News from the Votemaster
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DL) announced he is running for President last week and simultaneously destroyed any chance he had of being named Secretary of State in a Democratic administration (he never had a chance to be elected President, but he might have been Secretary of State material). His sin: using the word "articulate" to describe Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). A hundred pundits jumped on him saying it was demeaning and implied he was surprised a black man spoke perfectly normal English without even a trace of ghetto Ebonics. If he had chosen a slightly different word, say "eloquent," which is often used to described former Sen. John Edwards, all would (probably) have been well in Punditland. As former Sen. George "Macaca" Allen found out last fall, use one bad word and you're dead meat.
The lesson of this incident is clear. Everyone knew perfectly well what he meant, namely, that Obama is the first black candidate who actually has a real shot at becoming President. Al Sharpton is very articulate, and he can run as often as Harold Stassen if he wants, but he is never going to be elected President. George Bush mangles the Queen's English daily and nobody says boo, but one bad word from Biden and it's doomsday.
The upshot of this incident is that more and more candidates are going to limit their unscripted appearances and speaking engagements where they have to answer questions. They will live in fear that they will utter one word wrong and be on YouTube in 5 minutes. The best way to avoid mistakes is simply to read speeches written and carefully vetted by teams of highly paid consultants. I think scaring politicians into never daring to open their mouths until they have first checked with three focus groups is an ominous development for democracy. Hillary Clinton is often accused of this behavior; maybe she is just ahead of the curve.
Another consequence of Biden's Blunder will be more scrutiny for the front runners. If Obama or Giuliani or one of the other people currently polling well (which means nothing at this stage--Bill Clinton ranked 11th at this point in 1992) makes a verbal mistake, it will be all over the front pages. A mistake by Bill Richardson or Sam Brownback will probably not be fatal ("Sam Who said what?").
All the papers are full of stories about how Republican senators up for reelection like Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) are torn between their great admiration and respect for the President and what the voters are going to do to them in 2008. Gimme a break. Can't anybody just speak the truth any more? They don't give a hoot about the President. They are torn because the Republican party is deeply divided on Iraq and however they vote will alienate a large block of voters. What they are agonizing over is trying to determine which block to alienate. The polls tell them how big each group is now, but what they care about is how big the antiwar sentiment will be among Republican and independent voters come Nov. 2008. That they don't know and it is painful. Show me a senator who can't tell the difference between his or her own interest and the national interest and I will show you a former senator.
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-- The Votemaster