Sparked by Kos' front page Tester post the other day, and while I'm in a VP mindset.
Before the comments go wild with misinterpretation, I'm not suggesting I think Obama will pick Jon Tester as VP. That would blow my mind.
But in thinking about Obama and Tester it occurred to me the example of Tester is a good way of unpacking a feeling I have about how he'll pick his VP. (I certainly am skeptical, as noted at fivethirtyeight today, that he'll pick a VP to try and win a specific state.)
From the Mansfield-Metcalfe dinner in Butte, MT, April 5, 2008:
And as if that weren't enough, we've got a tag team now. (Cheering) I - I came to Montana, looking for Jon Tester's barber. (Laughing, cheering) I was thinking about going with that style. I was thinking about getting one of his ties. But it only works for Jon. Because he is an American original. I don't know somebody who is more decent, more hardworking, more dedicated... (crowd goes totally crazy) so give it up for Jon Tester. (wild cheering continues).
Barack is looking for someone fundamentally good and decent, someone with character and integrity as VP. I think he realizes he's on a kind of moral freeroll here.
My read on Obama is he's looking at this in a longer scope of history sense. He knows history thrusts people randomly into crucial moments, and it's important that they be of great character. I think character is Obama's ultimate selection criteria for VP.
I don't mean to say that being on a freeroll means Obama's taking things lightly or a win for granted. I mean, if you were Obama after the whirlwind last few years, wouldn't you trust your instincts for starting with what feels right and then worrying about the politics of it secondarily? Obama knows this is a weighty pick, and certainly he's considered: "If something happened, what kind of human being would I want to step in and lead this country I love?" I have no doubt that Obama judges Jon Tester to fit that character, intelligence and decency test. That's an easy one. There are probably others.
I also get the feeling Barack doesn't worry about his ability to articulate his reasons for picking whomever as a VP. I think he relishes taking on that argument. Obviously the specific example of Tester is one that would generate wild "inexperience" charges from the other side, as would probably most specific other longshot type examples who he could surprise us with.
But I'm not so sure he doesn't want to bait the Republicans into that trap. This is a massive change mood election, and Obama's understanding of staying steady and trusting his own read on the country is what got him through the primary and already gave him what Chuck Todd called "the greatest political upset in maybe the history of American politics." If you're Obama, how much more positive reinforcement do you need to convince you you're on the right track and to stick with your judgment?
I don't buy into the whole gotta pick so and so because it brings this constituency and this group of votes. The Lyndon Johnson example is worn. Dick Cheney didn't bring anything. Al Gore was on a ticket with another Southern Dem. Dan Quayle didn't bring Indiana newly into the fold for Republicans or lock up the vapid vote. Meanwhile, Lloyd Bentsen was supposed to be a balancer for Dukakis. I don't think VP-to-vote translation works 1-to-1 like that, the same way the vast majority of endorsements are overblown. VP selection is definitely an area where the conventional wisdom is way, way overblown.
Yes, I understand the importance of Ohio, for example (also see "Scenario Analysis" table at fivethirtyeight, right now at 19.47% to lose Ohio and still win election). But there are hidden realities. Jon Tester, for example, is by total physical bearing a walking, talking non-elitist. He's elite in the sense of intelligence, dedication, decency, but his presence undermines that argument without him having to open his mouth. I think those kind of non-verbal communications are vastly more powerful as a general rule than the content of what a person says. Words can trump the non-verbal but they have to be incredibly powerful. Obama's speeches are ironically so powerful not just because the words are so potent, but because he's a prodigy of the non-verbal bearing as well (that diary by Randy Mayeux deserved more attention).
Schweitzer comes off that way too.
And if that weren't enough, how 'bout the character you've got as a governor? I mean this guy, this guy has better stories (laughter), is funnier, he should have a late-night talk show. Instead, he also happens to be an expert on energy, he also happens to be an expert on land use, he is showing the way for how we are gonna win back the West for Democrats (cheering drowns out some comments)... I am so proud (inaudible due to cheering) of your great Governor Brian Schweitzer, give it up for him (wild cheering)...
Just something to think about.