Cook On Concord: Veepstakes — Obama one, McCain zero

At a Labor Day party, a group of friends discussed the recently concluded Democratic National Convention and the upcoming Republican gathering with special attention given to the vice presidential picks, Sen. Joseph Biden by Barack Obama and Gov. Sarah Palin by John McCain.

The consensus was that we wanted to vote for the McCain/Biden ticket. The problem is, we cannot.

With his selection of Senator Biden of Delaware, Barack Obama picked probably the best vice presidential candidate available, although he had a fairly wide range of qualified candidates from which to choose.

Biden, experienced, articulate, witty and politically savvy, has served in the U.S. Senate since his election at age 29. Biden has been chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Judiciary Committee and has been a long-serving member of both, giving him the requisite experience in international affairs and in legal matters that will be helpful should he reach the vice president’s office.

During the New Hampshire primary in which Biden ran (in case you missed it), he impressed many with a couple of traits. First, his well-known penchant for giving very long answers sometimes was evident, to the chagrin of his staff, notably at a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast at the Bedford Village Inn early in the campaign.

More importantly, however, his impressive knowledge and experience struck those who observed him. At a forum at St. Anselm College, Biden spoke about the crises in Pakistan and the recently declared martial law. The importance of experience was evident as he told the story of President Musharraf calling him the prior Saturday night to ask his opinion about the declaration of martial law, which had happened the day before. Biden told him what a mistake he thought it had been and Musharraf asked the following, poignant question: “Why hasn’t George Bush called me and told me that?” Biden said he did not know, ended the phone call, called the White House, and President Bush called Musharraf the following Monday.

The importance of that story was that there is no substitute for years of experience and personal knowledge of players on the international stage, something almost all governors and many less experienced congressmen, senators and officeholders do not have.

Biden has it, and that seems to be a potent antidote to the lack of experience that Obama demonstrates, notwithstanding his other formidable characteristics. (McCain has it, too!)

Biden possesses the fundamental qualification for a vice president: He could be a competent president of the United States on the first day.

Senator McCain shocked the political establishment with his choice of Governor Palin of Alaska. She is bright, articulate, polished, attractive, straightforward and, like all real people, has a real family with all the ups and downs associated with that. As the mother of a young child with special needs, she is especially attractive to those who have experienced that special gift and extra challenge in life.

At the Republican convention, she received a lot of attention, gave a hard-hitting acceptance speech and energized a lot of the Republican base, who appeared to be lukewarm about their presidential nominee.

Palin has been governor of Alaska for a couple of years, was mayor of a small town prior to that and received life experience on the ground in the PTA, coaching, participating in sports, etc.

Palin will be an interesting campaigner who, at age 44, will be an antidote to McCain’s age of 72.

As a woman, Palin presented Democrats, commentators and others with a problem which they seem to handle by being complimentary, cautious and changing the subject from her to the wisdom or lack thereof demonstrated by Senator McCain in choosing her above all the other possible men and women in the Republican Party (and one notable independent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman).

At the convention, speaker after speaker extolled Palin’s virtues, compared her experience to that of Senator Obama and others, and generally tried to enhance and flatter her résumé. Indeed, former Sen. Fred Thompson, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Gov. Mike Huckabee all used very clever lines and received good reactions from the crowd and commentators in their presentation of Governor Palin prior to her own admirable performance.

The betting is that Palin will do a good job as a vice presidential candidate, will create a great deal of enthusiasm, attract some women’s votes, create excitement within the GOP and, as people get to know her family, be respected and admired personally and professionally.

There is only one problem with the Palin pick. President McCain could die in office.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.