As a believer that Barack Obama is the presidential candidate most likely to pilot the mothership that is the U.S. government away from the black hole that is the Bush administration, I, like many Obama supporters, did not like where Hillary Clinton let her campaign go. Her cynical insinuations about her opponent, her clumsy attempts to enhance her status, sniper-style, and the trash-talk tactics employed by her team sanded the varnish off her candidacy, revealing the sketchy wood of which it was built. She could have bowed out more gracefully. Her husband's games often seemed, well, gamey. Had the Clinton campaign not veered so visibly into the gutter, I'd have a much easier time making the case for this, but here goes:
Obama-Clinton is the ticket.
I know, right? I am every bit as perplexed by the fact that I wrote this as many people will be by reading it. The "Dream Ticket" washed out during the primary with the tide of public opinion. But now that Obama and Clinton are ready to begin their barnstorming tour (a trial run?), maybe it's time to re-visit the possibility.
Let's begin by addressing some of Senator Clinton's perceived negatives:
She's a woman. There are schools of thought that claim a woman will run poorly with a person of color. That is speculation by demography junkies. The fact is that an Obama-Clinton ticket will get people talking, and when people are talking they are not fighting. By the time Hillary is finished speaking sense to smart, wealthy women like herself, and Harriet Christian has taken to the streets behalf of the ticket, Cindy McCain will be the only woman she knows not voting for Obama.
She has personal baggage. Let's not confuse the baggage with the trip. Hillary Clinton has made a storied and very public climb to new heights for a woman in U.S. political life. The journey has informed and armored her in ways that will be important to the Obama administration. Most of the baggage belongs to Bill, anyway. (Some would say the baggage is Bill.) If he starts schlepping his own stuff, she will fly like Mary Poppins.
She will be a political liability. A liability occurs when what the value of what is owed exceeds the value of what is due. During the primaries, the Obama campaign did a good job of focusing the media on the debit side of Clinton's political ledger. At the same time, as she frequently reminded us, she was racking up impressive credits. Let's not underestimate the value of what she is owed, which is a lot, by a lot of people.
She is owned by PACs and lobbyists. Same as above. This is a media-created fable. She did not get to be the power player she is by owing more to her supporters than she is owed. She knows how to dance with the fat cats, and when she does, she knows how to lead.
She mis-managed her primary campaign, and the health care initiative she championed in 1993. Obama ran a great campaign. Hers was mis-managed in comparison to it, but if he had not run and she had been the nominee, it would have been praised as 'successful.' As for the failed health care program, imagine what an incredible learning experience that must have been. For every mistake she made, the likelihood increases that the same mistake will not be made again by an Obama administration in which she is the VP.
If she is Vice-President, she will have her own agenda. This would make her different from any other Vice-President how, exactly? What will matter to the Obama administration is not whether the Vice-President has his or her own agenda -- that's a given--it is whether that agenda jibes with his administration's or undercuts it. There is little evidence that Clinton, as VP, will undercut Obama. It is just as likely that making her VP will liberate her from her husband's agenda (whatever that is), which undercut her candidacy in the primaries.
She and Michelle Obama will not get along. Right. These are two powerful, stylish, beautiful, smart women raising lovely daughters, who both grew up in Chicago, and will both have been married to Presidents of the United States, decorated the White House and shared the global stage. And they're not going to find common ground? Please.
All these negatives are perceptions that have been shaped and sold by the media in the interest of keeping the primary saga lively. Not only is it entirely possible to turn Clinton's negative perceptions into positive ones, it is in the interest of the media to do so. Who doesn't love a good re-hab story? Re-hab stories pull ratings.
In addition, Sen. Clinton already has many positives going for her that will get amplified in her "reinvention" as Vice President. Among them:
She is a fighter. Hillary Clinton is one of the fiercest competitors in politics. The woman has amazing stamina, bright energy and no quit in her constitution. After five months of nearly non-stop campaigning she looked fresher and more radiant on the last day than she did at the start. Her relentless campaigning became the measure of Obama's greatness, like Joe Frazier became the measure of Muhammad Ali. To paraphrase another well-known fighter, I pity the poor Republican if Hillary is in the race.
Girl got game. She is a learner, and she learned a lot from campaigning against Obama. It would be a shame to let that learning go to waste by giving her anything less than the #2 billing. After the election, she has the surgical skills to get legislation through the twisted intestines of Washington. An Obama administration can cook some serious chicken on the Hill with Hill.
She is an insider. We are kidding ourselves if we think the heavy lifting of Obama-backed legislation isn't going to get done by seasoned pols inside the Beltway. Getting the economy moving again, dealing with the environment and patching up foreign policy is going to be an Outside-Inside game, with Obama stoking support and eliciting new ideas from the world outside Washington, and his administration working inside the Beltway to get shit done. Hillary can be the queen of getting shit done.
She is a team player. Nobody in modern politics ever took one for the team like Hillary Clinton when she held her chin high and stood by her man, and a lot of people besides Tammy Wynette fans identify with that. As a team-oriented player himself, Obama has got to respect that quality in a person.
The story has legs. I mean, come on. It can't end now! We're just getting started! Will she or won't she? How will Bill and Obama get along? What bone will Obama throw the big dog? What books are they reading? Is Michelle preggers? How much money will the campaign raise when they go on Oprah together? Will Bill hit on Carla Bruni at a White House dinner? Or will it be it the other way around? Omigod, you guys, how cute will it be when Chelsea babysits Malia and Sasha? An Obama-Clinton ticket presents unlimited fuel for the world's media networks. John McCain will be lucky to find time on local cable access channels.
Barack Obama can win in November with or without Hillary Clinton. That's not really the issue. The Democrats have to do more than win in November. They have to win big, so big that the tragically rigged policies of the past eight years can be extinguished once and for all. An Obama-Clinton ticket can do that. On so many fronts -- from education to energy to the financial markets to international relations to the environment -- there is no time to lose. It's now or never. The Obama administration has to hit the ground running and quickly turn the political mandate of a historically huge win into sweeping public policy.
Let's hope he asks her, and if he does, let's hope she says yes. It is the best shot we're gong to have to get the mothership back on course and up to speed.
Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is www.gamechangers.com