Friday, June 06, 2008

Hillary's Exit

With some reluctance, I offer a few thoughts on Hillary's defeat, particularly on the notion that she deserves to be, and that Obama should make her, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

I'm reluctant because Hillary as vice presidential candidate and as vice president is such a self-evidently bad idea that sensible people know it simply will not happen. So I find myself in the slightly weird position of discussing something that in my mind is being discussed only because it's being discussed, like Paris Hilton being famous for being famous.

Okay. Let's first dispense with the idea that Clinton "deserves" the vice presidency. This is ridiculous for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the same Clinton backers who argued (when it was convenient to do so) that superdelegates should be free to follow nothing other than the dictates of their consciences in selecting a presidential candidate now argue that the presidential candidate must surrender that very same freedom when selecting his running mate. I suppose this kind of inconsistency is to be expected from supporters whose approach to politics is flexible enough for them to agree one day that Florida and Michigan would be excluded from the election, and later to find such an exclusion is a moral outrage worthy of a Zimbabwean stolen election on the next; flexible enough, indeed, for them to agree at the beginning of the race that the winner would be determined by delegates won, only to find popular vote counts more significant when the previously agreed-upon rules proved a loss for their candidate. But still.

The irony is, the notion that Hillary deserves the vice presidency is insulting to Hillary. From the beginning, she had a choice: run a relatively positive campaign -- the kind, say, that Mike Huckabee ran on the Republican side, or that John Edwards ran in 2004, or the kind that Edwards, Dodd, and Richardson ran this time -- to position herself as a sensible choice for VP. Instead, Hillary chose to run and all or nothing campaign, doing everything she could do destroy Obama -- including practically urging voters who wouldn't back her to at least back McCain. If her strategy had succeeded, she would have been the Democratic nominee today. But the risk was that if her strategy failed, she would have made herself unsuitable for the #2 slot. As indeed she has: McCain is already using video of Hillary saying, "I've passed the commander-in-chief threshold, Senator McCain has passed the commander-in-chief threshold, Senator Obama has a speech he made in 2002" in his latest campaign ads (although it's encouraging to watch McCain adopt the exact same campaign tactics that have just proven fruitless for the Clintons). Regardless of what you think of her strategy, at least we can respect Clinton enough to acknowledge that she was aware of the consequences of her approach and selected it knowingly. To suggest at this point instead that she should be awarded a prize she deliberately forfeited is to treat an autonomous adult as a spoiled child.

Equally ridiculous, and insulting to Hillary, is the notion that Obama should help her retire her $30 million campaign debt, which includes $11 million the Clintons personally lent to the campaign. The Clintons, their donors, and their lenders all made adult, autonomous, conscious decisions to invest in her campaign the way they did. Why should outsiders have to bail them out? Bear in mind that the Clintons' personal fortune is estimated at about $60 million. Am I the only one who wonders why a politician who professes to care so deeply about the disenfranchised, the invisible, the little people whose votes for her are the same as prayers, is now going to happily stick all those little people with the bill for what since February has been little more than a vanity project? The predictable reply: you're right, it's not fair, but it has to be done to assuage Hillary and get her fundraisers onside. Fair enough, but then let's call this exercise what it really is: extortion.

Look, Hillary could have campaigned in such a way that her proposal to Obama would have been, "Make me your vice president because I'll help you." Instead, her proposal is, "Make me your vice president or I'll hurt you." Even if her implicit threat were credible, Obama would have no choice but to refuse her, lest the next Republican campaign narrative would become (and not without merit), "If he can't handle Hillary, how's he going to handle Ahmadinejad?"

More ironic still is the moniker people attach to the idea of an Obama/Hillary team: they like to call it a "unity ticket." Remember, for the last five months, Hillary has been analyzed mostly through the prism of the Democratic primary. Under these circumstances, it's easy to forget her astonishingly high general election negatives. When a candidate has negatives as high as Hillary's, the only thing she'd be unifying is the Republican party.

Hillary supporters will argue nonetheless that she offers benefits: she can deliver older white women and rural whites, demographics Obama has had trouble attracting. Let's assume this is true. The next question is, is there another candidate who can deliver a similar benefit without simultaneously galvanizing Republicans, alienating independents, undercutting Obama's core message of change, and making Obama look weak by virtue of selecting her?

Pretty hard to believe the answer to that one is no.

Many of her supporters are angry right now. Wouldn't putting Hillary on the ticket mollify them? Maybe... but again, the question is, can the same objective be achieved at lower cost?

The general election is five months away. That's a long time for anger and bitterness to dissipate and for rationality to prevail. Rationality in this case meaning Obama's 100% positive rating from Planned Parenthood, his endorsement by NARAL, his overall policy positions being close to Hillary's. Contrasted with McCain's recent speechifying on conservative judicial appointments (much of it obscured by the dramatic coverage of the Democratic primary) and his record on judicial nominations. Women who are angry today will have to face a question in November: do they want to support, whether by commission or omission, the overturning of Roe v Wade? Do they want their daughters to lose control of their reproductive rights?

The only question at this point is how Obama will finesse Hillary's implicit threats and detach her from her supporters. I don't think any of this is terribly difficult.

First, praise Clinton lavishly. This has been ongoing.

Second, make it known that Clinton is on the shortlist (though in fact, for all the reasons above, she will not be seriously considered). Promise to vet her just as the other candidates will and should be vetted. Leak problems discovered with the opaque and disreputable sources of the Clintons' wealth and the Clinton Foundation's fundraising, with rumors of Bill's behavior, with Hillary's seeming inability to control Bill on the campaign trail, and with Bill's refusal to allow adequate scrutiny of his finances (think of this as the "Blame Bill" strategy).

Third, note that given Hillary's stated passions, indeed, her most recent political raison d'etre, it would be a waste of her talents to take a job that has been famously compared to a bucket of warm piss. She could make a much more important contribution spearheading healthcare reform. How could she turn down such an opportunity? She's explicitly said she's not particularly interested in the vice presidency and that she wants healthcare for every American. Sure, this is all a bluff, but Obama is now in a good position to call.

And fourth, after easing Hillary aside, relentlessly hammer home what McCain means for the Supreme Court and women's rights.

For a long time, Hillary's overall approach has been to threaten punishment if she doesn't get what she wants. This is why she has been so eager to whip her supporters into an unjustified rage, why she encouraged the notion that whites wouldn't vote for Obama, and most of all why she refused to concede on Tuesday even after Obama had achieved a numerical lock on the nomination. The last threat in her arsenal is the threat to disrupt the convention in August and prevent the Democrats from focusing on the general for another two critical months. But with the primaries over and no more excuses for superdelegates not to decide, I think she's realized that any further threats of punishment would force the party to move en masse to crush and humiliate her. Thus her announcement that on Saturday she will indeed acknowledge reality and belatedly concede.

That concession will not cause, but rather instead merely accelerate the inevitable end of the Clintons. Obama will continue to finesse Hillary in all the ways described above. He'll select an appropriate vice president. He'll beat McCain, a remarkably weak, pandering, flip-flopping candidate, in the fall. At which point, the Clintons will have lost all their power to punish.

So it's ridiculous, as well as insulting to Hillary, to suggest that she "deserves" it. Substantively, she makes no sense. Outside the lunatic fringe that always exists and is never ultimately relevant, her supporters will come around in the fall. So now: can we please stop talking about Hillary? The Clinton era is over.


Mark Terry said...

Nicely analyzed.

Although I think an Obama/Clinton ticket would be "interesting" from an observer's POV, I agree with you that there are so many negatives that the few positives would never see the light of day.

A good year or two before this race began, when asked what I thought of Hillary Clinton as potential president, I said that I thought she had impressive credentials, good name recognition and an amazing money-raising machine. I still hold with the first two and wonder what happened to the third.

That said, I also regularly said, "Hillary Clinton is too polarizing to get elected." She's a love her or hate her kind of personality, what my sister correctly described as, "you know she was always the brightest girl in her class," but not one to be much loved.

I think my instinct that she's polarizing was correct and she's affirmed it over the course of the primaries. And it's that label in my mind--"polarizing"--that should keep her off the ticket. Obama has run a campaign that's quite the opposite of polarizing. He's quite inclusive. It's an open question whether he can remain so inclusive over the next 5 months when the Republicans start going after him, particularly if McCain starts to drop in the polls, because there's nothing more vicious than a cornered animal.

I think it's Obama's decision and I can come up with an excellent short list for VP that doesn't include Hillary Clinton--Richards, for one, which would bring some foreign policy credentials to the ticket.

Anonymous said...

I think Richardson is actively pursuing the job, but I've read a lot lately that he's got a zipper problem and I don't think Obama needs or wants that.

A name I've seen that's gaining some steam is Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana. He's not jockeying for the job, but I've read that close friends say that he'd take it if asked.

Timothy said...

Hi Barry,
great post and long time no see!

I too keep hearing the rhetoric around a potential Obama/Clinton ticket, and frankly I found it a hard pill to swallow. The way in which she chose to run her campaign was a very all or nothing approach. There is little room left for a discussion of a vice presidency and too much was left divided to believe such a ticket would be a boon. From what I have seen of this campaign thus far I worry that if a ticket like this went forward Obama would have to spend more time than he should with a VP who really wanted to be the President.

On a self aggrandizing side note: if you get the chance I'm going to be in Tokyo for the next few months and i am starting a blog/podcast ;)
take a look if you get a chance

Anonymous said...

This comment basically amounts to an "attaboy / me, too", but in any case: thanks for very clearly articulating what most everyone I know discusses privately and - for the most part - I think understands intuitively.

I said this another way on the Huff Post previously, but I think the next step in the so-called "healing process" is to strap Lanny Davis - possibly the loudest voice in the "make HRC the Veep or else!" chorus, and by far the most personally noxious to me, frankly - into a chair, pry his eyelids open "Clockwork Orange" style, administer a psychoactive cocktail appropriate to facilitating recognition of truth even within the most intellectually feeble and/or politically recalcitrant of minds, and doing a little root-level de- and reprograming vis-a-vis EXACTLY what HRC is truly "owed" as a result of the way she ran her uplifting, inspirational and statesman-like campaign - i.e., NOTHING.

She can indeed play a role in the general, but that role - reaching out to "her base" - is IMHO more critical to help burnish her very tarnished (at this point) legacy (among those who haven't drunk her Kool-Aid, that is) than it is to the election of BHO. I am among those who will view any kowtowing to her beyond the needed and expected as sad at best, but what's amazing to me is that for the first time in my adult life I feel as if there is a candidate who might actually not let me down in this regard.

I'm an eternal optimist, so here's hoping.

Anonymous said...

I think someone like Sam Nunn of Georgia, or General Clark would be a good VP choice for Obama.

RutabegaGirl said...

S'funny, but when I first heard of Hillary running for Prez, I was excited. How thrilling to have such a strong woman with so much to recommend her, as potential commander-in-chief. Then the campaign started. "Ergh," I think, best sums up how I felt about it. Sort of like all my report cards when I was a kid. So much potential, all gone to waste.

As for a Veep position, um, uniting? No, I agree, she would be polarizing, as she has been throughout this campaign. Sadly, she's like White Castle. You either love 'er or hate 'er.

Unknown said...

You wanna rock the election to Obama's side in a big way? How about an Obama/(Colin)Powell ticket.

Michael Johnson

Anonymous said...

When Al Gore left the Vice President's office he too was broke, but he picked up his $100M and when asked to go back to politics said...Nawww, this business stuff is too much fun.


Anonymous said...

What Barry says is insightful and true IF the election is not once again stolen as it was in 2000 and (perhaps) in 2004. An important voice who needs to be heard widely right now but is missing from the media, including NPR, is Mark Crispin Miller, an expert in stolen elections and author of two books on the subject, the latest being Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008. What he has to say is sobering and chilling. You can find a few obscure audios of Miller by googling "Audio Mark Crispin Miller."