THE BLOG
05/15/2008 04:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hillary on the Bottom?

Back in March, after Hillary's win in Ohio and Texas (although Obama took more delegates in the latter), I wrote:

"The notion of Obama sharing a ticket with Hillary -- Hillary on top, wording her campaign people always avoid because of Bill Clinton's history -- has a precedent: LBJ accepting the number two spot on JFK's 1960 ticket, after Johnson finally realized, deeply hurt and angered, that the nomination was going to the untested upstart with the good hair."

It hard to imagine then that we'd be speculating two months later about whether Obama would offer and Hillary would accept the "warm bucket of piss" job of the vice presidency.

While writing my unauthorized biography of Katharine Graham -- the Washington Post owner who became famous for her role in printing the Pentagon Papers and allowing her reporters to unravel Watergate -- I looked at the role that Kay's \ brilliant but mentally ill husband, Phil Graham, then the Washington Post's publisher, played in persuading Kennedy at the democrats' convention in Los Angeles to offer the second spot to Johnson. I also looked at Phil's manic but brilliant cajoling of LBJ into accepting what Johnson considered a demeaning offer.

JFK and LBJ, who could not have been more different -- except in their ambition for the Oval Office in 1960 - detested each other.

Just a day before Kennedy captured the nomination, Johnson's people were spreading rumors that Kennedy's father had been pro-Nazi and that Kennedy had Addison's disease. Phil would later write that "A Negro couple from his ranch were in the [hotel] room" while Phil and LBJ had lunch that day. Phil was flabbergasted by Johnson's desire to continue fighting for the top spot. An untreated manic-depressive, sleepless for a week at that point, Phil decided that Johnson, whom some think shared the same illness, needed a nap. '.... the three of us converged upon him, disrobed him, pajamaed him and got him in bed.'

JFK snagged the nomination, Phil rushed to Kennedy's suite at the Biltmore and persuaded him to take Johnson: 'You pick Johnson for vice president, take Texas, and win. Or you don't take Johnson, and you lose.' The more difficult task for Phil was persuading Johnson to accept the offer, when his hero, fellow Texan and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, was urging him to keep his position as Senate majority leader; lecturing him that he'd be crazy to trade that in for the 'pitcher of warm piss,' as former vice president (to FDR) John Nance Garner, whom Johnson also called for advice, described it.

Bobby Kennedy, who loathed Johnson with a ferocity even greater than his older brother's, had a different goal. He ran over to LBJ's hotel suite to urge him not to take the vice presidency. LBJ returned Bobby's enmity, referring to him as "that little shit-ass." Phil Graham maneuvered to keep Bobby away from Johnson, forcing the younger Kennedy to meet instead with Rayburn. Bobby eventually met with Johnson and urged him to turn down the offer that JFK had already made and instead to become head of the Democratic National Committee. (One can only wonder what the younger Kennedy was thinking.)

My sources told me that John Kennedy knew he had to make the offer but was so turned off by Johnson that he desperately wanted Johnson to decline, allowing JFK to publicly claim credit for having asked and to win points with Texans, southerners and older voters. Instead LBJ accepted, they carried Texas and the election. (Although shenanigans engineered by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in Cook County also helped.)

For Barack Obama, the best scenario might be to offer the vice presidency to Hillary Clinton and pray that she declines, thereby appeasing Hillary's key constituencies, including that of older women. Hillary returns to the Senate, angles to become majority leader, and, after a rousing reception for her and Bill at the democrats' convention in August -- the Clintons manage to steal the spotlight and resurrect their reputations -- Hillary and Bill campaign for Obama betting that he can't win. Soon after the November election she lays the groundwork for her run in 2012. Watch for her to visit Iowa early in what she likely believes and even hopes will be a John McCain one-term presidency.

When I was writing my just-published book about Bill Clinton's post presidency, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, I interviewed a prominent businessman and supporter of Bill Clinton's philanthropic work who told me that the former president told him in the summer of 2006 that Hillary would not run for the nomination in 2008 because she can't win. Bill explained that women don't like Hillary and won't vote for her. He was wrong about that -- women were her most enthusiastic constituency -- but he was right in the larger sense.

Hillary "the inevitable" wasn't listening to Bill back then; she was listening to her own "Hillaryland" advisers and keeping Bill and his people at bay.

Bill Clinton told this man, whom I interviewed shortly after his conversation with the former president, that Hillary would stay in the senate and would make a wonderful majority leader.

Just where the current majority leader, Harry Reid, fits into all of this is open for debate, but one thing is certain, the senator from Nevada should watch his back.