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On an Obama/Clinton Ticket: A Response to Andrew Sullivan

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On Sunday, Andrew Sullivan published a story arguing that when Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he should give serious consideration to selecting Hillary Clinton as his running mate. The argument itself is not new, but that it is coming from Sullivan, one of Obama's most eloquent and ardent advocates, is certainly worth exploring.

The past weeks have been difficult for Obama, to be sure. In addition to a number of crises boiling over, from Reverend Wright to comments about small town bitterness, Obama has been the subject of a new media narrative, one that suggests he will be unable to win working class voters in the fall. That has been complicated by the relentless depiction of Obama by the Clinton camp as being unelectable in the fall, and by indications that the length of the primary has begun to permanently divide the Democratic Party. In such an environment, choosing Hillary as his running mate seems like it might be the easiest way for Obama to overcome these obstacles, turning the ticket into what Sullivan describes as "unstoppable almost overnight."

Of course, many, if not most of Obama's supporters recoil at the notion. Throughout the campaign, Hillary has proven herself to be the worst of the kind of politics Obama is seeking to end. She has clearly chosen personal ambition over party, and dishonesty over candor. She has, on numerous occasions, praised John McCain while deriding Obama, and still refuses to apologize for her Iraq war vote. The politician she turned out to be is so divergent from what the core of the Democratic party would expect, that despite starting with the greatest political brand in Democratic politics, a popular former president as her chief surrogate, and a seemingly endless war chest, she has been denied the nomination.

Yet the problem with Hillary as vice president is not so much that she flies in the face of Obama's purpose - he no doubt could eloquently bring her into the fold, as part of a reconciliation that is distinctly Obama. It is rather that Obama would have to give up so much in his presidency in exchange for a choice that seems, at this point, completely unnecessary. The Clinton machine that Obama has so deftly dismantled would find new life with Hillary in the White House. Bill, who views Obama as the chief architect of the undoing of the Clinton legacy, would no doubt wield more influence than he would deserve or Obama would prefer. The opportunity for Bill and Hillary to meddle will be far greater if they are given the formal authority of the vice presidency. That the spotlight would have to be shared with those kind of people - and that kind of politics - is something to which Obama should be understandably averse.

Decisions about a vice president need to be undertaken with an eye toward November and beyond. And though many, including Sullivan, would argue that they are looking to November when suggesting Clinton, it is far more likely that they are being clouded by the events of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. There was a time, for example, when Mike Huckabee seemed a necessary choice for John McCain as his running mate, given McCain's problems with the Republican base, especially among evangelicals. Not two months later, McCain's base is clearly in line, and Mike Huckabee seems more suited for a variety show than the vice presidency.

Hillary too, will likely enjoy a similar fate. By June 3rd, Obama will have secured the nomination. The wounds that lay open from his epic war with Clinton can be healed as easily with an eloquent speech praising her as with an eloquent moment appointing her. Once he has honored her for her service, her strength and tenacity, he will have at least two months before he needs to select a running mate. At least sixty news cycles will go by with Hillary well out of the spotlight. And in that period of time, we are likely to see the Democratic Party unify.

For all the talk of Obama's inability to connect to working class voters, it appears that it is white women, more than any other group that have stayed loyal to Clinton, thus preventing Obama from "closing the deal." White women made up 47% of the electorate in Pennsylvania, and as with every other state since Iowa, they stood with Hillary by dramatic margins. Could it be that white women are voting against Obama? Perhaps. But it seems far more likely that they are voting with Hillary, the greatest chance they've ever had for a woman in the White House.

With Hillary out of the race, white women - especially unmarried women - are sure to line up behind Obama. The 54 million unmarried women in America are as big a portion of the Democratic base as evangelicals are to Republicans. That they would choose McCain over Obama is simply unthinkable.

After a long two months of reframing and recalculating, Obama will be able to make a decision about his vice president based on a number of considerations, from the sharing of political philosophy, to possible geographic electoral advantages, to the anchoring of any perceived weaknesses. His decision will be made in July or August, not on the basis of the political calculus of April and May, but with an eye toward November.

By then, Hillary Clinton's place on the short-list will be entirely for show.