My students have been assigned this brief article written immediately after Joe Biden was chosen as Obama's running mate. The purpose is to initiate a discussion of Biden's colorful history and lack of "wow" appeal, neither of which were disqualifying because Obama didn't really need anything from a running mate. He was doing fine on his own. This contrasts with McCain, who needed a running mate to come on board and save his trainwreck of a campaign. That is, of course, too much to ask of any running mate. Obama had the luxury of picking whoever he wanted without worrying about what it would do to Save his campaign which didn't need saving.

Pretty standard stuff.

Now spend a few minutes reading the comments. I couldn't even get past the first dozen without my jaw locking in a permanently dropped position. It appears that the general public's analytical abilities regarding elections are as good as their math and geography skills. The reaction appears to be evenly split between right-wing fantasy and that overwhelming forced pessimism from liberals that made me want to punch everyone for the last three months of the election. The first comment:

I can't believe Obama made this choice. It is just so dumb. They needed to reach out to working class Whites, OK I accept that. Biden is going to help? I don't see it myself. They needed a hunter, a shooter, a drinker, a fighter and a worker. Who opposed abortion.

Need bold predictions? There were bold predictions:

Biden is a disastrous choice forced on Obama by AIPAC because of Obama's incurable wobbliness on the Israeli-Arab question, as in everything else…As the gaping void behind his JFK image becomes more and more visible to the American public, Obama is reduced to pandering to televangelists and Israel-firsters, thereby cementing his certain defeat.

Not defeat. Certain defeat. Cemented. And cement is indestructible.

He really is the Democrat's Vince Cable. The wrong candidate has been chosen. Prepare for President McCain, the Dumocrats have gon' dun' it' agun.

Those considerations are only relevant should Obama win and at this moment he's trailing McCain. So the immediate task is how to deal with McCain.

Yes, he was formidable! Maybe we need someone with expertise:

I can say as a lifetime American, the things said about Biden in this article are 100% accurate, and were put quite mildly, to say the least. I'm hardly a rabid McCain fan, myself (I'm not even a Republican) — but if these two poor blokes are the best the Democratic Party has to offer, well…it's no wonder they've lost seven of the last ten U.S. presidential elections, with number 8 very possibly on the way.

I feel like I have lowered myself to write a post in which I consider internet comments to be representative of public opinion, but in scanning this thread I found myself instantly transported back to the first week of September. I remember clearly riding an escalator at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston and being told by a colleague that McCain just made his VP choice and…oh boy, Obama was in trouble. His choice of Biden, which had been made a week earlier, was bad. He was losing (or losing "badly" depending on who was speaking) and now McCain harnessed the talents of this young, sexy conservative superstar who was going to win over every Hillary Clinton supporter and help McCain expose Obama's shallow cult of personality and lack of intellectual substance. The sky was falling, President McCain was an inevitability, and one could hardly maintain balance between the gloating conservatives and the liberals looking for a quiet corner in which to commit suicide.

Remember all that? What the fuck was everyone thinking? I know people always view their own behavior more favorably in hindsight, but it would be interesting to make people reconcile their opinions at that time with the events of the subsequent two months.

I can't tell if people really are that dumb or if the emotional rollercoaster of following politics closely simply overwhelms good judgment. Internet comments may be where hope goes to die – hey, at least I didn't use YouTube comments – but I think it serves a purpose here. It can be pretty embarrassing to leave a written record of one's opinions, the wisdom of which will be analyzed after the fact. For most people, forgetting what they say almost immediately functions as a very effective defense mechanism against self-improvement.


  • Is there any historical Presidential precedence for an inspired VP pick turning around a failing campaign? Of being a huge draw? VPs strike me as something that are usually a liability, a landmine to be avoided, and maybe if you are lucky, someone who picks up their home state or maybe rallies a specific target group.

  • One could argue that LBJ helped tip the scale for Kennedy in Texas and the larger South. But then again the Dixiecrats had yet to turn Republican, so the South was the dems to lose in 1960. Still, I would wager that a Catholic Bostonian would have had a much tougher time turning out the vote down there if he hadn't had a southerner on the ticket.

    Spiro Agnew may have also helped Nixon, if only because he added an "Elitist vs Common Man" dynamic with all the talk of the "silent majority," but with the Democrats imploding during the 1968 campaign Nixon had a fundamental advantage in that election, so I don't believe Agnew added that much.

  • I was certainly not in the "commit suicide" category of liberals.

    Being perfectly honest, however, my analytical skills told me this: there were many unknowns and past unexpected results. I honestly could have "explained" nearly any outcome of the election. Consider:

    1) One of my mentors, who (I swear) is a bright man, was a Palin fan.
    2) George W. Bush, after having succeeded at almost nothing he ever tried, won the POTUS office. And then, having failed miserably for 3.5 years, managed to leverage "it was someone else's fault" and get re-elected. Honestly, I expected Mr. Potato Head could have beaten W for re-election.
    3) W successfully campaigned against Gore-as-elitist-Ivy-Leaguer (despite W being the son of a President who went to expensive private schools.) W successfully campaigned against Kerry as being weak on the military (despite one having gone AWOL in Texas, and the other being a decorated veteran…and despite having catastrophic military mistakes brought on by poor leadership during 3.5 years.)
    4) I have lived my life knowing several closeted bigots, and other outright bigots. I had no idea how accurate the polls were.

    Since about the middle of Clinton's first term, politics have taught me two things:
    1) Joe Average pisses me off. He tolerates the wrong value systems, and chooses poorly.
    2) I have a very difficult time forecasting election behavior. I find this odd, since I tend to be very good at forecasting other variable systems with past data (stock market, NFL, …). So, either the data I've got is bad, their is some sort of election fraud going on, or my analytical skills just don't apply in this arena.

  • Regarding the comments — Ed, they're comments from a thread. About an article on politics. That's like sampling opinions on the Cardinals from a sports bar in Chicago.

    As for the predictions/hindsight thing…I think that's also a good sports analogy. The average person has about as much insight into politics as the average football fan has into play-calling. And people tend to approach it in much the same way — rabidly opinionated one way or the other, without too much regard to fact (except those that support their opinion) and perfectly content to ignore failed past predictions when blathering on about their current one…

  • Yes, exactly. Denial in the survice of retaining the fantasy world they'd created, a world in which the right is brave and strong and godly, and most of all winners with a capital Win. The emotional rollercoaster is not provided by politics, it's provided by the rush of belonging, by the ego-boosting, and by the catharsis of hating one's (imaginary) enemy.

    Naturally these people (on the left and right) can't accurately analyze the situation becasue they are mentally replacing reality with their fantasy. In their fantasy Palin would make them successful and hip. In reality she was stupid and greedy and couldn't do anything well. So much for their fantasies of vicarious success.

  • I agree; internet comment threads are the lowest form of communication ever conceived since cavemen started grunting at each other. They are, without exception, devoid of anything even resembling a glimmer of human intelligence. The people who make and read internet comments are utter troglodytes, spewing bile and invective while typing with one cheetoh dust-encrusted hand and furiously masturbating at their own perceived brilliance with the other. Internet comments truly spell the end of civilization as we know it.

    … hey, wait a minute.

  • Matthew, your comment reminds me of the old Monty Python skit about the gumby standing in a stream and shouting " I think we should tax people who stand in water!"
    Gumby looks down.
    " Ooooahhh!"

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