Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biden Over Schweitzer – A Missed Opportunity?

When Barack Obama named Joe Biden as his running mate, the decision looked so responsible, so statesmanlike. The Russian invasion of Georgia several weeks earlier had jarred everyone into thinking again about that knottiest of subjects – foreign policy. But we could trust Biden to help untie the knots. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he'd just made a visit to besieged Georgia a week before he was picked. Here was a guy who knew his way around the Caucusus and every other hot spot.

But today, with the Democratic ticket sinking in the polls, how good does Obama's choice look?

Obama propelled himself into being a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination with his fresh and eloquent theme of change. At the Democratic National Convention, he said, in one of his few memorable rhetorical flourishes:

"You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us -- that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington."

But how does choosing a U.S. senator of 36 years standing help make that happen?

What if Obama's choice had been a Washington outsider? What if it had been, say, Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana?

Schweitzer did get a little bit of pre-selection buzz, but I'm mystified why he didn't get more play. Democrats love to talk about the need for universal health care and energy independence, but for Schweitzer those issues are not programmatic abstractions but interrelated practicalities. Like in this Q. & A. from Salon magazine:

Q. A lot of people are talking about, if Obama wins, should healthcare come first or energy reform come first?

A. Both. You can't pay for healthcare if we're sending a trillion dollars a year to dictators. Bottom line is, we gotta stop hemorrhaging, and the hemorrhaging is full-flung. Climate change, that is the long-term economic hit to our economy. The short-term economic hit to our economy is the largest transfer of wealth from one economy to another economy. So, create a new energy system in America, and create an energy system that's cleaner and greener and is designed by American engineers and built by American workers. Once we get that right we can afford to invest in healthcare and education.

In front of a microphone, Schweitzer is even more impressive. Watch him at the Democratic National Convention.

A rancher, he charmingly bragged about the Big Sky State: "I may be a little biased, but I think it's the greatest place in the world to raise a family, start and grow a business and build a community."

Even though he was only a warm-up for eagerly awaited Hillary Clinton, Schweitzer grabbed the attention of the convention crowd. Bill Clinton, sitting in the audience, nodded enthusiastically when the governor ad-libbed:

“We need all of you to stand up,” he yelled. “Colorado! Stand up! Florida! Stand up! Pennsylvania! Get off your hind end! In the cheap seats! Stand up! We want to hear you from Denver to Detroit, from Montana to Mississippi, from California to Carolinas.”

When Obama decided on Biden, did he miss an opportunity to choose a running mate who would be his own version of a Sarah Palin-like running mate?

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