I’ve got a bad feeling that Barack Obama is going to tab Hillary Clinton to be his running mate…and I urge him to reconsider.
One of the amazing things about this year’s Democratic contest is the way it regularly and directly hearkens back to previous demo slug fests:
…When the superdelegate chase was on, 1984 came to mind;
…When it came down to Obama and Hillary C and the continuing fight, 1968 and the internecine warfare between RFK and McCarthy came to mind; and now
…With a nomination decided and a VP nod on the line, 1960 with JFK and LBJ really comes to mind.
You will recall that LBJ ended up the primary opponent for JFK, but did it not by running in primaries. He counted on his legislative record and the support of the Senate caucus to carry the day, relearning the lesson learned by countless US Senators that the US Senators have far less power in the delegate selection process than governors and mayors.
JFK wins the nod, the first Catholic nominee of a major party since Al Smith in 1928. He is seen as at best an even choice to defeat GOP nominee VP Richard Nixon. Despite significant opposition-including his brother, RFK- he asks LBJ to be his running mate. The pioneer of the New Frontier needs an icon of the old politics to win a national election.
LBJ is urged by many, including Speaker Sam Rayburn, to decline, but eventually comes around because JFK needs him on the ticket to hold Texas and other southern states. Moreover, LBJ realizes that if JFK wins, the Senate Majority leader will no longer be the top dog Demo in DC…so he opts to move up. Besides, as he will be on the ballot in TX anyway, if JFK loses then LBJ can go back to the Senate.
The JFK/LBJ ticket wins narrowly, with LBJ serving as a firewall that keeps much of the South in the Democratic column. Then problems start.
While by all accounts JFK attempts to make LBJ a vital part of the administration, the Best and the Brightest behind Kennedy viewed Johnson as a blowhard, a hick, and a rube better left to cutting ribbons. Do the reading, and you can find as many folks who are think JFK would dump LBJ as there are who content Kennedy and Johnson would run together in 1964.
Discontent over LBJ’s position and roles continues up until November 22, 1963.
I see a lot of this in the current struggle. A representative of a “New Hope” wins the democratic nomination, and now looks to a rep of the Old Politics to balance the ticket and win the election.
It may be a great idea for winning the election, but I think it is a recipe for disaster for governing.
Assuming they do, putting Hillary’s name on the VP door means having the whole Clinton-nista network working at cross purposes to the president. LBJ’s power stemmed from his legislative ability and his ability to route Texas oil money. Senator Clinton has a network with tentacles in all aspects of the Democratic party and the policy making/proposing/pushing organizations around the country. Goodness, do you really think Hillary will be able to serve as #2 person when she thinks she is more qualified to be #1 than the man holding the office?
Then there is her husband…and while I think former US President Bill Clinton would be willing to keep his mouth shut if his wife was president, I don’t think he will be as willing to if his wife is VP.
Obama does not need to be looking over his shoulder worrying about Senator Clinton, and he doesn’t need even the possibility of internecine warfare. I know there is some logic to the old LBJ observation about having your enemies close that “I’d rather him inside my tent pissing out than outside my tent pissing in”, but Hillary does not have monolithic control of her folks…they will pursue their agenda, and sooner or later Hillary will rise to the call like an old firehouse dog responding to the fire alarm.
The model Obama needs to follow is closer to 1980, when Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy slugged it out. While Carter could not have given Teddy the VP nod without dumping Mondale, I doubt Kennedy wanted it…it was too high a price to pay for his independence. But Carter and company helped reduce if not elminate the Kennedy campaign debt, and Kennedy got a non-vented, primetime speaking slot.
So…help her eliminate her campaign debt, let her speak on nationwide televsion, but do not put her on the ticket. She is a representative of a political style you have criticized (which hurts you with your supporters…see the 1972 reaction when McGovern selected Eagleton), and will mobilize dosaffered elements of the GOP coalition who live for the day they might use the ballot box to slay an Clinton.
Obama will do well to remember these things, and to learn from the past Democratic fights. After all, as Faulkner wrote:
“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past”