The seemingly “official” end to the exceedingly long Democratic Party nomination process (most of the candidates declared their intention to run before James Brown–who died on December 25, 2006–was buried!) feels too good to be true. And then, courageously, Hillary Clinton reminds us all: it is!
Yes, though Barack Obama went to sleep tonight knowing he had garnered more than the required 2,118 delegates to earn the Democratic Party nomination, he also had to think about the oddly narcissistic lack of any acknowledgment of that fact by Hillary Clinton. On top of that, while she is making “no decisions tonight” about her campaign, suggesting that she still needs to think about “how to move forward,” her supporters are also beginning to push on Obama to select her as his running mate. How’s that for having your cake and eating it too?
But Obama would be making a mistake in selecting Clinton as his running mate. Here are some the reasons why:
1. She’s a living, breathing suggestion he is not the “best” for the job.
For most of this calendar year, the Clinton campaign has been arguing she is the better candidate than Obama. Sure, you say, but that’s nothing new in a presidential race. It is when you consider the last three months. Though the math became increasingly improbable and impossible for Clinton to become the nominee, instead of dropping out the race gracefully, she reignited her charge, suggesting (as she does even today) that even though Obama has won more delegates, she is better poised to win the presidency. Despite math that would have lead any previous candidate in history to concede for the good of their party, she remained in the race as if to say it could not go forth without her. Selecting her as the VP would be tantamount to an admission of her campaign rhetoric, a repeated suggestion that he can’t win without her. Now, when he needs to leave this recent past behind him, her presence would be bringing it along for the long haul.
2. She weakens his strong point: CHANGE.
The Obama campaign has to be energized about the way they won this nomination. Their strategy on a district level showed they could plan; their mobilization of youth and first-time voters showed they could energize an electorate; and, most importantly, they never went negative. While Clinton was running commercials about 3 a.m. phone calls, Obama was keeping on message and embodying the kind of difference and change he said he stood for. The inclusion of Clinton on the ticket would be a break in the cult of authenticity he communicates. It weakens his support among these first-time voters who entered the race looking and believing in something new by suggesting their hopes will be eaten by the establishment.
3. She does little to strengthen his weak points.
Classic wisdom says a VP nominee should compensate for your weaknesses by delivering some key states for you. Clinton brings with her constituencies, but they are constituencies that are more than likely to go Democrat anyway. Obama’s weak points will not be with Latino voters, or the white working-class. They will be in key states where the smallest of margins might make an electoral difference. In all those states, many of which Clinton won against Obama, she can not add to the likelihood of Democratic success against McCain. The Clinton campaign can say it all they want, but she’s not going to deliver West Virginia.
4. She comes with Bill.
When Bill is attached to his wife as the President, his experience and history are assets. They have been seen as a team for decades now, and she has managed to remain a figure apart from her husband most of that time. She communicates as much independence and strength as he does any day of the week so his assumed presence is not a detractor to the public image of her as a leader. But when he is attached to her as a Vice President, you suddenly get the image of three cooks in the kitchen. Neither Bill nor Hillary are the kind of politician most Americans will buy in the second fiddle role. A Clinton VP would mean a loss of credibility to an Obama presidency.
5. It will, inevitably, be seen as coerced.
Finally, if Clinton becomes the VP pick of Obama, it will be seen as a negotiated settlement. With the public pressure mounting, and former staffers and supporters starting petition drives while their candidate remains silent on the matter, that analysis would be clearly on the mark. The problem is, the VP decision is among the most important decisions a candidate can make–not for what that pick brings but for what the decision says about the candidate as a leader. If this first of many important decisions is seen as a barter or a compromise, Obama will be a lame duck before he even enters the White House.