April 01, 2008
The most important decision task in front of Hillary is that she needs to strike the right balance between winning and governing (if she wins). Even sixteen years after the two-for-one deal signed by Bill Clinton, they remain a potent political package. One of the reasons Bill fell for Hillary was that they had complementary skill sets. He also once said that he was born at age sixteen and that Hillary was born at age forty. The main fault lines of the Clintons have been pored over by many. Suffice it to say that she was (and remains) a lot more focused (Maggie Williams success in crafting campaign narratives), disciplined (top-down) and confrontational (SNL is the latest embodiment).
As Hillary ponders her veep-list she needs to look first and foremost in the mirror. She should look at the failures of her and her husband: in Bill’s 1980 gubernatorial defeat (trying to do too much too quickly); in mishandling the early Clinton administration through nominations like Zoe Baird (bad planning plus too ideological); and, in the Health Care debacle (secrecy and stubbornness) to say nothing of Whitewater (cutting corners), Cattle Futures and Monica (ethical lapses). Whoever she picks for the VP slot should have a complementary skill set for BOTH Bill and Hillary Clinton. This consideration really limits the list of ideal candidates. Ideally, she should pick somebody who has a big-picture mindset. The ‘vision thing’ as Bush Senior called it. This issue goes way back for Hillary to her college thesis where she lamented that the subject of her thesis quickly learned that ‘one of the hardest jobs of the leader is an imaginative one as he struggles to develop a rationale for spontaneous action’
The overriding tragedy of the Clinton campaign has been that they have been wonderful tacticians at everything from goading the media into more favorable coverage, to casting attacks on them as a referendum on their attackers and in crafting campaign narratives. In short, they have proven adept at setting the campaign agenda. Unfortunately, the promissory notes of her tactics have looming expiration dates.
1. For example, in casting attacks against her as ‘gendered’ she has maintained (and at crucial moments like N.H.) strengthened her position with women. Fairly or unfairly, the trouble with doing so is that it is a massive turn-off for men. According to a recent Rasmussen Reports tracking poll, Hillary has a 32-point deficit with men relative to Obama. A subsequent report of theirs claimed that two-thirds of Hillary supporters are women.
2. Mark Penn and Harold Wolfson’s dismissal of states won by Barack Obama like Mississippi as irrelevant almost begs for an advertisement to be run by John McCain in the general election. Her main surrogates have said something derisive about many ‘red’ and ‘purple’ states.
3. Hillary likely did have rougher press treatment than did Mr. Obama. Yet, one could be provocative and argue the heightened scrutiny served to create a stature gap between the two candidates. As Hillary herself claimed to Josh Green ‘'nobody gets the scrutiny that she gets and as a result I have no margin for error” (See: “Hillary Take Two”). But, she also had a bad relationship with the press going back to when she closed a wing of the White House off to the press and, her secret task force and, her belief that the press had gotten out of control after Watergate.
4. The fundamental contradiction of the Clinton campaign is Bill’s status. On the one hand, he is a major reason why she is still in this race. A December 9th CBS Poll showed that a decisive portion of her support in the primary was derived from being a ‘Clinton’. Yet having Bill on the campaign trail in such prime fashion as he was in South Carolina is simply toxic for her in the general because it revives more general fears of a co-presidency. Please note: It is in the poll and, it is not sexist to say so.
5. In considering a veep-list for Hillary one should remember that according to Bob Woodward’s ‘A Woman in Charge’ Hillary declared that nobody who had been in Carter’s inner-sanctum would serve at the highest levels of the 1992 Clinton Administration in response to Carter letting the Clintons down over Fort Chafee which contributed to Bill’s 1980 governor loss. If the past is prologue, don’t expect anybody who has left the Clinton reservation too far to be chosen unless practical Hillary emerges out of the wings and sees the necessity.
6. The biggest part of this puzzle is Barack Obama. In many ways, he is the perfect anti-Clintons: younger, his sobriety a good counterpoint to Bill’s excesses, idealistic as Hillary Rodham once was at Wellesley and secure in who he is unlike both Clintons. The loyalty idea noted above finds some support in how Hillary has created an Obama discourse. She has tried to nudge and wink at voters saying that maybe they would run together. It would be the best thing for her both in terms of temperament and, political terms. Yet, I think she set that trial balloon out with the intention of deflating it. This could be a re-play of 1964 all-over again with Hillary as Lyndon Johnson and Obama being Bobby Kennedy. LBJ and Kennedy described each other in terms strikingly familiar to the current discourse. As Jeff Shesol wrote: ‘Kennedy said Johnson was a mean, bitter, vicious animal in many ways while Johnson considered Kennedy a grandstanding little runt”. Still, political historians note that Kennedy needed Johnson to win his Senate seat in 1964 – there is a lesson there for the current feud.
7. Hillary must be careful to avoid being painted with the ‘establishment’ tag by John McCain. This necessitates that she be extremely wary of picking a female congressperson – the potential to be held liable for Speaker Pelosi’s performance should be a serious red flag.
With these considerations in mind, let’s move on to the list. It reflects the policy interests of Hillary Clinton. In particular, it is shaped by her attention to issues of children’s policy, healthcare and gender issues. Further, this list has two Pennsylvanians on it and, I would add Ed Rendell to consideration as well. I do not profile him because so many others have elsewhere.
It also considers the electoral map: it is very hard to get Hillary to 270 without Pennsylvania.
One issue which I expect will gain greater traction if the Dems ever pick a nominee is education. In 2000 Bush ran a timely ad on the ‘education recession’. I anticipate that the Democrat will launch a strong critique of No Child Left Behind and that this will become more of an issue as we move on in the campaign (particularly, if the democrats link the economic recession to the education recession).
1. Gov. Phil Bredesen: (TN): Déjà vu? Gore squared? There are many good reasons to pick him. First off, Clinton seems to have strength in the mid-south which means that TN might be in play with this pick. If Hillary is as passionate about universal healthcare as she would have us believe, Bredesen helped create HealthAmerica Corp which would offer her an understanding of the business-side of healthcare economics and reform which eluded her in 1993. He won the Nashville mayoral race in 1991 and was re-elected in 1995. He also has managerial experience in education much as Hillary does from her days reforming the Arkansas education system in the mid-eighties. As governor he emphasized transparency and accountability in the political process. A recent SurveyUSA poll showed TN tied in a Clinton-McCain match-up.
Downsides: He’s 64 which cuts against a generational argument; Cut the rolls of the Tenncare program
2. Sen. Max Cleland (GA): Will she try to out McCain McCain? Bill was particularly incensed about the treatment of Cleland as evidenced by his comments in the 2004 campaign trail. This would be continuing the old triangulation strategy of Bill Clinton and merging it with the cooptation strategy Hillary has used so adeptly. It would also would galvanize the netroots which has been supportive (but not effusive) towards her candidacy as many were outraged over the Chambliss campaign’s heavy-handed approach.
Downsides: Does not carrying Georgia matter? Does voting against the war open up an old can of worms for Hillary about needing to apologize? If the electorate has fatigue about the Iraq war will voters really want to turn in for another rehash of the boomer fault line of Vietnam?
3. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (MT) As close as the Democratic Party will get to having a frontiersmen (he flies planes). He could help with those who fear that the Clintons would resurrect their co-presidency. Schweitzer is a force to be reckoned with. He would inoculate Hillary with men and make them more comfortable with the ticket and, he would be a decided benefit in rural areas. Further, he is young. Schweitzer’s presence would also help deflect the stereotypes some may associate with New York City elitism (a degree in soil science can do that). His work as an irrigation developer and in agriculture would be useful in the context of soaring commodity prices and, the perceived need to move on issues like Global Warming. Appointment during Bill’s tenure bodes well for him to pass the loyalty threshold.
Downsides: Could Bill handle being third-fiddle? Is Schweitzer sufficiently qualified? Reaction to his effort to transform coal into fuel?
4. Janet Napolitano (AZ)
Factors increasing probability of being picked: A fellow Methodist, Anita Hill’s lawyer, Achieved voluntary free kindergarten in Arizona, Cut taxes in Arizona, Fiscal Responsibility; legal background in Arizona could bulk up a murky Democratic position on immigration issue.
Downsides: Can she win McCain’s home-state? Too much for some men? Record number of vetoes does not augur well for changing Washington’s culture.
5. Wild Card: Judith Rodin (PA): Nobody said that the Vice-President needed to be an elected official. Dwight Eisenhower served as interim head of Columbia University after World War II. Mrs. Rodin served as the first female president in the Ivy League (University of Pennsylvania). She now heads the Rockefeller Foundation. Formerly a professor medicine, psychology and psychiatry. Passes loyalty question through service on B. Clinton panel on science and technology.
Downsides: Would she be considered a Pennsylvanian? An oppo-researcher for the McCain campaign would salivate at the depth of her publication record.
6. Chaka Fattah (PA): He is an African-American Philadelphia-district House member who is relatively young (51) and has made education policy a central piece of his legislative portfolio.
Downsides: Strongly anti-war and controversy between Philly fraternal order of police and Mr. Fattah’s desire for a new trial in the Faulkner case.
Also, I would like to thank those who commented on the last piece. Jon Corzine is indeed the governor (not the senator as I had said). So far as the prospect of an Obama-Clark ticket, for Sen. Obama’s own good, he should avoid Mr. Clark. First, Clark’s ‘general’ credential would likely be somewhat marginalized in political perception and utility by the public because while Vietnam and the first coalition Iraq war have set operational and political precedents within the broader policy debates (I.E. modification of the ‘domino theory’/‘containment’ ideas and, the ‘overwhelming force’ idea behind the Powell doctrine). I’m not an expert but, I do not think that the most salient foreign policy challenges have that much in common with the Bosnia experience. Would the public accord him the status of an Eisenhower, Powell or, McCain? Personally, I’m skeptical.
Further, Barack needs to be wary of placing a Vietnam vet on his ticket because it almost would invite the use of McCain’s compelling narrative and impede his own post-partisan narrative. Further, Clark is a political neophyte. Obama should pick someone who has a bit more polish on the national-stage.
A last word, I agree with the commenter who speculated that a President Obama would paint in broad strokes and leave the contours to others.