With some reluctance, I offer a few
thoughts on Hillary’s defeat, particularly on the notion that she deserves to
be, and that Obama should make her, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
I’m reluctant because Hillary as
vice presidential candidate and as vice president is such a self-evidently bad
idea that sensible people know it simply will not happen. So I find
myself in the slightly weird position of discussing something that in my mind
is being discussed only because it’s being discussed, like Paris Hilton being
famous for being famous.
Okay. Let’s first dispense
with the idea that Clinton
“deserves” the vice presidency. This is ridiculous
for so many reasons, not the least of which is that the same Clinton backers
who argued (when it was convenient to do so) that superdelegates
should be free to follow nothing other than the dictates of their
consciences in selecting a presidential candidate now argue that the
presidential candidate must surrender that very same freedom when selecting his
running mate. I suppose this kind of inconsistency is to be expected from
supporters whose approach to politics is flexible enough for them to agree one
day that Florida and Michigan would be excluded from the election, and later to
find such an exclusion is a
moral outrage worthy of a Zimbabwean stolen election on the next;
flexible enough, indeed, for them to agree at the beginning of the race that
the winner would be determined by delegates won, only to find popular vote
counts more significant when the previously agreed-upon rules proved a loss for
their candidate. But still.
The irony is, the notion that
Hillary deserves the vice presidency is insulting to Hillary. From the
beginning, she had a choice: run a relatively positive campaign — the
kind, say, that Mike Huckabee ran on the Republican side, or that John Edwards
ran in 2004, or the kind that Edwards, Dodd, and Richardson ran this time — to
position herself as a sensible choice for VP. Instead, Hillary chose to
run and all or nothing campaign, doing everything she could do destroy Obama —
practically urging voters who wouldn’t back her to at least back
McCain. If her strategy had succeeded, she would have been the
Democratic nominee today. But the risk was that if her strategy failed,
she would have made herself unsuitable for the #2 slot. As indeed she
has: McCain is already using video of Hillary saying, “I’ve passed
the commander-in-chief threshold, Senator McCain has passed the
commander-in-chief threshold, Senator Obama has a speech he made in 2002″
in his latest
campaign ads (although it’s encouraging to watch McCain adopt the
exact same campaign tactics that have just proven fruitless for the
Clintons). Regardless of what you think of her strategy, at least we can
respect Clinton enough to acknowledge that she was aware of the consequences of
her approach and selected it knowingly. To suggest at this point instead
that she should be awarded a prize she deliberately forfeited is to treat an
autonomous adult as a spoiled child.
Equally ridiculous, and insulting to
Hillary, is the notion that Obama should help her retire her $30
million campaign debt, which includes $11 million the Clintons
personally lent to the campaign. The Clintons, their donors, and their
lenders all made adult, autonomous, conscious decisions to invest in her
campaign the way they did. Why should outsiders have to bail them
out? Bear in mind that the
Clintons’ personal fortune is estimated at about $60 million.
Am I the only one who wonders why a politician who professes to care so deeply
disenfranchised, the invisible, the little people whose votes for her are the
same as prayers, is now going to happily stick all those little
people with the bill for what since February has been little more than a vanity
project? The predictable reply: you’re right, it’s not fair, but it
has to be done to assuage Hillary and get her fundraisers onside. Fair
enough, but then let’s call this exercise what it really is: extortion.
Look, Hillary could have campaigned
in such a way that her proposal to Obama would have been, “Make me your
vice president because I’ll help you.” Instead, her proposal is,
“Make me your vice president or I’ll hurt you.” Even if her
implicit threat were credible, Obama would have no choice but to refuse her,
lest the next Republican campaign narrative would become (and not without
merit), “If he can’t handle Hillary, how’s he going to handle Ahmadinejad?”
More ironic still is the moniker
people attach to the idea of an Obama/Hillary team: they like to call it
a “unity ticket.” Remember, for the last five months, Hillary
has been analyzed mostly through the prism of the Democratic primary. Under
these circumstances, it’s easy to forget her
astonishingly high general election negatives. When a candidate
has negatives as high as Hillary’s, the only thing she’d be unifying is the
Hillary supporters will argue
nonetheless that she offers benefits: she can deliver older white women
and rural whites, demographics Obama has had trouble attracting. Let’s
assume this is true. The next question is, is there another candidate who
can deliver a similar benefit without simultaneously galvanizing Republicans,
alienating independents, undercutting Obama’s core message of change, and
making Obama look weak by virtue of selecting her?
Pretty hard to believe the answer to
that one is no.
of her supporters are angry right now. Wouldn’t putting Hillary
on the ticket mollify them? Maybe… but again, the question is, can the
same objective be achieved at lower cost?
The general election is five months
away. That’s a long time for anger and bitterness to dissipate and for
rationality to prevail. Rationality in this case meaning Obama’s
100% positive rating from Planned Parenthood, his
endorsement by NARAL, his overall policy positions being close to
Hillary’s. Contrasted with McCain’s
recent speechifying on conservative judicial appointments (much of it
obscured by the dramatic coverage of the Democratic primary) and his record
on judicial nominations. Women who are angry today will have to
face a question in November: do they want to support, whether by
commission or omission, the overturning of Roe v Wade? Do they want their
daughters to lose control of their reproductive rights?
The only question at this point is
how Obama will finesse Hillary’s implicit threats and detach her from her
supporters. I don’t think any of this is terribly difficult.
First, praise Clinton
lavishly. This has been ongoing.
Second, make it known that Clinton
is on the shortlist (though in fact, for all the reasons above, she will not be
seriously considered). Promise to vet her just as the other candidates
will and should be vetted. Leak problems discovered with the opaque
and disreputable sources of the Clintons’ wealth and the Clinton Foundation’s
fundraising, with rumors
of Bill’s behavior, with Hillary’s seeming inability to control Bill
on the campaign trail, and with Bill’s
refusal to allow adequate scrutiny of his finances (think of this as
the “Blame Bill” strategy).
Third, note that given Hillary’s
stated passions, indeed, her
most recent political raison d’etre, it would be a waste of her
talents to take a job that has been famously compared to a
bucket of warm piss. She could make a much more important
contribution spearheading healthcare reform. How could she turn down such
an opportunity? She’s explicitly said she’s not particularly interested
in the vice presidency and that she wants healthcare for every American.
Sure, this is all a bluff, but Obama is now in a good position to call.
And fourth, after easing Hillary
aside, relentlessly hammer home what McCain means for the Supreme Court and
For a long time, Hillary’s overall
approach has been to threaten punishment if she doesn’t get what she
wants. This is why she has been so eager to whip her supporters into an
unjustified rage, why she encouraged
the notion that whites wouldn’t vote for Obama, and most of all why
she refused to concede on Tuesday even after Obama had achieved a numerical
lock on the nomination. The last threat in her arsenal is the threat to
disrupt the convention in August and prevent the Democrats from focusing on the
general for another two critical months. But with the primaries over and
no more excuses for superdelegates not to decide, I think she’s realized that
any further threats of punishment would force the party to move en masse to
crush and humiliate her. Thus her announcement that on
Saturday she will indeed acknowledge reality and belatedly concede.
That concession will not cause, but
rather instead merely accelerate the inevitable end of the Clintons.
Obama will continue to finesse Hillary in all the ways described above.
He’ll select an appropriate vice president. He’ll beat McCain,
a remarkably weak, pandering, flip-flopping candidate, in the
fall. At which point, the Clintons will have lost all their power to
So it’s ridiculous, as well as
insulting to Hillary, to suggest that she “deserves” it.
Substantively, she makes no sense. Outside the lunatic fringe that always
exists and is never ultimately relevant, her supporters will come around in the
fall. So now: can we please stop talking about Hillary? The
Clinton era is over.