It wasn't supposed to go this way.
For more than a decade now, the announcement of a GOP vice presidential pick has, with few exceptions, sparked a trumpeting from the Democratic campaign of the day on how extreme the candidate was, how unfit for the office. The idea has been to use the lesser-known veep candidate to, in the current parlance, "disqualify" the entire ticket.
You know the drill. Dan Quayle faced it, as did Sarah Palin. Dick Cheney and George H.W. Bush were so well known in the nation at large that they were immune.
But the Senate arm control expert from Indiana and the reforming governor from Alaska never recovered, even the one whose ticket was elected.
This year the assault started again, within milliseconds of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney stepping to the microphone and announcing that his pick was Rep. Paul Ryan. Romney and Ryan had barely stepped down from the podium before the first Democratic attack ad hit the air.
But now, a week later, which vice presidential candidate is rocking back on his heels? Joe Biden.
How can it be?
Some of it may be, of course, that, as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNBC's Larry Kudlow, "This guy just isn't bright." But if so, it's more than that, too.
Biden is a caricature of liberal self-righteousness. In his telling, everything he advocates is high-minded. Everything his opponents support springs from low and unseemly motives. With that kind of motif, when a campaign has determined it must take a walk in the mud, he is bound to misjudge how far is too far, too often.
"They want to put y'all back in chains" is an example.
According to reports and by looks of the clips, Biden was using a prepared text, one he had worked on with staff. The remark was a premeditated slur. But why?
The Democratic ticket has a problem this year. Their victory last time was driven in part by an unusually large African-American turnout at the polls. The reason for those high numbers is obvious, in part.
But a key factor in that turnout that is never discussed. For as long as voter turnout data has been gathered, higher levels of education, employment, and income correlate with higher rates of voting. African-Americans had done well, very well, in the prior four years, as they had since the 25-year Reagan-initiated economic expansion began. By all the indicators, African-Americans should have had their top turnout numbers in history in 2008.
Today it is different. African-Americans have taken a particularly hard economic hit these last three and a half years. Consider just one indicator. Unemployment throughout this population is nearly twice as high today as it was in 2008, higher than for any major ethnic group.
And if historical patterns hold up, very high African-American unemployment will mean significantly lower African-American turnout in November, a major problem for the Democratic campaign.
How to counter that? It doesn't take subtle political insight to suspect that with its "no voter ID" push the Democratic campaign is hoping to push unprecedented numbers of the unregistered and even the ineligible to the polls—Chicago-style voting on a national scale.
But how to motivate discouraged and disillusioned voters actually to go to the polls?
For several decades now, when targeting African-Americans, the Democratic Party, no matter the particular GOP candidate, has used fear of backsliding on civil rights to jack up the African-American vote. This year it appears that they are trying to supercharge those apprehensions.
But doing so means walking a fine line—and a fine line is no line when this vice president is doing the walking.
With his crude and clumsy comment, Mr. Biden was doing his handlers' bidding—and his own. It was just another "war on" moment. Let's see, what have we had so far? There are too many to count. But as many wars as the Obama-Biden campaign may maintain the GOP ticket will wage on every group they can imagine, here are the factors that more and more are defining the November choice.
Factor No. 1: When the president was sworn in 65 percent of the American workforce was employed. Today 63 percent are.
Factor No. 2: In 2008, the federal budget deficit was $459 billion. This year it will be $1.3 trillion.
Factor No. 3: Our national debt plus unfunded liabilities in Medicare and Social Security total four times the size of our economy.
The president's former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that this accumulated debt is or greatest national security threat. Major economists like Harvard's Robert Barro tell us that the spending and debt are crowding out investment that would create the private sector jobs the nation needs. And in four years the president has not presented to Congress a single comprehensive budget, a single serious plan for dealing with the crisis.
You've go to feel for the vice president. Making a case in the face of those facts is an invitation to missteps.