When you can't settle on a presidential candidate, you can always turn your attention to the job once described as "not worth a pitcher of warm spit."
It's not clear whether he really said "spit," or something a little less refined, but John Nance Garner was Barack Obama to FDR in the spirited Democratic campaign of 1932. He agreed to second place only to restore party harmony.
"Cactus Jack" was a wrinkled old curmudgeon when I sat with him for a spell on his front porch in dusty Uvalde, Texas, in 1963, when he was 95 and three years from the end of his life. He interrupted our conversation to send out for a bottle of bonded refreshment. When the deliveryman arrived, Mr. Garner handed over a check with an old man's scratchy handwriting, made out merely to "Pay to the Order of ... Whisky."
Hillary's talk of taking Barack Obama as her running mate is not so much a bid for harmony as a flirtation with panic. "It may be the first time in history that the person who is running number two would offer the person running number one the number two position," says Tom Daschle, the former leader of the Democrats in the Senate.
Who's on top becomes a sucker's game. The only winner is likely to be John McCain, who can stay out of the line of fire, pondering at leisure his choice of running mate. But making such a choice, like everything else, is not as easy it used to be.
John Adams called the job "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Thomas Marshall, chafing under the restraints of the pious Woodrow Wilson, recalled that "once there were two brothers, one went away to sea and the other was elected vice president, and nothing was heard of either one of them again." When Zachary Taylor offered Daniel Webster the vice presidency, the old Whig declined, icily: "I do not intend to be buried until I am dead." Harry S. Truman, who knew nothing about the atomic bomb until he read about Hiroshima in the newspapers, scoffed that the veep was only entrusted with "weddings and funerals." Calvin Coolidge pointedly declined to invite his vice president to Cabinet meetings because "the precedent might prove injurious to the country."
Vice presidents have since become something more than ciphers to be dispatched to funerals (although they get to know a lot of morticians). Richard Nixon presided over Cabinet meetings when Ike suffered a heart attack, a bout with ileitis and a stroke as the end of his presidency approached. Jimmy Carter gave Walter Mondale an office in the West Wing, something no vice president before him ever had. George H.W. Bush, Al Gore and Dick Cheney define the modern vice presidency, with advice and counsel a president actually wants. Mr. Cheney has been particularly helpful, providing a diversionary target for the nutcakes on the left who live only to hate George W. Bush.
There's ample precedent for candidates who don't particularly like each other to kiss if not necessarily make up. Neither John F. Kennedy nor Lyndon B. Johnson were members of the other man's fan club, and both were no less astonished than their friends when they wound up on the same ticket in 1960. (Full disclosure: I went to Los Angeles without credentials for that convention and contrived an appointment as an alternate delegate from Arkansas, the only way to get into the arena. I was astonished years later, browsing the Kennedy Library, when I found my name inscribed on the official vote. Newspapermen were more resourceful if less restrained by "ethics" in earlier, rowdier days.)
It's difficult to imagine a Clinton-Obama ticket, even more difficult to imagine an Obama-Clinton ticket. They don't like each other much, either, and neither is eager to settle for that pitcher of warm spit. They understand that asking America to elect the first woman and the first black at the same time is asking a lot. Or maybe not.