Does Obama Really Need a VP?

This piece, admittedly by a right-winger, claims Barack Obama is toying with the media and clearly intends to choose Hillary Rodham Clinton as his VP.

I don’t think so. She’s obviously his best choice from one standpoint — her electoral prowess — and the worst from many others.  After all, she declared John McCain was a more plausible president than Obama. That and many other quotes denigrating Obama’s experience will already be used against him, but coming from the mouth of his VP candidate? Deadly.  What many of us suspect about Obama, that he’s not quite ready for the job of president, she has said explicitly.  So has her husband.

But I cite the post mainly because it illustrates how much of a pickle Obama is in with respect to choosing his VP nominee.  Nobody helps him. Everybody hurts him.  He’d be better off running alone.  To quote from the blogger, Patrick Ruffini:

Just look at the other names on the short list:

  • Joe Biden‘s mouth is a constant source of embarassment. And how would the PUMAs take to a failed second-tier candidate leapfrogging someone with 18 million votes?
  • Evan Bayh has been vetoed by the netroots
  • Kathleen Sebelius would be a clear and direct affront to the PUMAs, much more so even than Biden. The first woman VP/President — and one you’ve never heard of — would increase the sense of Clintonian alienation.
  • Tim Kaine. Hahahahahahahahahaha
  • Wesley Clark would provide the military experience Obama needs, but his comments about McCain’s service are a problem.
  • Chris Dodd is a crook.

What if he didn’t pick anyone?  If he’s elected and then dies in office, the Speaker of the House, presumably Nancy Pelosi, would be perfectly acceptable to Democrats.  Even the PUMAs (which used to mean Party Unity My Ass, and now means People United Means Action) would probably grant Pelosi is acceptable.

Is there a constitutional problem with leaving the VP slot vacant?  Undoubtedly.  So what if Obama picked a literal nonentity. Say, the winner of a lottery, or perhaps a special political edition of Jeopardy! The winner would have to swear that in the event of Obama’s demise, he or she would immediately resign, stepping aside for the Speaker.

Of course, Obama could short-circuit all this and just nominate Pelosi for the vice-presidency.  Her political style is more suited to a VP campaign.  She’s a shin-kicking ear-biter, and she’s obviously totally unimpressed by the McCain mystique.

But since what I’m proposing is probably too absurd, my guess is Obama will pick Joe Biden.  He’s much more than a “failed second-tier candidate.” He’s a sherpa for an inexperienced president. He’s instantly credible in all the ways Obama is not yet.  Evan Bayh has the next-best chance, but Obama would have to stand up to a lot of criticism from the left netroots, where he’s described with language such as “fucking worthless to the progressive cause.” Not a lot of wiggle room there.  After watching Gov. Kaine on Charlie Rose a few weeks ago, I was nonplussed as to how he ever got on the short list.  If he’s a rising star, it’s going to be a slow rise. It would almost be unfair to subject him to national attention at this point in his career.

The blood is thinning in the political ranks of both parties.  The VP sweepstakes illustrate that perfectly.


The Murderous Mrs. C.

Hillary with an evil lookPeggy Noonan is ecstatic that the Democrats nominated Barack Obama, and at least half the reason why is that they didn’t nominate Hillary Clinton:

Mrs. Clinton would have been a disaster as president. Mr. Obama may prove a disaster, and John McCain may, but she would be. Mr. Obama may lie, and Mr. McCain may lie, but she would lie. And she would have brought the whole rattling caravan of Clintonism with her—the scandal-making that is compulsive, the drama that is unending, the sheer, daily madness that is her, and him.

We have been spared this. Those who did it deserve to be thanked. May I rise in a toast to the Democratic Party.

They had a great and roaring fight, a state-by-state struggle unprecedented in the history of presidential primaries. They created the truly national primary. They brought 36 million people to the polls, including the young, minorities and first-time voters. They brought a kind of dogged brio to the year.

All of this is impressive, but more than that, they threw off Clintonism. They threw off the idea that corruption is part of the game, an acceptable fact. They threw off the idea that dynasticism was an unstoppable dynamic in modern politics, that Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton could, would, go on forever. They said: “No, that is not the way we do it.”

They threw off the idea of inevitability. Mrs. Clinton didn’t lose because she had no money or organization, she didn’t lose because she had no fame or name, she didn’t lose because her policies were unusual or dramatically unpopular within her party. She lost because enough Democrats looked at her and thought: I don’t like that, I don’t like the way she does it, I’m not going there. Most candidates lose over things, not over their essential nature. But that is what happened here. For all her accomplishments and success, it was her sketchy character that in the end did her in.

So then the question comes up:  Given the closeness of the contest, should Hillary be Obama’s VP pick?  (No, say I.)  No, says Peggy Noonan.  Here is one of her reasons:

She would never be content to be vice president. She’d be plotting against him from day one. She’d put poison in his tea.

Trust me, in the succeeding paragraphs, there is no rim-shot-bada-bing to indicate Noonan is kidding.  She would expect Hillary to poison Obama, if it meant she would be in the Oval Office. 

Noonan’s column is not the first place I’ve seen this “Hillary would poison Obama” meme.  I wish I’d been saving all the links.  They mostly appear in comment threads, or if it’s the main blogger, they usually try to let you know they’re joking. 

Keep an eye out for it.

When her husband was president, the Clintons were accused in some right wing rubber rooms of having people murdered.  I don’t remember the details, but there was supposed to be a list of premature deaths, and somehow it was tied in with cocaine shipments into the Mena Airport in Arkansas.  They were also accused of using very rough tactics to silence “bimbo eruptions.”  Kathleen Willey’s dead cat, for example.

The mainstream media thought these accusations were hideous, hysterical, evidence of a vast right-wing conspiracy led by crazy people who would say anything.

Now, the suggestion that Hillary would use the Office of the Vice President to carry out a murder plot against the president has become a normal part of political discourse, across the ideological spectrum.

You know, she almost won the nomination, folks.  If the Democratic Party had used Republican primary rules, she would have won. Would these same commentators be suggesting the Democratic Party had nominated a murderer if she was the presidential candidate?  Would they be worrying about John McCain’s water glass at the presidential debates the way they’re worrying about Barack Obama’s tea?  

Admitting Obama is Ordinary

I go back over this blog’s past few months and have to cringe a little over my political prognostications of Hillary’s demise and excess enthusiasm for Barack Obama who, it turns out, is mortal, flawed, and perhaps worst of all, a rather ordinary politician.  He still might become president and still might be an adequate president.  But he is not what I thought he was, nor what most of us thought he was.  He is one more in a long line of Democrats who have been packaged by political geniuses to suit the temper of the times; who, in the end, can’t live up to the hype carefully designed on their behalf.

Kurt Andersen’s piece in New York provides a kind of elegy for the grand illusion that some of us (not just those “in the media”) shared:

Back in February, when the new prince was gliding thrillingly up and up toward nomination, a part of the thrill for the media was their happy astonishment that they were no longer cosmopolitan outliers but finally (unlike in 1984 with Gary Hart) in sync with America: Regular folks, white people in Iowa and Virginia and Wisconsin, were actually voting for Obama!

That was then. With the ten-point loss in Pennsylvania, the latest Reverend Wright eruption, and the shrinkage of Obama’s leads in the polls, the media are feeling lousy, and not just because their guy is taking a beating. If Obama is deemed to be an effete, out-of-touch yuppie, then the effete-yuppie media Establishment that’s embraced him must be equally oblivious and/or indifferent to the sentiments of the common folk.

Uh-oh. As the cratering of newspaper circulations accelerates (thousands a week are now abandoning the Times) and network-news audiences continue to shrink, for big-time mainstream journalists to seem even more out of touch makes some of them panic. And … so … it’s all … his fault, that highfalutin Obama!

Andersen’s still rooting for Obama but more, it appears, because he can’t abide the alternative: A Clinton win.  The Clintons were merely tolerated all along, at least after 1994, because they were up against unattractive enemies.  But the Obama vs. Clinton matchup has unleashed the anti-Clinton id, the beast many of us kept in the cellar throughout the 90s, the silent acknowledge that these people are liars! and what Bill did with Monica was disgusting! and how dare they cart off official gifts from dignitaries as if they owned them! and Jesus, he pardoned Mark Rich!? and how can she live with herself after screwing up health care reform? It’s hard to stop once you get started, and the Obama/Clinton contrast certainly got a lot of us started.

But the depressing fact is: Obama’s not up for this.  He’s already looking defeated.  He’s clearly embarrassed by the man who’s been revealed over the past couple of months.  Not Rev. Wright, but himself.  He hears questions about his judgment and is too smart not to agree at some level.  The real explanation for his dalliances with the likes of Rev. Wright, Tony Rezco, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn — that if you want to succeed in southside Chicago politics, you need to show up with such people — isn’t acceptable to the broad American public and he knows it.

It isn’t fair, really.  Bush, Gore, Kerry, Clinton, McCain, whoever you want to cite, they all cut deals with frauds, kooks and boodlers on their ways up the greazy pole, as did most of their legendary political predecessors.  This is the dark side of “all politics is local.”  Few politicians emerge from their home base without enemies and alliances that, later, they’ll wish they hadn’t made.   Harry Truman was a product of the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City.  JFK’s ties with organized crime went back to his father’s years as a bootlegger, the source of much of the family fortune, and the connection obviously helped him secure Illinois’ electoral votes and thus the White House. Ronald Reagan’s relationship with MCA president Lew Wasserman was corrupt on both sides, to their mutual benefit and ultimately sparked Reagan’s political rise.  Al Gore and his father had a crucial relationship with oilman and Soviet tool Armand Hammer.  None of these men would have become president or vice-president without the help of their unsavory sponsors.

But, no matter.  Obama’s political life has caught up with him and he’s become the proverbial deer in headlights ever since.  He can’t go back to the gossamer appeals to hope.  But he lacks much else to recommend him. Other than not being Hillary and not being McCain, for those who dislike those two warhorses.

The Obama and McCain Buddy-Cop Show

A month ago, I tossed off a comment on Althouse that included the following lines:

So that leaves Obama and McCain. I wish they could run together. They’d be like one of those old 1970s cop shows. The crusty old seen-it-all guy who goes by his gut, partnered with the brilliant rookie whose got courage to match his brains.

They both seem like leaders to me. Contrary to extremely popular belief, the presidency is not an ideological office. The needed skills are inertia-busting on the domestic front, and strategic courage on the international front. Plus the right kind of ego, an ego strong enough to surround themselves with very smart advisors and encourage candor from them.

Both seem to have these skills. If they end up running against each other, I don’t yet know which way I’d go. But if only one of them is in the race, that’s the one I’m voting for.

I was sort of kidding.  In the same comment, I discussed briefly my distaste for Hillary Clinton and at greater length my dislike of Mitt Romney. 

Recently, Salon’s Edward McClelland wrote a column suggesting that guys are supporting Obama and/or McCain — just to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.  His take-off point was my post:

John Stodder, a 52-year-old blogger from Palos Verdes Peninsula, Calif., looks at the presidential field and sees another buddy-cop pairing: John McCain and Barack Obama, supposed mavericks who break their parties’ rules, bound together by a common mission — keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

“I wish they could run together,” Stodder swoons. “They’d be like one of those old 1970s cop shows. The crusty old seen-it-all guy who goes by his gut, partnered with the brilliant rookie who’s got courage to match his brains.

I give McClelland huge props for crediting me with the line.  I think it’s funny.  I don’t actually think the White House is like a grungy detective precinct in a gritty urban core.  The fact that I like both candidates (Obama more than McCain) is incidental. 

The fact that they’re both men has nothing to do with why I like them.  I was prepared to vote for Sen. Clinton until this year despite some misgivings, until her campaign’s empty-headed and scurrilous nature became apparent. 

You hear a lot about the failure of the Clinton “inevitability” strategy.  In America, what else could such a strategy do but fail?  “Vote for me because you have no choice” might work in Cuba or Iran, but not here. 

Anyway, my little brainstorm got another push into potential meme-dom today on NPR’s “Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me.”  Listen to the first couple of minutes.  (And thank you to my wife’s aunt for happening across the show.)

It makes me want to blog some more!

New Hampshire Theories


Here are a few theories.

Like the Washington Post‘s Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiest, I don’t buy the so-called “Bradley Effect” in 2008.

A more likely culprit than the role of race in the New Hampshire election was the “likely voter” modeling, with pollsters perhaps over-counting the boost of enthusiasm among Obama supporters following his victory in Iowa. Another possibility is that independents opted at the last minute to participate in the Republican primary, depriving Obama of crucial voters.

A further potential source of error stems from New Hampshire ballot rules. In previous contests, the state rotated candidate names from precinct to precinct, but this year the names were in alphabetical order, with Clinton near the top and Obama lower down. Stanford Professor Jon Krosnick, a survey specialist and expert witness in a lawsuit about ballot order in New Hampshire, has estimated a three percentage point or greater bounce for a big name candidate appearing high on the ballot. Therefore, if pre-election polls randomized candidate names, as most do, they would have underestimated Clinton’s support by at least three points.

Tim Russert reportedly said internal campaign tracking polls were as wrong as the public ones. Obama’s people were telling him he had a 14 point edge; Clinton’s were telling her he was ahead by 11.

Another underestimated factor — a frequently underestimated factor:  Early absentee ballots.  How many Democrats cast their ballots before the Iowa results?  Hillary’s campaign emphasized rounding those up. 

Anyway.  As I said earlier, Obama needs to be tested while the public’s watching.  Recovering from unexpected disappointment is a good next test.

Oh, Mama, Could This Really Be the End?

hillary-and-bill.jpgI’m running into a lot of blog posts and articles like this:

(T)o watch Obama v. Clinton is to be reminded of watching Ali v. Foreman. The de facto knockout blow is about to be delivered tomorrow in the snowy streets of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t drop out after her loss; she will stagger on but prove unable to stop Obama. And to watch the Clintons’ rage and desperation grow in the last days of this campaign will not be pretty. They will lash out at everyone, including Obama, the media, her own campaign, and maybe, eventually, each other.

This is a couple not known for their grace or for holding lightly to their grip on power.

There are many things to say about the deeper meaning of this moment and what its passing will signify. Suffice it to say that it will be good, very good, for us to say farewell to the couple that brought you Carville, Begala, Blumenthal, and Ickes; the “war room,” the use of private investigators, and attacks on women like Dolly Kyle Browning, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey; impeachment for perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a grand jury; contempt of court findings; the promiscuous smearing of those whom they viewed as threat to their power; the charges of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” and assurances that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; and so much more.

Or, more pithily:



Get your kids out and put them in front of the TV: The Clinton Era officially ended at 9:34 p.m. EST when Edwards paired with Obama to bury Hillary as a non-agent of change.

Wow, again.

bush-and-bush.jpgI’d expand it.  We’ve reached the end of what will be called the Bush-Clinton Era.  You can’t explain the Clintons without the Bushes.  You can’t explain Bush without the Clintons.  It’s been going on since the conventions of 1988, when George H.W. Bush said “Read my lips,” and Bill Clinton said much, much more in a horrible nominating speech for Michael Dukakis, then went on “The Tonight Show” to make fun of himself.  

The Bush “machine” and the Clinton “machine” each run much the same way; a thin veneer of idealism over a “back off, chump” culture of intimidation.  Kennedys, but without the charm and poetry.   

Bush’s presidency ushered in Clinton’s in many ways.  His success in the Gulf War scared off stronger and more qualified Democratic challengers like Mario Cuomo, who thought a second Bush term was a foregone conclusion.  Bush’s victory over Dukakis had already convinced some Democratic leaders that the party’s 70s-era liberalism needed to be moderated if the party was ever going to win again.  Only with those two developments could a Clinton nomination have been possible.

Then add Ross Perot.  It’s pretty clear that his presidential campaign of 1992 had as much to do with harming Bush as advancing an agenda. There was some bad blood there — some dark and probably well-earned grudge against the Bush clan.  If Perot hadn’t have been on the ballot as an independent in 1992, Bush probably would’ve won.  (Perot’s presence on the ballot also denied Clinton a majority in 1996.) 

Clinton’s cycles of failure and success incubated George W. Bush’s political career.  The second Bush copied key elements of Clinton’s success while exploiting his failures.  He governed Texas as a moderate, and ran in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative,” a kind of tribute to Clinton’s “Third Way.”  Like Clinton, Bush was a candidate of confessions, but he did Clinton one better by pronouncing Christianity as his salvation from the bottle.  

Still, Bush would’ve had no chance against Al Gore if it wasn’t for the political damage inflicted on him by Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair and the various fundraising scandals.  All the other conditions were perfect for Gore’s success.  But he couldn’t capitalize because he was tainted by Clinton sleaze.

Who wasn’t tainted by Clinton sleaze?  Surprisingly, Hillary Clinton.  In what must have struck Gore in the middle of many nights as a horrible irony, he lost but Bill’s wife won a seat in the Senate.

Then 9/11/01 happened.  Much of the politics of the past seven years has been reacting to that event.  Both the incumbent but relatively new Bush Administration and the predecessor Clinton Administration were implicated for policy failures that led directly to the terrorist attack’s success.  How much each Administration was to blame became a defining political dynamic ever since. 9/11 empowered Bush to invade Iraq, which he couldn’t have done without getting nervous Democrats like Hillary to support him.

Hillary Clinton’s vote (as well as John Kerry’s) to grant Bush war authority was like a poison pill for her presidential ambitions.  Her only strategy for getting elected in 2008 was “inevitability,” but the war vote was a chink in that armor that a candidate not implicated in the war could exploit.   And Barack Obama has done that — and so much more.

But the real reason the Bush-Clinton era has ended?  We’re just tired of these people.  We’re tired of criticizing them and we’re tired of defending them.  We’re tired of how every day of the past three Administrations, stretching back 20 years, has been about a permanent campaign.  We’re tired of the “derangement-syndromes” each family has stimulated in the body politic — the conspiracy theories, the name-calling, the gossip, the investigations. Yes, we’re glad to wave goodbye to Carville, Begala and the rest, but we’re also glad to send Karl Rove and Dick Cheney off with them.  All these despised family retainers.

So what about this video?

Is she crying because she knows her time has come and gone?  Hillary’s favorite phrase to describe herself was “tireless advocate,” but she looks awfully tired.  You know she won’t let go of the hope that her campaign can succeed, but Clinton is no longer capable of being the underdog.

It’s dismal to be where she is right now — in free-fall, according to the polls, running against a candidate, Obama, who is almost immune to criticism right now no matter what happens.  How does she keep going…knowing that defeat is almost inevitable?