Now that it is apparent to all, except perhaps Hillary Clinton and some of her die-hard supporters, that Barack Obama will be the Democratic presidential nominee, the drumbeat for a “dream” ticket [Obama/Clinton] is starting. But before this goes too far, we need to ask, whose “dream” are we talking about? Our Republican opponent’s dream or ours?
John McCain is in deep trouble, and not just because of the legacy of George Bush. He is in trouble with much of the Republican base, particularly the religious Right, who never have trusted him. It is no accident that turnout in nearly all Republican primaries has been low, that McCain’s fundraising has been dismal and that in the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, nearly 25% of Republican voters voted against him, despite the fact that he clearly will be the Republican nominee.
While McCain was the strongest in a weak field of Republican candidates, his candidacy clearly is not galvanizing conservatives. There is only one candidate who can do that: Hillary Clinton. To the conservative base of the Republican Party, she is the Democratic demon and the candidate the Republicans’ want to face. She is Rush Limbaugh’s candidate of choice. She is the candidate who the Right would use to raise money and turn out volunteers. She is the only potential Democratic VP who would build Republican enthusiasm and inspire the grassroots Republican campaign.
She also is the candidate who consistently measures the highest “unfavorable” ratings of anyone who ever has run for the presidency. In an ABC News poll, Clinton polls 54 percent unfavorable; perhaps even worse, 58 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. Both Clintons stand out for the amount of voter antipathy they attract: Thirty-nine percent of voters have a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Hillary Clinton; only 22 percent have a “strongly favorable” view. Thirty-four percent are strongly negative on Bill Clinton and 51 percent have an “unfavorable” opinion of him. And Hillary’s low-road campaign has had an impact: 41 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters describe the tone of the Democratic campaign as “mostly negative,” and by nearly a 4 to 1 margin, 52 percent to 14 percent, blame Clinton. Is taking baggage like this into the general election anyone’s “dream” but a Republican’s?
Worse than Hillary’s high unfavorables, a Obama/Clinton ticket would create a continuing crossfire — not between McCain and Obama, but between Obama and Clinton. Every one of Clinton’s interactions with the media would feature questions like, “Do you still think Barack Obama lacks experience to be Commander-in-Chief?” “Do you still think Obama is an elitist?” “That he doesn’t understand the problems of the white working class?” “Do you still think his past association with Reverend Wright is very troublesome?” Obama would be asked, “During the primary campaign, your VP said your healthcare plan sucked? Was she right? Does it suck?” “Do you want to obliterate Iran, too, like your vice-president?” And, when the press wasn’t asking these questions, John McCain would ask them. Or, maybe we all could be reminded of Bill’s talk of a Clinton v. McCain contest, where we would have a campaign of “two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country,” unlike Obama. Even worse than this scenario, Barack Obama would be cast in the position of having to defend his own VP’s past attacks on himself. By doing so, he would not simply look like a hypocrite, he would, in fact, be a hypocrite — thus putting into jeopardy his coin of the realm, his honesty and integrity. The general campaign wouldn’t be about Obama v. McCain, it would be Act Two of a very bad marriage, with Obama sacrificing his integrity trying to explain away his own VPs past attacks on him. If you think her snarky, negative primary campaign was a thing of the past, think again because the Republicans and the press would offer us deja vu all over again. Lost in this dialogue of the past would be Obama’s opportunity to explain how he wants to take America into a more productive future.
Those who “dream” of an Obama/Clinton ticket also fail to recognize something significant: Hillary has been a lousy candidate. I used to think that Al Gore and John Kerry ran the worst campaigns for president ever, but Hillary’s ineptitude set new records. Five months ago, Hillary had a 20+ point lead in Democratic polling, the greatest name recognition of any candidate, the most money, support from a popular former Democratic president who was actively campaigning for her, nostalgia for the Clinton era of “peace and prosperity,” a ton of endorsements, the aura of “inevitability” — and she squandered it all with an inexorable series of misjudgments, abetted by her, Bill’s and her campaign’s unrelenting arrogance. By contrast, Obama ran down and exposed the dinosaur for what it was not simply with a brilliantly executed campaign, but with a core understanding that voters were tired of the type of old-style politics and old-style campaigning Bill and Hillary so ably represent. Why should he now forge an alliance with one of the most ineffective old-style campaigns ever, not to mention take on the Big Dog [Bill] as his new pal — in this case, an uncontrollable pal who would try to run not only Hillary’s campaign, but Obama’s, as well? This is my definition of a Living and Breathing Nightmare — one with plenty of 3 am calls from Bill! Even worse than sharing a campaign with Bill and Hill, allying with the Clintons would undermine the very essence of the Obama message — that real change is needed in Washington. It would be seen as completely inauthentic, the worst type of marriage of convenience. And unlike the shotgun marriage JFK made with LBJ, Hillary brings nothing to the table; unlike LBJ, she can’t bring a swing state into the Democratic column. Obama could win New York with Daffy Duck as his VP.
Then there are the revelations to come. Does anyone think that a man with a documented 30-year history of philandering with a long list of bowling alley queens has magically stopped playing the field, or that the Republicans will not exploit this? Does anyone think the Republicans will not exploit Bill’s fundraising associations with some of the questionable people who have given him millions for his library and foundation in favor of his deal-making with oil oligarchs, or exploit his 11th hour pardons of some pretty disreputable characters, including two convicted bomb-carrying members of the Weather Underground? How much more baggage can Hillary sustain?
There are, of course, many strong Vice-presidential candidates for Obama to choose from. In light of Clinton’s and McCain’s challenging Obama’s national security credentials, a VP such as General Wesley Clark, Senator Jim Webb or Governor Bill Richardson would add substantial national security/foreign policy heft. General Clark is our last successful commanding general and a smart, attractive spokesperson. He comes from the Clinton camp, but is no hawk like Hillary; Clark understands not only the uses of military power, but also its limitations. He would fit well with the new direction in foreign policy we hope a President Obama would take the country, as well as add great credibility to new security initiatives. Jim Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, has been perhaps the most out-spoken and effective critic of the War in Iraq and Bush/Cheney foreign policy belligerence. He won in Virginia, a swing state, against all odds and an incumbent Republican, and is a great campaigner. Governor Richardson has spent most of his adult life working in the foreign policy arena, he is a popular governor in a swing state and is a Hispanic to boot — a near-perfect trifecta of qualifications. He also has an incisive sense-of-humor, which politics and political combat could use a bit more of. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is another VP possibility many have mentioned positively.
And, there are solid women VP candidates: Senator Claire McCaskill won her Senate seat in Missouri, a swing state in any Presidential election; she has a tough law and order background as a former Attorney General, and is smart and articulate. Kansas Governor Kathy Sibelious has proven to be an effective governor who works well with the opposition and knows how to win in a Republican state.
This short list certainly is missing many other potentially good candidates, but the point is simple: There is no dearth of qualified VP candidates for the Democrats and there is no reason to take on the baggage and negatives of the Clintons, let alone try to work closely and cooperatively with them for 4-8 years.
Hillary, Bill and surrogates like James Carville have graphically challenged Obama’s toughness, even his “cojones.” I recognize that Obama is a conciliator, but conciliation should not come at the cost of getting rolled by the Clintons. That first act of a Demcratic Presidential candidate would show strength to no one [including the Clintons] at a time when voters still need to be convinced that Obama not only is an inspiring leader, but a tough and strong leader, as well.