Jewish World Review June 5, 2008 / 2 Sivan 5768
Would the dream ticket be a nightmare?
By Roger Simon
1. Will Obama follow the First Rule of Running Mates? A candidate’s chief concern in picking a running mate is: First, do no harm. Obama needs someone who is not going to damage the ticket. Very few people cast a vote for president based on who the running mate is. So even a good choice doesn’t help you all that much, but a bad choice can hurt you. Lee Atwater, who was George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager in 1988, once told me that Dan Quayle cost the ticket 2 to 3 percentage points. Fortunately for Bush, he won the election by 7.8 percentage points.
But Obama must choose carefully. Clinton supporters say she is the strongest choice because only she has been “fully vetted.” But being fully vetted doesn’t mean old stuff doesn’t come back to haunt you. Mike Dukakis had been fully vetted on Willie Horton, and John Kerry had been fully vetted on his Swift Boat service. In reality, all Clinton’s old baggage — including Whitewater, cattle futures trading and Travelgate — is likely to come up again. Presidential elections have a way of breathing new life into old controversies.
2. What about Bill? If Hillary has baggage, Bill is a Samsonite factory. Forget about the old stuff. Look at his diminished status with voters, especially black voters, in this election. Look at his drama. “I have never seen anything like it,” he said recently, referring to his wife’s treatment in the primaries. “I have never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running!” And is the White House really big enough for one president in the West Wing and another in the East Wing?
3. What does Hillary Clinton really bring to the ticket? The question is not whether Hillary Clinton has the support of women. The question is whether those women won’t vote for Barack Obama anyway. The question is not whether Hillary Clinton gets the support of working-class whites from Appalachia. The question is whether they would vote for Obama in a million years.
On the other hand, Clinton is very smart and very tough and does help with one of the few jobs a running mate actually has: debating. John Edwards did not do that well in his vice presidential debate against Dick Cheney in 2004, and Edwards caught some heat for it when the ticket lost. But Hillary has shown herself to be a formidable debater. And she certainly has gotten a lot of practice this year.
4. Why would Clinton even want the job? Wouldn’t she rather stay off the ticket and watch it go down in flames in November so she could run again 2012? I talked to both Obama and Clinton advisers, and they said the same thing: If the ticket loses and Clinton has been less than supportive, she will get blamed and this will do her great damage in 2012.
“It is not in her interest to appear in any way to be less than 100 percent behind Obama’s election,” a senior Obama adviser told me. “If there is the slightest scintilla of evidence that she doesn’t want him to win or is not working full-throttle, Democratic voters will blame her.”
So as long as she has to work for the ticket anyway, why not be on it? Being the vice president is not that bad a job. In very different ways, Al Gore and Dick Cheney made the job meaningful by carving out their own niches. (Gore’s niche: the environment. Cheney’s niche: running the country.) Also, 14 vice presidents have become president. And then there is the need for her to fill the slot.
5. What is the slot problem? Virtually anyone whom Obama chooses as his running mate this year gets a chance to run in 2012 if the ticket loses. Joe Lieberman lost for vice president in 2000 and ran for president in 2004 (even before Al Gore decided not to run again himself). Edwards lost for vice president in 2004 and ran again in 2008. So does Hillary want to cede that slot to somebody else this year or fill it herself and possibly cut down the field in 2012?
6. Doesn’t Obama have to prove he is not sexist by putting Clinton on the ticket? Has Obama run a sexist campaign? When? When he pulled back Clinton’s chair for her at one debate? When he said, sardonically, that she was “likable enough”? The fact that he won and she lost is not proof of sexism. A number of Clinton supporters think the media has been sexist this year, but the media (thank goodness) will not be on the ballot.
7. Is Clinton behaving as if she deserves the job? Her strongest case for getting on the ticket has never been party unity, but respect. She and her supporters deserve respect, and some think putting her on the ticket would be Obama’s way of showing it. But Clinton is close to blowing that. She didn’t show much respect to Obama on Tuesday night, when he wrapped up the nomination. She doesn’t have to bow and scrape to get the job, but it is unlikely she can muscle her way onto the ticket. That would just make Obama look weak at exactly the moment he needs to look strong.
8. Could she get something else instead? Well, how about the Supreme Court? She might face a tough confirmation fight in the Senate, but she is a senator, and senators like members of the club. Obama and Clinton have no real philosophical differences. She is only 60 and could be a liberal voice on the court for decades. That would please her supporters, please her husband and please her. Besides, being a Supreme Court justice is a sweet job. It can last a lifetime — and, hey, no press conferences!
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© 2008, Creators Syndicate