Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hillary for Vice President?

The more Senator Obama's nomination appears assured, the greater the pressure to unify the Democratic Party behind an Obama-Clinton ticket. But (1) should Senator Obama ask Senator Clinton to be his running mate? And if so, (2) should she accept?

Of the seven criteria -- geography, ideology, religion, governance, succession, compatibility/loyalty, and electability -- that have governed the selection of vice-presidential running mates, three favor an Obama-Clinton ticket and four do not.

1. Geography? Often presidential nominees try to unify their party by selecting a nominee for geographic reasons as in 1960 when John F. Kennedy (Massachusetts) chose Lyndon B. Johnson (Texas) and Richard M. Nixon (California) chose Henry Cabot Lodge (Massachusetts). So for geographic reasons, should Senator Obama ask Senator Clinton to be his running mate?

  • No. From a traditional geographic standpoint, Senator Clinton would add little or nothing to the Democratic ticket, because both come from large urban states in the north. From a non-traditional geographic standpoint, however, namely having a vice-presidential running mate with greater appeal than what Senator Obama has in some geographic areas, such as West Virginia and Kentucky, then the nod might go to an Obama-Clinton ticket.
2. Ideology? Because of the historic ideological diversity in our two major parties, presidential nominees have frequently turned to vice-presidential running mates who would balance the ticket ideologically as also occurred in 1960 and in many other years. Would Senator Clinton's presence on the Democratic ticket balance the Party ideologically?
  • No. Senators Obama and Clinton hold essentially the same views on almost all issues. Indeed, some critics have said: "There's not a dime's worth of difference between them."
3. Religion? When John F. Kennedy (Roman Catholic) chose Lyndon B. Johnson (Protestant) as his running mate in 1960, and when Hubert H. Humphrey (Protestant) chose Edmund Muskie (Roman Catholic) in 1968, they revealed an understanding of the importance of religious faith in electing presidents. But would Senator Obama gain a religious advantage by asking Senator Clinton to be his running mate?
  • No. Senator Obama's religious affiliation is with the most liberal Protestant denomination in America, the United Church of Christ, and Senator Clinton's affiliation is with one of the most liberal Protestant denominations, United Methodist.
4. Governance? Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush understood that they lacked meaningful governing experience in Washington, and so they balanced their tickets by choosing running mates with significant experience, Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Does Senator Obama have the same need?
  • Yes. Senator Obama has not yet served one term in the U.S. Senate and only had a short tenure in the Illinois Senate. Almost every president has sustained a long public career, far longer than Senator Obama's. So on balance, it might behoove Senator Obama to ask Senator Clinton to become his running mate.
5. Succession? The issue of vice-presidential succession to the presidency has become more important in light of presidential assassinations (William McKinley and John F. Kennedy), deaths (Warren Harding and Franklin D. Roosevelt), and forced departures (Richard M.Nixon). In 2000 George W. Bush recognized that he not only needed a vice president to help him govern, but also to succeed him, if necessary. Should the possibility of succession figure into Senator Obama's thinking in asking Senator Clinton run with him?
  • Yes. The choice of Senator Clinton by Senator Obama would send a clear signal that the vice presidency would be occupied by someone definitely capable of serving as president. In fact, in the eyes of many, she would be more capable of serving as president than Senator Obama.

6. Compatibility and Loyalty? Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush deserve considerable credit for selecting running mates with whom they were personally compatible. But even with their compatibility, grievances emerged between them, revealing that under the best of circumstances, compatibility and loyalty may become strained. Should Senator Obama choose Senator Clinton as his running mate for reasons of compatibility and loyalty?

  • No. Over and over and over again critics have noted that there is little love lost between Senators Obama and Clinton. In the minds of critics Senator Obama sees Senator Clinton as the one who will not get out of the way of his inevitable nomination, and Senator Clinton sees Senator Obama as the one who drove a stake into the heart of her inevitability as the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. There is a long history of presidential nominees choosing vice presidential running mates to help them win, but then shoving them aside upon taking office. John F. Kennedy, the young Senator from Massachusetts, did that to the most powerful majority leader in the history of the U.S. Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson.
7. Electability? Vice presidential nominees may not assure a presidential candidate's victory, but they can certainly help. For example, could John F. Kennedy have defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1960 without Lyndon B. Johnson's vital help in carrying the South? No. Should Senator Obama consider the criterion of electability in deciding whether to invite Senator Clinton to become the Democratic Party's vice-presidential nominee?
  • Yes. Not only has Senator Clinton run an almost neck-and-neck race with Senator Obama, but more importantly she has won the votes of significant voting blocs, which Senator Obama must win if he is to win the presidency -- namely women, blue-collar voters, Roman Catholics, Jews, and rural voters. And she won in almost every head-to-head match-up with Senator Obama in such large states as Texas, Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania.

Like their photo-finish race for the Democratic nomination, the questions of (1) whether Senator Obama should ask Senator Clinton to serve as his running mate and (2) whether she should accept also come to a photo-finish.

First, Senator Obama needs Senator Clinton more than Senator Clinton needs Senator Obama. He needs Senator Clinton to help him unify the Democratic Party and to make himself more electable in November. But that could come at a high price, namely having a high-profile running mate, who together with her husband could upstage him on the campaign trail. In short, how could Senator Obama control Senator Clinton as his vice-presidential running mate?

Second, Senator Clinton should enjoy a bright political future regardless of whether she would accept an invitation from Senator Obama to serve as his running mate. For example, she could make history by becoming either the first woman to serve as the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate or as Governor of New York. And should Senator Obama lose the presidential election, Senator Clinton could have a significant advantage in winning the nomination in 2012.

Third, Senator Clinton should only accept an invitation from Senator Obama under these conditions:

  • Party unity becomes paramount. If Democratic Party power-brokers prevail upon her that she accept the vice-presidential nomination just as the extraordinarily powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn (Texas) prevailed upon Lyndon Johnson (Texas) to accept the vice-presidential nomination as John F. Kennedy's running mate in 1960, then she should accept, but not without clear understandings of her role in an Obama administration.
  • Acceptable understandings reached about governance. N.B. President Franklin D. Roosevelt won four presidential elections, each with a different running mate. And his last, Harry Truman, was kept at arm's length by Roosevelt, so that when Truman assumed the presidency upon Roosevelt's death, he knew little or nothing about Roosevelt's policies. To insure that she would not be put out to pasture by President Obama as President Roosevelt did with four vice presidents, Senator Clinton would need to negotiate acceptable understandings about her role in an Obama administration.


    Michael said...

    I am only a bit surprised that the fracturing of the Democratic party is so deep that they've let things drag on into the Convention.

    Michael said...

    I also can't imagine the high maintenance difficulties of having Hillary as a Number Two--perhaps Bill knows best:=))

    Victor Oladokun said...

    Excellent analysis.

    My only point of departure is the conclusion that Senator Obama needs Senator Clinton, rather than the other way round. If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, which now seems inevitable, he is still electable if he balances the ticket with a centrist Governor from a major swing state. Hilary on the other hand, if she were to become the nominee, which is most unlikely, cannot win a General election without bringing Obama on board as her running mate. To not do so, would fracture the Democratic party beyond repair.

    My expectation given (a) the animus between both Senators, (b) the perception that Hilary would not be a loyal number two and (c) Bill Clinton's looming shadow, is that Obama will look elsewhere for a more suitable, less divisive and more centrist alternative, to compensate for his own liberal bent.