Thursday, March 27, 2008

400 Pound Gorillas

Recently, we've heard revived talk of an Obama/Clinton ticket. In the beginning, the idea was floated as a way for Democrats to have their cake and eat it, but I think the sense of that notion has changed a great deal. When the subject was breached initially, pundits and laypeople alike flip-flopped the names in that Democratic combo plate, mulling over the special ticket that would emerge to oppose the Republicans. With the bitter feelings that have emerged, and with the lead that Obama has built in pledged delegates and popular vote, the Obama/Clinton version of that ticket seems to be floating on the wind. This time, however, it comes in response to the anger and division that have been growing within the Democratic ranks over the nastiness of the campaign.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote about it on Wednesday, and Chris Matthews dealt with it during his roundtable on Hardball as well. Dowd claims that the Clinton people are quietly floating the possibility to insiders, while the Hardball gang simply wanted to take it on as a hypothetical. I was struck that the only person who wholeheartedly endorsed the idea was Pat Buchanan, to which Matthews quizzically wondered if partisan Buchanan was speaking or analyst Buchanan. It seemed too mischievous, his enthusiasm. For my part, before this flares up again as a national debate, I can't think of a worse idea.

I don't say that as a bitter Obama supporter, who has grown weary of Hillary Clinton. I do have those feelings, but I'm also a pragmatic Democrat who wants the Party to win in November. If I thought that an Obama/Clinton ticket would be the best way to win, I'd consider it long and hard. I, personally, think it would be a disaster of immense proportions and political suicide for Barack Obama. Think about it for a second.

The president is the 400 pound gorilla in any room he or she walks into across the entire planet. There is no greater alpha character in the human race at this point in history than the president of the United States. Well, with an Obama/Clinton ticket you'd have President Obama in front with President Bill Clinton in the background and at least for a large handful of Democrats President Hillary Clinton. Forget the "Vice" part of that title. If some Democrats already see her as the most presidential candidate in this contest, that won't change if Obama happens to be first on the ticket. Let's think about the problems associated with that arrangement.

1. In any crisis or delicate situation, does anyone believe that the Clintons wouldn't be secretly tapping into their legion of supporters to be the power brokers? They have an established political machine that would overlap with Obama's administration in many places, but act independently in others. Why would anyone deal directly with Barack Obama with a former president sitting in the wings and his powerful wife, the Senator from New York.

2. How would that appear for the first African-American president to be backed up by the Clintons? I'll tell you how it would look. It would look like the American people only put him there because they knew the backup were good White folks. It would make him look safer to people who couldn't accept him for his own merit and brilliance and it would undermine all that he's worked for without their help.

3. Who's the top gorilla in a White House with three 400 pound gorillas pacing the halls? Yes, Barack Obama gets the Oval Office, but anytime Bill or Hillary are in there to meet with him, wouldn't it feel like he was in someone's seat. If the Clinton's weren't in the administration it would be easier to see Obama as the big man in the room, but if Hillary were a heartbeat away and her husband was there backing her up, it would create a poor perception of leadership for Obama.

I could go on and on, but the point is very easy to make. If Barack Obama is going to be president, he needs to stamp his own identity on the role and he needs to make a clean break from those who have been there before. Fresh blood assures the American people of fresh ideas and that's what his campaign is all about, isn't it? If he is "Clinton-free" as president, there will be no question about who the boss is in the White House and there will be no question where the Clintons are hanging out either. Away from the Oval Office and in plain sight (as much as that's possible anyway).

In the end this is only marginally about a distaste for a Clinton return to the White House. I am a huge Al Gore fan and always have been, but I wouldn't want him on the ticket with Obama either. The same can be said for John Edwards, who I like, or John Kerry, who I don't particularly care for. They've been on the ticket and Obama needs a fresh face.

Personally, I'd go with a governor and someone with good national security credentials. There aren't all that many out there to be honest, but I have ideas about how Obama could construct a very plausible cabinet of people that address whatever perceived weaknesses he has while maintaining his own brand of governance. Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia, shares many of Obama's beliefs and would help him to win a state that has been Red in recent years, but could go Blue in this election. As a VP candidate he could also help with the Roman Catholic vote that has gone largely to Hillary Clinton during the primaries. Enlisting Bill Richardson as Secretary of State and hinting at it broadly during the general election could help to win Hispanics and people in the West that might otherwise go McCain. It would make Colorado very competitive for the Democrats, especially given Obama's wise positioning of his campaign HQ in Denver. Of course the governors chairs are very very important to Democrats and one would hate to give up two to the Obama administration, but these two strong political figures could offset some problems that he would have in Ohio and Florida. Just a thought.


mike's spot said...

I know he's a repub, and I've said this before, but if Colin Powell ran with Obama it would be hard for me not to pull that lever.

That's coming from a pretty solid NOT Obama fan in this election. I'm not that in love with McCain, so if Obama could get a VP I can really get behind, I think it'll say lots for the conservative vote going over.

Which I still think the democrats will need- I'm still not convinced this is going to be a democrat blowout as far as showing up to the polls is concerned.

It'd be hard to stomach- especially with Obama pushing harder and harder as a rabid anti-gunner but mccain isn't exactly the best friend of the gun vote either (though faaaaaaaaar better than Obama)

At this point i still don't see me voting democrat, but it is closer than i thought it would be.

Mike Plugh said...

I think an Obama/Powell ticket would be intriguing on a number of levels. The pairing of a Progressive Democrat with a Moderate Republican would be a very strong bi-partisan move. It would show that Obama's serious about real change, and it would fill in the credentials that would otherwise be missing.

The problem is, the Party loyalists wouldn't go for it because a Republican would be a heartbeat away from the presidency. That would be politically very problematic on a number of levels.

Also, as much talk as there is about some demographic groups having problems voting for an African-American president, I have to imagine that it would be double difficult to have a full ticket out there. I'd love to have Bill Richardson as the #2 actually, but that would take mega balls for the Dems to do that. I would. That would be my #1 choice, actually. You'd be highly competitive in the South with the African-American vote and highly competitive in the West with the Hispanic vote and shore up the future party loyalty of both demographic groups.

I doubt that the VP for Obama will be any kind of conservative Democrat though. I think this election firmly belongs to the Progressive Left wing of the Party, although they'll try to spin it differently.