Chances that Barack Obama would pick Hillary Clinton to be his vice presidential running mate took a nosedive the night he secured enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.
Clinton's defiant, non-concession speech revealed just the sort of independent, unpredictable thinking that no sane candidate would ever want to have in a running mate.
Taking on Clinton as a future vice president means taking on "the Clintons" Hillary and her former president husbandwhich sounds about as comfortable as turning a pair of wild badgers loose in your minivan. You could see that on the night of the final two primaries, the night Obama made history as the first black candidate to secure a major party's presidential nomination. Clinton congratulated Obama and his supporters only "on the extraordinary race they have run," without making a concession or even a reference to his having won the delegate chase. Instead of letting the man savor his victory, she seemed eager to rain on it, yanking the spotlight away as if to make the night all about her.
Yet, I can just imagine the disappointment Clinton must have felt when the bad news finally sunk in. She was riding high in the polls for months, winning most of the debates, before Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses changed the playing field. She made mistakes, lost state after state when victory didn't come by Super Tuesday, as she had expected. She regained her footing near the end. She became a new heroine for "hard-working Americans, white Americans," her term for working-class voters who emerged as her key demographic, along with older white women.
But it was too late. Obama stayed ahead just enough to win a victory. This left some of her campaign's insiders quietly expressing bemusement to reporters that she seemed to have given little thought to how she was going to end her crusade.
Meanwhile, Obama has a lot of healing to do, particularly with Clinton's disappointed supporters. In addition, the "skinny kid with the funny name," as he used to call himself when campaigning for the Senate in Illinois, needs to get better acquainted with apprehensive working-class voters.
That does not mean he should ask Clinton to be his running mate. The last thing a president needs is a vice president who has spent more time in the White House than he or, someday, she has. Worse, Hillary brings along Bill, who seems on occasion to have too much time on his hands. The Oval Office does not need a back-seat driver.
There's no question that visions of an Obama-Clinton ticket still dance in many Democrats' heads as the best way to heal the wounds caused by a long and heated primary campaign. But Obama fans, and the independent voters that Obama wants to attract, see the Clintons as products of old-school politics to which Obama's "change" theme runs in striking opposition. "Meet the new boss," goes an old song by The Who, "same as the old boss." That's not a campaign song the Obama chorus wants to sing.
Yet, news reports say Obama's victory launched heavy behind-the-scenes lobbying by Bill Clinton and others to persuade him to invite Hillary to join the ticket. Her own denials that she was pushing for the job did little to cool the speculation. Within a couple of 24-hour news cycles, the news was having a backfire effect. Even if Obama were to ask Clinton, it was reasoned, Obama would look weak, as if he caved in to pressure from feminists in the way that many perceived Vice President Walter Mondale to be when he chose former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York in 1984.
No, Obama is better off finding a campaign role for the Clintons, early and often. There would be no clearer healing signal than to have Bill and Hillary campaigning at Obama's side or jetting around on a plane that his campaign should cheerfully provide.
Obama doesn't have to win a majority of white working-class voters in order to win election. No Democratic candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 has won a majority of working-class white voters, but Bill Clinton came closest, winning about half of their vote. But Obama has a lot of voter outreach to do. And if either of the Clintons says anything too embarrassing, he'll have several months before Election Day in which to repair the damage.
Obama's first priority, in my view, should be his outreach to women. Many were understandably disappointed when Clinton came so close, then failed to win. As a man who lives with a dynamic wife and two growing girls, whose aspirations he surely wants to broaden, he needs to get out and talk to women. More important, he needs to listen to them.