23 July 2008

The running-mate conundrum

Now that each party has basically chosen its Presidential nominee, the next political milestone is each nominee's choice for the VP slot. The running-mate choice will be seen as more important this year than in most election years -- in McCain's case because of his age, and in Obama's because of his inexperience. I think that the question presents McCain with an opportunity, and Obama with a conundrum.

Let's start with Obama. For whatever reason, it seems that Hillary Clinton is not under consideration (and there are good reasons why she might turn down the VP position if offered). That leaves him with two options: a woman other than Clinton, or a man.

Choosing a man would likely solidify the alienation of feminist Clinton supporters who already believe, with considerable reason, that Clinton was shoved aside in favor of a less worthy candidate due to sexism; the party would be offering "another boringly male Democratic Presidential ticket". Many of these individuals would never consider voting for Obama regardless, but however many among them are actually wavering would see it as a shut-out.

Choosing a woman other than Clinton presents its own set of problems. Feminists would be likely to interpret it as pandering -- and naive pandering at that, especially if the woman chosen were relatively centrist politically, as in the case of Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, who is regularly mentioned as a possibility. Moreover, a critical Clinton constituency which Obama needs to win over is blue-collar and rural voters in Appalachia and the Midwest (Rasmussen now shows McCain leading Obama 46%-40% in Ohio, or a startling 52%-42% if "leaners" are included). These voters were attracted to Clinton not because of her gender, but because she was better able to connect with them on economic issues and culturally than the (perceivedly) more elite, ivory-tower Obama. Choosing a woman running mate, in and of itself, would do nothing to enhance Obama's appeal to this constituency.

There's another factor which is a bit awkward to mention in polite circles, but nevertheless real. History being what it is, the US is used to white male leaders. Everyone recognizes that nominating either a black man or a woman for President would have been revolutionary. A ticket consisting of a black man and a woman might be, for some people, just a little too much revolution to swallow all at once. The number of people whose votes would actually be swayed by such feelings is probably small, but in an election where a shift of a couple of percentage points one way or the other could decide the outcome, it's a factor which Obama is doubtless considering.

In the end, I think Obama will choose a man as his running mate. Despite the drawback of further disappointing feminists, on the whole the balance of considerations favors it.

Turn we now to McCain. He has the advantage of low expectations -- being viewed as the stodgy, traditional candidate, he's expected to do the "safe" thing and choose one of the more successful of his competitors for the Republican nomination, such as Romney or (please, no!) Huckabee. Thus he has more to gain by making a bold choice.

One such bold choice would be Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman would be, as far as I know, the first avowed non-Christian on a major party ticket since the days of the Founders; and a Jewish candidate, unlike a Muslim or Wiccan (or perhaps even a Mormon) would not turn off any voters outside small groups of cranks and extremists. The bigger factor would be the fact that Lieberman is not a Republican; by reaching outside of his own party, McCain would steal Obama's bipartisan thunder at a stroke. (It's not out of the question, by the way, that Obama would choose a moderate Republican running mate for similar reasons -- though this would make it harder for his followers to keep scolding the PUMAs in the name of party loyalty.) Lieberman also has the advantage of being unquestionably experienced enough for the Presidency.

The other option for a bold move would be to choose a black or woman running mate. Of these, a woman would be by far the more effective at boosting support for McCain. Black voters are a solidly Democratic constituency and would be very unlikely to desert a Democratic ticket headed by a black man, regardless of who the Republican VP candidate was. But a woman running mate in a race against an all-male Democratic ticket might very well shift enough feminist PUMAs from the "won't vote" to "vote McCain" position to swing a close race. The most commonly-mentioned possibility is Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, who at 44 might seem young for the position (though it would be hard for Democrats to make this argument since Obama is only 46), but has the highest approval rating of any Governor in the US.

(If McCain wanted to make a really radical move, he'd offer the VP spot to Hillary Clinton. There is, however, almost no chance that she'd accept.)

In the end, of course, voters mostly choose on the basis of the top man on the ticket, not the running mate. Yet the two candidates' choices will tell us much about their calculations.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Carol said...

Lieberman was Gore's running mate in 2000. From what I've heard, he's not interested.
In my opinion, McCain would risk further alienating his base by choosing the former Democrat. McCain already has bonafide credentials as a bipartisan legislator. That is, he has actually worked with Democrats on legislation. Obama has never worked with Republicans. (Of course, neither has he worked on any substantive legislation.) He has bipartisan credentials only in his self-absorbed, ego-inflating dreams. So, McCain doesn't need to prove anything there.

23 July, 2008 08:24  
Blogger Philip Meyer said...

Picking Hillary would be a disaster.

Since Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee there has been unprecedented campaign to force him to choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate. I believe choosing Hillary would be big mistake especially in light of this effort to force his hand.

The Clintons have their good points. While I have problems with Bill’s ethics, I think his time as President was good for the United States and while I don’t think he deserves all (or even most of) the credit for the peace and prosperity that characterized the period from 1993 to 2000, he certainly deserves some. He made what I consider to be sound policy decisions. As for Hillary, I agree with her stated positions on many issues. However, none of this means she would be a good selection for Obama as his running mate. The reasons for not choosing her are clear.

Fundamentally, there are several factors for any nominee to consider when selecting a Vice-Presidential candidate. Obviously, the Presidential nominee would want to choose someone could assume the job of President but realistically, many potential Vice-Presidential nominees meet that criteria. The two more fundamental questions are 1) Does the Vice-Presidential pick increase the ticket’s chances of winning the general election and 2) Would that pick be a good fit in the future Administration?

As nears as I can tell Hillary is a wash on question 1. Several polls have shown Democrats favor putting Hillary on the ticket but most of them are likely to vote for the Democratic ticket anyway. More telling are polls of all voters and the most recent I could find suggested Obama-Clinton doesn’t poll much differently than Obama by himself.

On question 2, Hillary is complete flop. Vice-Presidents are supposed to be loyal to the President above all else and the Clintons have never played second fiddle to anyone, it is hard to imagine them starting now, especially to a man Hillary suggested was unprepared to be President. More than likely, the Clintons envision Hillary as Vice-President with greatly expanded powers and a portfolio for Bill as well; In effect, a tri-Presidency with Obama as the odd man out. That would be a disaster as this nation doesn’t need three chief executives.

Finally, there are the Clintons themselves. It might be tempting to take Hillary’s recent warm praise of Obama at face value but the problem is, how would one know? While even the most honest politicians fib a bit, Hillary and Bill have a record of mendacity that puts them pretty low in the trust scale. If someone isn’t accustomed the getting shot at, they tend to have a pretty good memory of when they did. It is hard to see Hillary’s repeated claim about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire as anything but a brazen lie. Also, because all politicians pander, pandering itself isn’t a disqualification but the shamelessness of the Hillary is amazing. There isn’t any serious Democratic policy analyst who favored cutting the gas tax and Hillary Clinton probably didn’t either. However, this spring she came out for a cut in the gas tax after having talked about the need for alternative energy and reduction in green house gases. Lower fossil fuel prices are the quickest way to make those goals harder to achieve. It would have been one thing if she called for a second stimulus package to, among other things, help mitigate the impact of higher gas prices. At least that could have been targeted to low income folks and because the recipients could spend the money on whatever they deemed necessary, the incentive to conserve would have remained. However, Hillary just couldn’t resist demanding a cut in the gas tax that would have benefited millionaire owners of Hummers, because she saw political gain. Not only was it dishonest given what she said she believed otherwise, it showed a lack of leadership and a lack of courage that Obama commendably showed on the issue.

Bill’s mendacity is well documented but perhaps he was being the honest one in this case, when he reportedly told someone Obama could kiss his behind if he expected support. All the more reason for Obama not to want a Clinton in his Administration

23 July, 2008 19:19  

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