With the two Democratic candidates nearly tied in the number of delegates they’ve amassed, and the prospect of months more of ferocious competition, party leaders yearn for them to settle the struggle by joining together in a “dream ticket” of Clinton-Obama or even Obama-Clinton.
When Wolf Blitzer made this suggestion at a CNN debate in Hollywood, the audience erupted in thunderous applause, signifying their grateful approval. After thrilling to the possibility of either the first woman ever elected on a national ticket, or else the first African-American, the dream ticket scenario offers the Dems the prospect of claiming both distinctions at once.
As the closely-matched battle continues to rage, and the Democratic leadership agonizes over what to do about seating the contested, pro-Clinton delegations from Michigan and Florida, the passion to force the two leaders to join as running mates may achieve nearly irresistible forces.
For many reasons, however, both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will resist all efforts to compel them to run together.
Why She Won’t Take Him
Watching the two of them together, isn’t it painfully obvious that she dislikes him?
Ironically, when Senator Clinton appears together with Senator McCain, there’s a sense of hearty geniality, fellowship even friendship. Her interaction with Obama, on the other hand, suggests tension, awkwardness, and mutual resentment. At the State of the Union Address, Senator Obama even made headlines when he and his new friend Senator Kennedy made no effort to greet Hillary even though she stood, in a attention-getting red dress, some three feet away from them.
On the most basic psychological level, Barack Obama echoes the deepest discomforts of Hillary Clinton’s hideously complex marriage.
For thirty-five years, she’s been constantly upstaged by a charismatic and attractive male whose oratorical and glad-handing gifts vastly exceed her own. She doesn’t want to spend the eight years of her potential presidency similarly upstaged by another guy, notably younger and thinner than she is, with an electrifying magnetism that easily equals her husband’s.
Moreover, she’d have no reason to trust him, or to rely on him, were he installed as her Vice President. Al Gore served as a faithful, slavishly loyal supporter to President Clinton because he owed his presence on the ticket entirely to Big Bill’s whim. Were Obama to serve with Hillary, he’d come to the position with his own, independent power base, and the knowledge that his strong campaign had forced her to accept him. No one could discount the possibility of a Vice President Obama challenging his boss on decisions of which he deeply disapproved. It’s entirely conceivable that after a single term together, he might even decide to challenge her for re-nomination.
This sort of fear kept Lyndon Johnson from accepting the urging of countless leaders who wanted him to name Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of the murdered President, as his running mate in 1964. LBJ knew that whether he made Bobby his Vice President or not, the oldest surviving Kennedy brother would remain his rival for party leadership. Johnson decided that he’d be better off keeping that rivalry outside the administration, rather than incorporating it into the very center of power. As it happened, RFK went on to win a Senate seat from New York and did challenge Johnson for the Presidency four years later.
Every Vice President (except, it seems, for Dick Cheney) emerges as a plausible heir apparent but in Obama’s case, his strong campaign would make him an absolutely sure bet as Hillary’s successor as leader of the Democrats. No President wants to look over her shoulder at a Veep with an independent base of support who’s just waiting for his chance to take over the party.
Finally, she won’t need him to win in November. There’s no major ideological difference between them—no “wing” of the party that must be appeased by asking him onto the ticket. Rather than taking a fellow urban liberal like Obama, Hillary would probably prefer a more moderate running mate that would help her take wavering states away from Republicans – including Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, maybe more.
There’s also the problem of experience – especially when running against a veteran (of both the military and of Congress) like John McCain. With a Clinton-Obama ticket, Republicans could rightly go to town over two candidates whose only significant political background involved a few quick years in the Senate.
Clinton insiders speculate about the advantages of a running mate with impressive command experience, who might even give the ticket a shot at winning some of the Southern states that Bill captured in 1996 (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, West Virignia, Tennessee).
The most prominent name that could be added to the ticket as part of a Clinton “Southern Strategy” would be General Wesley Clark, an Arkansan, West Point valedictorian, Rhodes Scholar, wounded and decorated Vietnam Vet, and former NATO Commander – an obvious choice to counteract McCain’s appeal. A ramrod straight, silver-haired four star general in the Vice Presidency would help erase any lingering doubt about Hillary’s suitability as Commander-in-Chief.
The long and bitter campaign against Obama, however, may require some special attention to the African-American voters who remain the most loyal component of the Democratic coalition. Even if Barack is excluded from the ticket, it’s hard to imagine a mass desertion of black voters to the GOP, but a lack of enthusiasm could lead to a disappointing urban turnout that would hurt all Democrats.
If Hillary decides she needs a black running mate to make up for the wounded feelings of the campaign, there’s a better option for her than Obama himself. Aside from pie-in-the-sky talk of appealing to General Colin Powell to cross party lines to join a Clinton ticket (a nightmare for Republicans, obviously), there’s another selection that would also play in to a possible Southern strategy. Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. now heads the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council), the same moderate, centrist group that Bill Clinton himself (and Joe Lieberman) once led. He’s an outspoken Christian who ran surprisingly well among white evangelicals in his close 2006 Senate race in Tennessee. He’s also even younger (he’ll be 38 in May) and better-looking than Obama, with the same sort of suave presentation and blue-chip academic credentials (University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan Law School). During his five-terms in the House of Representatives he compiled a conspicuously moderate record (supporting limitations on abortion, backing a stronger military and the war on terror) that could help Clinton run to the middle.
Best of all, Congressman Ford would steal from Obama the distinction of the first African-American on a national ticket and, if Clinton wins election, he could run as her loyal successor and block Obama in 2016 (Ford would only be 46 –younger than Obama is now).
But even if Senator Clinton ignored all these possibilities and considerations and decided to offer Senator Obama a place on the ticket, he’d find powerful reasons to turn her down.
Why He’d Turn down the Vice Presidency
Every Vice President complains about the frustrations and indignities of the job: John Nance (“Cactus Jack”) Garner, two term Veep to FDR, once said the “The Vice Presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” (He actually used an earthier word than “spit,” but sensitive reporters decided to avoid shocking the public by cleaning up his language).
People nevertheless accept the position for one of two reasons – either as an obvious means of ascending to the presidency, or as the peak and culmination of a long career in politics. Dick Cheney, obviously, claimed a place on the ticket for the latter reason – he knew he’d never go higher than serving two terms in a supportive position to a younger president.
This logic hardly applies to Barack Obama at age 47. He’s already expressed his desire to claim the presidency, and no one expects that a role as Hillary’s Constitutional backup represents the summit of his ambitions.
Nor does he need the Vice Presidency as a stepping stone to the White House.. Even without claiming a place on a nation ticket, Obama will be an undeniable front runner for future presidential races; in fact, he’d probably find himself in a much stronger position without the Vice Presidency.
If he continues to serve as Senator from Illinois (or, as rumored, runs at some point for governorship in his home state in order to gain executive experience) he’ll be able to provide an independent, compelling voice on the issues. He could support the president or oppose the president, without any expectation of loyal, dutiful, automatic agreement. If a Clinton presidency founders, he’d be perfectly positioned to offer a competing vision.
Moreover, there’s always the possibility that a Clinton-Obama pairing loses in November – in which case his presence on the ticket would do him more damage than good. John Edwards’ campaign this year demonstrated the way that a failed race for the Vice Presidency gives little advantage in future campaigns.
In short, a Vice Presidential nomination offers Obama no substantive benefits while depriving him of some of his independence and freedom of maneuver.
He’d never again be able to run as plausibly as a candidate of “change” if he serves eight years as Hillary’s Veep. Inevitably, he would become a candidate associated with the infamous Clinton Machine, and tainted by all its corruptions and compromises. Obama knows history, and remembers the way that distinguished, powerful Senators of the past like Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore took the Vice Presidency and then found their own runs for the White House shadowed by the controversial legacies of their bosses (LBJ and Bill Clinton)
And worst of all for Barack, the magical aura of this campaign, with huge crowds intoxicated at the very idea of a black president, couldn’t be recaptured if he’s already run in the number two position. If we’ve already elected (or even nominated) an African-America as Vice President, the idea of a future Presidential race wouldn’t be nearly as novel or thrilling.
Consider here the example of Joe Lieberman: his nomination as Vice President in 2000 provoked a wave of deep emotion and exultation in the Jewish community. When the same guy ran for the presidency just four years later, the whole idea seemed anti-climactic, unimportant, and produced little excitement in the Jewish community or anywhere else. The barrier had already been broken with the Vice Presidential campaign and the same candidate doesn’t get credit for breaking it twice.
Why Not Obama-Clinton?
With all the potent reasons for Hillary to disregard the idea of running with Barack, and the even more decisive reasons for him to turn her down even if she offered, some Democrats love to consider the upside-down arrangement: why not an Obama-Clinton ticket?
If anything, this notion looks even less plausible.
Those who know Hillary report that she thoroughly enjoys her well-established role in the U.S. Senate. If she lost to Obama in the Presidential race, she’d greatly prefer to return to Capitol Hill—where she could probably serve for the rest of her life and stands an excellent chance of succeeding Harry Reid as Majority Leader.
As a prominent part of the previous Clinton administration, she witnessed first hand all the indignities and burdens thrust upon Vice President Al Gore—in fact, she administered some of them herself. Why would she want to open herself to the humiliation of waiting around in a powerless, second-string job in case some disaster befell a conspicuously young and vigorous president?
Hillary would also find it difficult to use the Vice Presidency as a stepping stone to a future Presidential run. She’d be 68 at the end of a second Obama term, and the generational shift his nomination signaled would make it most unlikely that Dems turn backward to a Baby Boomer restoration with an aging Hillary.
As for Obama, he wouldn’t need her and wouldn’t want her on his ticket. If he beats her in the fight for the nomination this year, he’d want to complete the Democratic disassociation from the nasty politics of the Clinton era. Barack’s insistence on “change” and a “fresh” approach signifies not only a departure from the age of Bush, but also closing the chapter on the age of Clintons. Hillary on the ticket inevitably brings Bill with her, as a third figure at the top of the party, and undermines the idea of a generational changing of the guard and the adoption of a new, more unifying tone.
Finally, no President wants the malevolent combination of Bill and Hill scheming against him from a new vantage point in the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory.
If Obama feels that the bruises of the campaign require a female running mate he could find any number of preferable alternatives – particularly Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona. She has the executive experience that both Obama and Clinton lack, as a former US Attorney, state Attorney General, and Democratic governor in a Republican state who won re-election by a nearly two-to-one margin. She’s also won a reputation as moderately tough on illegal immigration, and might even help Obama compete with John McCain in his home state. Best of all, Napolitano (or other Democratic governors like Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, or Senators like Dianne Feinstein of California) come without the heavy baggage of the Clintons’ soap-opera marriage and reputation for political thuggery.
Concerning the much-discussed “dream ticket,” most observers concede that neither Obama nor Clinton want it. When you combine their joint reluctance with the fact that neither candidate would truly need the other in order to run effectively against the Republicans, the likelihood of the uncomfortable alliance becomes very remote indeed.