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Focusing on the Long Haul

'WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW?' the headline screamed on the top of the Drudge Report Friday morning, a direct quote from Senator Obama. The Washington Post reported that the Democratic nominee "teased reporters" on Thursday, telling them "I've made the selection, and that's all you're going to get."

Actually I wouldn't like to know, at least not half as much as the Obama team seems to think. By the time you read this, you will probably know, and will have returned to the barbeque grill, your decision — or indecision — about who to vote for in this presidential contest, entirely unchanged by the revelation.

The Vice Presidency obviously has the potential to matter a great deal, since the VP becomes President if something happens to the man we elect. But the Vice Presidential nominee, history suggests, doesn't make much of a difference at all. Obviously, choosing someone with serious health issues in his past (as George McGovern did, when he picked Tom Eagleton, unaware of the latter's history of electric shock treatments), can prove to be a real embarrassment, and call into question the judgment of the one doing the picking. But the fact is that McGovern moved quickly to replace Eagleton with the much-respected and Kennedy-related Sergeant Shriver, who was unable to help the nominee from losing about 48 states. Spiro Agnew — Nixon's choice — left people shaking their heads long before he was forced to resign under indictment, but it didn't stop Nixon from winning two elections. Dan Quayle's selection raised questions from the start, many of which he had trouble addressing. But the fact that people preferred the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Lloyd Bentsen, about a hundred to one over Quayle did not stop them from voting for the Republican Presidential candidate, George Bush. Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's choice eight years ago, was widely (although not universally) considered to be a great choice at the time, by many of the same people who adore Gore today — even more than they did then — but whose current views of Lieberman could not be printed on a family Web site. So Gore made a bad choice. So what?

There is more interest in the Vice Presidential nominee in the hours before his selection than there will be in the entire campaign combined. In politics, secrets are like that. Everybody wants to know because no one else does. But once everyone does, most people, even media mavens, couldn't care less. Vice Presidential candidates disappear from public view (except for the two hours of the Vice Presidential debate) the minute they go off on their own.

So who cares if Obama wants to have a little fun with this guessing game, supposedly stretching it out as long as he can to keep the focus on McCain's admission that he doesn't know how many homes he owns?

Democrats who want to win should care, for two reasons. First, I am sorry to say, this game — and that's what it is — has started to look very juvenile. It's the kind of silliness I tell my children to avoid. For days now, the rumor mill has been filling the vacuum; the stories go flying around, and everyone who hangs out at the political water cooler runs around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to prove them right or wrong. Believe me, I've been on the phone, more than I care to admit. Republicans are actually better at these games than Democrats. Or perhaps they are just more ruthless.

When the rumor mill had Hillary's name front and center on Wednesday, the fine folks at the Republican National Committee saw an opportunity and jumped on it. I have no reason to believe they started the rumor, but I have every reason to think they fanned it, understanding that giving false hope to Hillary supporters who didn't know that it wasn't true would only lead them to greater disappointment when someone else was named. The RNC has a history of such "pranks," but they aren't running for President, and their candidate is a guy who can be called many things, but definitely not juvenile. The guy in this race who cannot afford to look juvenile, not even for a minute, is Barack Obama. Teasing the press might be fine if he were old enough to make it endearing, and if the press were not already viewed, with some reason, to be his buddies instead of his examiners. But in this case, neither is true, which means that Senator Obama has to go out of his way to look grown-up and serious, and to make it clear that there is a distance between him and the people whose obvious affection for him is making them, and him, fodder for skepticism if not outright criticism.

The second reason for concern is the explanation coming out of Obama-land for delaying the announcement of a decision that has, according to the Senator himself, already been made. The line seems to be that they want to delay the revelation for as long as possible in order to exploit what they see as the juicy opportunity provided by John McCain's admission that he doesn't even know how many houses he owns. They've already made an ad, and are pushing it hard: how could he understand your housing problems when he doesn't even know how many houses he owns? It's the sort of argument that the Democratic base, and affiliated consultants who have tried to run "populist" campaigns for President, find irresistible. But there is no basis for thinking that it gets you to 51%. Economic warfare always loses for Democrats. It gets you to about 46%, and then you hit a wall. You can win by running against the poor, sad to say, but not by running against the rich. John McCain has a rich wife. Most men I know wish they did. Most women I know wish they had a rich husband. In fact, most people wish they could be so lucky, or successful, to have more homes than they can count. If John McCain couldn't remember some vital fact relating to economic or foreign policy — really couldn't remember — then it might raise questions about his age, or his values. But not remembering how many houses he owns just suggests that he's a rich guy (or at least a guy with a rich wife) who has more important things to think about than then number of homes he owns. Like winning this election, I’m afraid.

So, congratulations to "What's his name," whoever it turns out to be. Can we please get back to putting some meat on those bones of "change" by doing more town meetings and fewer massive rallies and stadium events, and convincing people at the barbeque that their lives will actually be better if Barack Obama is President. Most Americans, in my experience, don't care how the candidate lives, or where; they care about their own futures and their families, and that is what Democrats need to focus on as well.


Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for FOXNews.com.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.