Obama's vice-presidential pick will not be the most important decision of his campaign. It pretty much never is, as illustrated by the complete futility of such past choices. For instance, it is hard to see what John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Jack Kemp or Lloyd Bentsen brought to their respective tickets (three of the four weren't even able to secure their own home states.)
There is one choice Obama could make, though, that would have unwelcome consequences: Hillary Clinton, whose wildest, yet most truthful-sounding, rationale for staying in what is no longer a race is that she can step in if/when Barack Obama is murdered.
Not that, it seems, Obama has really been considering her as a vice-presidential candidate. But it can get confusing, especially with Bill Clinton in the role of the weakened bully leading one more charge on behalf of his wife.
Leaving aside the latest over-the-top Clinton moment, a disqualifier in itself, what in the world would Hillary bring to the ticket? Not deft management skills, judging from her 1990s health care debacle and her presidential campaign meltdown; not strong foreign policy credentials, with her vote in favor of the war in Iraq muddling what is otherwise a stark Democratic contrast with John McCain; not economic expertise, if her recent gas tax holiday proposal is any indication.
The Clinton campaign has remarkably successfully spun the myth of her strength among various demographic groups: white people, women, Latinos, lower-income people, older people and, of course, the now classic: hard-working Americans. In a couple of these cases, there is a shred of truth to the Clinton campaign's "analysis:" it is nearly certainly the case that she is dominant among older lower-income white women.
In any event, Clinton as a vice-presidential candidate would not have the ability to deliver any of these groups to the Democratic ticket, just like none of the other recent vice-presidential candidates have.
In early general election polls (yes, they are not that meaningful, but more telling than, say, Karl Rove's assessment, no matter what Clinton says), Obama is outperforming or matching John Kerry's general election performance in every state except for Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Yes, Clinton would help with Arkansas' six electoral votes. As for the other three, they have become irrelevant and would be lost in 2008 by any Democratic presidential candidate, including Hillary Clinton.
Conversely, Obama would risk being dragged down by Clinton in a whole swath of the Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan) and, even more so, in several Western and Southern states, where he outperforms her by double-digits in match-ups. Florida remains the trickiest state for Obama, although, with six months to go, he has the opportunity to make up for Clinton's breathtakingly disingenuous charges of disenfranchisement.
Much was made of Obama's weakness in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Yet in both places he leads McCain, having already rebounded past where Kerry was in 2004. As of now, Clinton would do better than Obama in both states, according to recent polling. Knowing that at least three-quarters of her margin in the primaries there was race-based, do we really believe that those white voters who shunned Obama because he is black would vote for him just because Clinton, self-styled white working class hero, is on the ticket?
Obama was also declared uncompetitive among Latinos, based on some vaguely feudal idea that the Clintons owned the "Hispanic vote" (whatever that means), just like they owned the "African-American vote." The latest California polls show him leading McCain among Latinos by some 20 to 44 points.
The mainstream media's focus du jour, Jewish voters, hardly qualify as a swing group in any state that is competitive except for Florida, where Kerry's estimated 80% of that vote was not even close to securing him a win. Anyway, despite the amply covered anecdotal evidence of "hesitations" about Obama among Jews, he is only polling marginally lower than Kerry was in that group, and certainly not enough to jeopardize one single state.
Among Democratic white women over 50, Clinton appears to have built a strong core constituency as the campaign has progressed. But they now find themselves in the same place as many other demographic groups (from African-Americans to gay people): about to be taken for granted by the Democratic Party. Will white women really cross over and vote for McCain? He is just about as far as he can be from where most Democratic women want him to be, from the Iraq war to health care to abortion rights. This, of course, is also the man who publicly calls his wife a c***. It is hard to see Clinton's women supporters moving to McCain in droves.
The only benefit that would come from Clinton as a VP pick is perhaps the advantage for Obama of keeping his enemies closer (and that, ultimately, is what she has positioned herself to be). But one number continues to resonate more than any other: 60% of Americans do not trust Hillary Clinton; why would Obama even risk being tarred with the same brush? It is one thing to trade charges of naivete and recklessness with McCain; it is another to saddle himself with a VP considered an untrustworthy habitual liar by a strong majority of Americans.
Clinton's increasingly desperate quest for something, anything, to show for her decades of campaigning has taken on a vaguely insane turn, for which we should be grateful, even as it makes us queasy. Without it, the campaign would have ended months ago and those of us who weren't paying attention would not have had the full benefit of seeing week after week what a Clinton will do for power. And we may well have been staring into the abyss of an Obama-Clinton ticket, wondering why we had even bothered to get involved.