do in a Palin and McCain administration." A Freudian slip perhaps, Sarah? To her credit, the media, whether it be a mainstream newsdesk or SNL, has made this election feel like it's about two players: Obama and Palin.
It is too soon to reveal how the electorate will react to both Obama and McCain's choices. However, if the history of this country shows us anything, a good campaign's star should always be first on the ticket. Presidential candidates should always be wary of a VP candidate who is more "exciting" than they are. At the very least, a VP choice should supplement the candidate, not take away from him or her. On a basic level, the President of the United States is the spokesperson for this country, and it can't be received well at GOP headquarters that on more than one occasion, people have been coming to McCain-Palin rallies and filing out after Palin speaks, and before McCain is even halfway through his speech. Perhaps Palin's flip of the ticket on Tuesday should be cause for concern, especially for McCain himself.