Monday, May 5, 2008

Obama-Clinton '08?

An inveterate Obama supporter, and one of the biggest sufferers of "Clinton Derangement Syndrome" in all the Intertubes, Andrew Sullivan makes the case for the "Dream Ticket".
I never thought I'd even consider it; but times change; politics shifts, and in the roiling flux of this American campaign, a bold unifying gesture could make the Democratic ticket — and an Obama presidency — unstoppable almost overnight. It's still highly unlikely, but so was JF Kennedy running with Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan running with the first George Bush.

I'm not sure I've ever been against the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket, I've just never thought it was remotely probable that Hillary Clinton would accept the #2 spot. So why does Sullivan believe that the vice-presidency is precisely what she wants?
There are three main theories behind Clinton's refusal to acquiesce to mathematics: she simply cannot tolerate losing a nomination she believes she has a dynastic right to; she is trying to ensure that Obama loses in 2008 in order to run again herself in 2012; or she wants to be offered the vice-presidential spot on an Obama-led ticket. I'm beginning to suspect the last option is the most plausible, and it gives Obama a potential opening: why not give her what she wants?

Not terribly persuasive, but while I agree that she's not crazy, I think she could just as plausibly be hanging on just to see what happens. I mean, why not? It's not her money(well, most of it), so why not wait it out and see if Obama has some necrophilia or something in his past? (Though if Obama implodes I think it most likely that Dems draft Gore) However, let's concede the point that HRC would like to be the vice president in an Obama led administration and see why Sullivan thinks that would be such a good idea.
By picking Clinton as a vice-president, he would be pulling a classic American manoeuvre — getting a surrogate to do the dirty pugilism of the campaign, while using his own extraordinary skills to provide a unifying and uplifting overall theme. Picking Clinton would also defuse genuine concerns among older voters that he is just too green to be entrusted with presidential power just yet.

Remember Kennedy-Johnson? They too loathed each other and cast extremely different shadows in American public life. But Kennedy put Johnson on his ticket in order to achieve exactly what Obama needs to achieve now: bringing more conservative, practically-minded voters into his camp. There are other figures who could do this for Obama — most obviously, the anti-war Reagan Democrat senator Jim Webb from Virginia. Webb also neutralizes McCain's veteran appeal to heartland voters. And Webb has a tough campaigning streak as well.But the hard reality is that the Democratic party is deeply divided and Webb cannot bring the losing faction with him.

The Clinton dynasty has lost to the new pretender, but it hasn't been defeated in one fell swoop. Dynasties rarely are. The old guard also has enough clout and enough support to threaten Obama with considerable collateral damage — if it wants to — and that's the message it is now clearly sending.

The old political adage that you should keep your friends close but your enemies closer therefore seems appropriate. Clinton will not be running for president in 2012 if she is vice-president in 2009. The same could not be said if she were consigned back to the Senate to lick her wounds and plot her future. If Obama wanted to flatter her even more, and keep her occupied, he could offer her the healthcare portfolio — allowing her a second chance to do what she so fatally failed to do 15 years ago. And if she turned him down, he could nonetheless say that at least he tried.

The biggest problem, of course, is Bill. He is an inveterate meddler, and thinks of Obama as his nemesis. Having a former president married to your vice-president could give Obama a huge headache as president. But what we've seen in this campaign is how resilient the Clintons are and how dangerous they will be to any Democratic president who isn't beholden to them. Better, perhaps, to co-opt them and bring them into the tent than to have them as dangerous dynastic rivals outside it.

Basically his thesis is that it would unify the party and it's better to have the Clinton's where you can see them. I think the idea that the party is fractured is overblown, as despite the amount of vitriol being tossed around by supporters I really have trouble believing that many are immature enough to sit at home in November if their candidate isn't the nominee. However, a unity ticket certainly can't hurt party unity, can it? I also think there is some merit to the idea that Obama would be better able to handle the Clintons if he co-opts them. Surely the next 4 years would likely be strategic pseudo opposition from Hillary Clinton in the Senate that could be painful as she sets up for 2012.

I guess the real question, given that we accept that the VP slot is what HRC wants, is why would Obama want it? As Sullivan mentions, Jim Webb offers many of the same appeals as Hillary Clinton plus he is a former Marine who showers with a combat knife in his teeth*. At this point, Obama is winning and really has no need to do the unity thing. He has every reason to believe that once he has secured the nomination the party will unite behind him... I mean look at McCain... half the party loathes that guy, but they're still going to vote for him.

For me to really get behind this is going to depend on what happens tomorrow... if Obama wins both North Carolina and Indiana then the race is over and Obama can dictate the terms (and if HRC is the veep choice then so be it). If they split North Carolina and Indiana and it looks (again!) like this thing is never going to end and that Obama just can't close it out... then I'm all about a unity ticket and ending the race so we can focus on McCain. If Hillary Clinton beats the odds and wins both states, then I would obviously still be behind a unity ticket, but I think that Hillary Clinton would be thinking that she can still pull it out - mathematically not really true, but she would have some Big Mo' to make her case at the convention.

* That last part is probably untrue