If this is right, speculation about Clinton receiving the VP slot is pointless, but where would blogging be if we stopped speculating about things that aren’t going to happen?
Reihan’s take on the possibility is still an interesting read. Obviously Reihan is far from being sympathetic to Clinton, that much is certain, but even so this passage seemed to overstate things a bit:
Barack Obama’s appeal lies in his promise to move beyond the divisive politics of the past. Though this often appears to be an anodyne and content-free sentiment, one hopes there is at least something to it. A backroom deal with Clinton would make a mockery of Obama’s language of hope and change. It would make Obama appear weak, and it would reward Clinton for running a campaign more vicious than anything Lee Atwater could have cooked up [bold mine-DL].
There is a strange tension in this paragraph, and this tension is present in a lot of commentary about Obama. On the one hand, Reihan hopes that there is more than “content-free sentiment” behind the appeal to unity and change, but then says that the real-world, practical business of politicking that might very well involve making alliances of convenience with parts of the old machine to achieve said change would “make a mockery” of the goal. To refute charges of inexperience or naivete, the Obamas often emphasise that they came up through Chicago politics, and are therefore quite capable of the kinds of maneuvering and politicking necessary to push their agenda, but while they want the credit for this experience they don’t really want people to draw the obvious conclusion that Obama is a political operator (and perhaps a reasonably good one). There seems to be an idea–one actually promoted to a degree by the campaign and Obama’s supporters–that if Obama is “just a politician” the entire exercise was in vain. If he is “just a politician,” he will choose a VP nominee based in calculation of political need and carried out through the brokering of deals, some of which may indeed take place towards the rear of a building. The Transcender would not stoop to make deals with such people, but if Washington is filled with such people (and it is), how would he go about accomplishing anything? In other words, if Obama’s appeal is not ultimately content-free, it has to involve the kind of deal-making that a lot of observers seem to assume contradicts the “new politics.” This means that the “new politics,” so defined, is guaranteed to fail.
Supporters and sympathetic observers are rigging the game against Obama in some ways, and some of his rhetoric has provided them with the means to do this. We saw how the “new politics” temporarily paralysed Obama during 2007 and prevented him from critiquing his opponents, because he had permitted his opponents to interpret his “new politics” mantra as the abandonment of anything that might remotely be defined as negative campaigning. Now it seems as if the “new politics” is again going to trip up the campaign as it tries to unite the Democratic Party and engage in the sort of wheeling and dealing without which Democratic (or any kind of partisan) unity is almost unimaginable, because people are taking it for granted that there is something inappropriate for the “new politics” in such dealing.
At the same time, there is an assumption in Reihan’s piece that giving the nod to Clinton would make Obama appear weak, yet this is just the sort of olive branch-offering that the proponent of a politics of “unity” ought to be able to offer in the confidence that he will be in charge of the campaign and the future administration. (Having the head of your VP selection team choose himself makes you look weak, because it shows that you already delegated the decision-making to someone else, but choosing to keep your worst intra-party enemy close could be very shrewd.) It might also very easily be argued that a refusal to do so demonstrates that Obama fears being undermined or overshadowed in some way by the more established political name and that this denotes greater weakness. As for the matter of rewarding Clinton, rewards of this kind benefit the patron as much as, maybe more than, the recipient, because they reveal both magnanimity and generosity on the one hand and make a demonstration that he is the one in the position to give rewards on the other.
Reihan anticipates this:
Magnanimity is one thing. Spinelessness is another. Yes, there will be a place for Clinton loyalists in any Democratic administration, even the most craven Clinton loyalists. But surely there has to be some limit.
Perhaps there does have to be a limit, but this brings us to the worse-than-Atwater charge and the claim that the Clintons and their allies have launched “aggressive, hateful attacks” on Obama. Allowing some exaggeration for effect, this is overkill. More “vicious” than Atwater? Even most of Atwater’s ads have not struck me as especially “vicious,” and by comparison with him Clinton’s campaign has played the role of pushover. Even including Clinton’s recent clumsy, ham-fisted reference to “hard-working Americans, white Americans,” the Clinton campaign has not launched “aggressive, hateful attacks” on Obama. More to the point, if the promise of Obama is to overcome divisions (whatever this is supposed to mean!), what would it say about his ability to do this to advance his agenda if he is unwilling or unable to patch up intra-party divisions? After the pretty meager buffeting he has received, which has been gentle by almost any modern political standard, he is now so irreconcilably opposed to Clinton that he could not work alongside her in the same administration? Reihan mentions the contest between Reagan and Bush, which seems to me from what I understand about it to have been every bit as bitterly fought as this one and probably more so. “Change you can Xerox” is hardly the kind of boomerang charge that “voodoo economics” was; some of her critiques of his national security views will probably be reused by the GOP, but they were going to make these kinds of arguments anyway. The fury directed at the Clintons by Obama supporters is not an encouraging sign for a future Obama administration, should there be one, since it suggests hypersensitivity about even the mildest criticisms of their candidate and an increasingly tiresome and alienating tendency to claim that arguments against him are “racially-tinged,” when there has been almost nothing that could be appropriately described as such.
The real question ought to be whether adding her to the ticket offers a real advantage in the general election, or if it will become a distraction or burden for the campaign. In the end, he won’t choose her, but he would be very smart to choose someone from her side of the party. Strickland’s name has been mentioned many times, and that would probably be a good choice. He shouldn’t need Rendell, but he might have to select him if it seems that Pennsylvania could slip away and if Rendell could really deliver the state (a daunting proposition for any politician these days, no matter how popular).
That said, I think Reihan’s concluding statement also goes too far:
If Obama really does select Clinton as his running mate, he will have demonstrated that he doesn’t have the capacity for judgment we expect from a president.
Let’s test this proposition. It’s true that Clinton is unpopular, and that may be a good reason not to choose her, but for the role of VP nominee and then Vice President is she really “weak”? I think it is widely acknowledged even by people who loathe her (count me as one of those) that she consistently performs better in debates and demonstrates small-bore policy knowledge pretty effectively, and the two main roles of a VP nominee in a campaign are serving as the attack dog and facing off in debates against the other party’s VP nominee. She is almost ideally suited to the attack dog role, and she would probably handle the Republican VP nominee well enough. Are there states that Obama would lose because of a Clinton VP pick? I don’t know, and I tend to doubt it (except for Johnson and maybe Eagleton, VP selections don’t usually have much electoral importance in the modern era), but we do know that she does receive more of a hearing in some important swing and old border states where resistance to Obama is tremendously strong. Would adding her weaken that resistance, or make no difference? Again, no one knows, but it is not nearly so self-evident that she would make a “weak” selection for VP, and choosing her would not necessarily mark Obama as lacking in judgement.