Is Hillary the One?
If Sen. Hillary Clinton was once the presumptive nominee of the Democrats, she is increasingly becoming the presumptive "vice-nominee." She has indeed benefited from so much presumption. Early in the primary Clinton gained momentum from a moderated, American version of the old Mexican dedaso (a play on the Spanish word for finger) by which the president's successor used to be chosen. Clinton therefore began the primary a lap ahead of her opponents, but voting (even including West Virginia) has now countered any potential anointment.
But if Clinton is to be denied the presidency, then she should be tapped as Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, according to a rising number of lawmakers, columnists and even, as recent polls demonstrate, a majority of Democrats. The merger of Obama and Clinton would, as the reasoning goes, combine the demographics that each candidate has been able to attract. But that political arithmetic may not add up. Taking on Clinton may be a flawed strategy for Obama-should he become the nominee-both pragmatically and in principle.
The significance of Obama's race in a general election has been debated both explicitly and implicitly. Some observers have suggested that Obama needs Clinton to win white votes. But presumably, a large number of voters in a general election who are disinclined to support Obama because he is black are more likely to also discriminate against a female running mate. That need not be a reason to exclude a capable woman, but it challenges the notion that Clinton should be looked upon with virtual exclusivity to overcome the issue of race for the Democrats. And for those voters who may have been inclined to support Clinton in the primaries due to race, a decision by Obama to include Clinton on the ticket may not be an overriding factor if she were to be a mere second in command.
Clinton's support does not, of course, depend on committed or casual racists. Clinton gained support from and appeared to target socially conservative Democrats that are looking to the party to bring economic progress. The Iraq War (or Clinton's vote to authorize it) may not be a top concern to them. Indeed, to that demographic, Clinton's more hawkish posture on foreign policy may be more appealing than Obama's stated intention to prioritize diplomacy. But again, it is unclear that Clinton could deliver that constituency as a vice presidential candidate. And Clinton is hardly the only candidate that would appeal to that demographic.
Obama could pick an equally attractive candidate with a less storied political past. A candidate with a military background could be especially helpful to Obama in a general election. For example, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy appointed by President Reagan, could give Obama a sizeable boost. And while the Obama camp has been sparing in its criticism of post-presidency impropriety by the Clintons-such as Bill Clinton's potential conflict of interest in praising Kazakhstan's autocratic ruler-the McCain campaign will not be so restrained.
What's more, Clinton's campaign-not to mention John Kerry's 2000 run-demonstrates the difficulty in hitting the right balance on political pragmatism. An aversion to risk can stultify a candidate's message and make him or her appear uncommitted and lacking depth. Both Clinton and Kerry have been hurt by taking some conflicting positions on the Iraq War. An attempt by Obama to garner electability by pairing with Clinton could similarly backfire.
Then there is Clinton's other demographic stronghold-white female Democrats. In North Carolina, a state Clinton lost, white women voted for Clinton over Mr. Obama by a two-to-one margin. Still, while a large number of female Democrats voted for Clinton, they may not have voted against Obama. And while these and other Clinton supporters would surely prefer to see Obama include her on the ticket, Clinton's absence would not necessarily drive them away from Obama. Conversely, Obama's supporters-who are expecting their candidate to make a break from entrenched political practices-may demur if Clinton was brought along.
Nor is Obama obliged by principle to bring Clinton onto his team. In some respects, Clinton appears to have run her campaign with an all-or-nothing strategy. This aggressive approach may have driven the senator to deliver the colorful, much-discussed narrative of her 1996 visit to Kosovo-replete with gunfire and heroics-that she was subsequently forced to retract. Her campaign (via former President Bill Clinton) has detracted Obama beyond the bounds of what would commonly be considered civil, intra-party debate. In January, in light of Obama's strong support in South Carolina (where blacks made up 55 percent of the vote), for example, Clinton appeared to suggest Obama's appeal was limited to black voters, with support about as broad as that of Jesse Jackson. "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88," Clinton said, adding, "And he ran a good campaign. And Senator Obama's run a good campaign."
Given such a campaign strategy, it is difficult to see why it would be morally incumbent on Obama to pair with Clinton. Indeed, Clinton's electioneering has been extreme enough that pointing to Obama's moral compulsion to include Clinton verges on the disingenuous. It appears to be geared toward appeasing party insiders rather than the rank-and-file. In addition, if the party is to honor the will of the people in selecting the nominee, it must also honor the will of the nominee in regards to a running mate.