On several occasions presidential nominees have felt the need to choose as their running mates the persons who were their strongest competitors for the nomination. But two successful occasions were quite unlike Obama's situation.
On the eve of the Democrats' 1960 convention in Los Angeles, the campaign of Lyndon Johnson, who was decisively behind John Kennedy in the delegate count, intimated -- correctly, we now know -- that Kennedy's health was much more precarious than was then understood. Ten days later, Kennedy asked Johnson to be his running mate. The "solid South" was no longer solidly Democratic -- in 1952 Dwight Eisenhower carried Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Florida, and in 1956 he added Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia -- so Kennedy needed Johnson.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan, who was cool toward George H.W. Bush, chose him partly to assuage the disappointment of the Detroit convention that had become giddy with enthusiasm for the silly idea of recruiting former President Gerald Ford as Reagan's running mate. Reagan did not select Bush to attract November votes that Reagan thought he could not win.
Clinton has been carrying categories of voters that Obama has had trouble attracting. But it is implausible that she is the only Democrat who would enhance Obama's appeal to white, blue-collar Democrats.
Finally, Clinton is not entitled to a consolation prize. Robert Frost provided a warning for those who become too accustomed to the limelight:
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.
Harder than, say, working the night shift as a short-order cook at a truck stop out on the interstate? Or being a nurse in a pediatric oncology ward? Maybe not.
More than 300 million Americans living at this hour will never be president. They will never even be senator from New York. That office is not chopped liver. Neither is it a form of disregard.
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