Obama’s VP dilemma

Now the real war begins and the question most strategists are asking about Barack Obama is: Can he win it without Hillary Clinton on the ticket?

Forty-eight years ago, John Kennedy faced the same dilemma with his chief opponent, Lyndon Johnson, and decided with a warning nudge from House Speaker Sam Rayburn that he couldn’t, despite the fact he loathed the Texas senator.

Nothing short of an offer for the vice presidential nomination whether she accepts it or not seems likely to appease Clinton, whose shadow will certainly continue to loom over the presidential campaign until the votes are cast in November. She made that clear after the final primary, noting that her nearly 18 million votes could not be ignored.

For his part, Obama appeared to understand that a quick detente with Clinton is necessary, praising her profusely — even if a bit patronizingly — at the historic rally where he announced he had enough delegates to become the first black to win a major party presidential nomination.

After the harsh words the two candidates have exchanged over the months of getting to this position, the Illinois senator’s remarks were almost surreal, as though he had suddenly bought into her argument that she was more qualified for the job. His intention, of course, was to begin unifying a decidedly divided Democratic Party against Republican John McCain.

There are those in his camp who bitterly oppose her presence on the ticket and worry openly about the problem of dealing with the former first lady and her husband in an Obama administration should he win. Kennedy and particularly his brother, Robert, had similar feelings about Johnson, the powerful, often difficult Senate majority leader. The practical realities of getting elected, however, overrode those concerns and are likely to do so in this instance.

The Kennedy’s solution following a narrow victory was to pretty much isolate the vice president, something Obama might have difficulty in accomplishing with a dynamic duo of Clintons. Cooler heads in the Obama camp seem to feel that the earlier an accommodation can be reached between the two the better. Also, without Clinton as a running mate, he faces the possibility her support of the ticket will be little more than lip service.

It is problematic whether a Clinton vice presidential nomination would bring certain elements of the party, mainly the blue-collar union and Hispanic voters, back into the fold. The undercurrent of racism openly expressed in some of the primaries makes this doubtful. On the other hand, it is a chance he might have to take. Obama’s failures in the big states and his slogging path to the nomination, losing nine of the last 14 primaries, seem to support that argument. The presumptive Democratic nominee also realizes that snubbing Clinton could cause him trouble later in the Senate if he becomes president. He will need her as an ally if he is to accomplish even a small percentage of what he has promised.

All this, of course, is sheer speculation based on years of observance. Obama seemed to signal his willingness to reach out to his rivals when he said the one book he would take with him to the White House was historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s on Lincoln’s decision to do the same when he was elected, naming for his second term, a Democrat, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, as his running mate.

The next few weeks could add even more drama to this historic campaign. There are certain parallels with 1960 that Obama can hardly afford to ignore. Without Johnson, Kennedy would have lost Texas and the election. Without Clinton, Obama gambles that he can overcome the animosity of her most loyal supporters and those who see him as too inexperienced for the job. At the same time, there are those among Obama’s followers who would see this as capitulating to the old after promising something new.

That applies mainly to independents who have flocked to Obama’s banner on grounds he offers a revolution in American politics. His hardcore party supporters aren’t likely to jump ship, realizing that there is a practical side to politics that can’t be shunned no matter how much one would like to. The real war is just beginning and this charismatic young man will need all the help he can get if he is to overcome elements whose motives are hidden by the secrecy of the voting booth. Bringing the dynamic and experience of Clinton to the ticket may be the only way.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)


  1. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Mr. T.J. great commentary about the miss-drawn analogies to JFK taking LBJ as VP to current rationales drawing on the JFK/LBJ scenario applying to Obama accepting Hillary as his VP. I think Mr. Jimmy Carter stated quite well if Obama does that it would be tragic.

  2. Helen Rainier

    I believe that Senator Jim Webb would be an outstanding selection for the VP position. I have followed Senator Webb prior to his election and am very impressed with him. He’s sharp (as in intelligent and articulate), has ground combat experience as a Marine in Vietnam (unlike McCain’s flyboy experience), and seems to be a straight talker. When I listen to him speak, I at least understand what his position is and why he has taken that position (unlike the obfuscating Neocons).

    Obama/Webb would be a great team.

  3. Ladywolf55

    If Hillary Clinton is on that ticket, I would vote for anyone but Barack Obama, even if I had to do a write-in. I could never respect the man if he gave in to that she-devil of a woman.

  4. pollchecker

    I second that….except for the she-devil. I have nothing personal against Hillary but I won’t vote for her even as VP. Hope the Obama people are listening…er reading (grin).

  5. Dr.D

    I don’t think that Obama has any real choice as to who his running mate will be.I have been hearing for some years now about the role the CFR and the Bilderbergers have in our political process,but up until this year I didn’t believe it.Isn’t it strange that Obama and Hil’s ‘secret’meeting took place in Chantilly,VA. Also the site of this years Bilderberger proceedings(being held this weekend)?

    It has also been said that CFR member and Bilderberger attendee James A.Johnson actually picked Edwards as Kerry’s running mate 4 years ago at the Bilderbergers meetings,and is supposedly attending this years meetings.Coincidence? Ed

  6. Dogma

    I think – and hope – Obama is too smart to pick hillary. She has very high negatives, she has bill, she does not represent his campaign of change, hope, and future vs. past and doesn’t really reflect the general experience or foreign experience that would help balance his ticket. I cannot see her being content as second fiddle and think she would – as she has all week – try to take the spotlight off Obama. It is and always has been, after all, all about hillary. And, I’m not convinced that is what she wants. I still think she STILL wants to be president!! As for winning in Nov., I truly believe if Obama continues to campaign and let people meet and really get to know him, he will do just fine. Further, she better hope she can deliver her supporters to Obama or – right or wrong – a loss for Obama this fall will fall a great deal on her shoulders. I also think she is on thin ice with the Dem party after her shenanigans this week, and she’s not nearly as wanted or powerful as her deluded mind allows her to believe.

  7. Timr

    hrc will not be the vp choice. to many negatives, plus she would be like red meat for the repigs, who might otherwise stay home because they dislike st. john. Obama made sure to quell every question, no matter how many times it was asked-candi crowley of cnn looked like an idiot for asking the same question over and over and over and over- the msm is pushing this meme, but Obama will not bite. let the selection take until aug.just make sure it is a good selection. one other reason why hrc will not be selected as vp. VETTING. bill can not take the spotlite on this. his money has come from too many shady sources, plus he would never give up his lucrative career just so his wife could be vp. and another point, picking hrc would make Obama look like he caved in to her *18 million* voter threat.BTW, those *18 million* voters don’t want to be chips for her ambition, they started fading away on tuesday nite, and picked up speed the next day-why did it take 23 congresspersons, and 8 senators to tell her to SIT THE FEK DOWN AND SHUT THE FEK UP??- she really wanted to go to the convention and make a floor fight of it. somehow she had convinced herself that she could make the SD’s and the delagates go over to her side.

  8. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    Now Listen To your Doctor Hergeschimmer Mr. Obama, I can perform a Clintonectomy Immediately, and you will feel immediate results, the operation will be painless and quick.

  9. Flapsaddle

    The Obama-Kennedy VP dilemma parallels are interesting, but only up to a certain point. The political and demographic situations facing Kennedy 48 years ago are not the same ones facing Obama.

    First, Lyndon Johnson was a senior political figure with more than 20 years of political service and tremendous influence in the senate and had House Speaker Sam Rayburn as his mentor and ally. Clinton does not have anything like a political weight in the Senate and a powerful ally in the House.

    Second, Johnson represented a geographic as well as a political balance to Kennedy – the senior, conservative southerner as a counterpoise to the junior and more liberal northeasterner. Clinton is another northern politician – like Obama – who offers neither cultural nor political trim to the campaign.

    Third, Johnson could deliver the southern WASP vote for a Roman Catholic yankee running on a relatively liberal agenda. Clinton cannot do that. The racism inherent in a critical element of the Clinton faithful will not follow her to the ticket; they will either cross over to McCain or they will simply stay home.

    Fourth, Johnson respected Kennedy as a successful politician despite the fact that Kennedy detested him. There is no evidence that Clinton has any respect for Obama; to the contrary, she resents him as the upstart who denied her the nomination she felt was her entitlement.

    Fifth, Hillary Clinton brings a large piece of unwelcome baggage with her – Bill Clinton; we will, again, get two for the price of one. Thus, Mr. Obama has no need for the headache and Machiavellian maneuvering of a former presidential couple that is not about to take the background role expected of a vice president.

    Sixth, diehard Clinton supporters are acting as if there is no possible alternate to her; that is, they play the fallacy of limited choices. There are any number of good choices for the slot that are less problems than the Clinton team. Governor Bill Richardson, General Wes Clark, John Edwards, and even former VP Al Gore are all much better and less problems.

    Obama has the black vote in the south, as clearly demonstrated by the primaries. Clinton does not control the feminist vote as much as many of her supporters would like to believe; they’ll mostly gravitate to Obama as a matter of practicality.

    While Obama might ultimately pick Clinton, I don’t see it as a necessity to avoid defeat in november.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  10. Ted Remington

    Mr Flapsaddle:

    Great commentary.

    With respect to those you mention as viable contenders for the VP’s job:

    Richardson, though he calls himself Hispanic, may well be viewed with some scorn by that constituency as “not being Hispanic enough.” One of the odd things about our attempts at classifying people by race or ethnic background is that we allow anyone to claim Hispanic as his or her background; simply saying so is enough. That may be true for the Government, but a bald declaration may not be enough for the electorate, particularly those who really are Hispanic.

    Clark’s biggest negative is that word general. The past seven plus years have shown us that this can be a pejorative appellation rather than laudatory. Generals too have feet of clay and I suspect that a ticket with a general on it is taking on more baggage than the possible benefit overall.

    Sadly, Edwards does not seem inclined to run again. Here in NC many of us had wondered whether the strength of his “no” might not be less that steel. It appears now that he is determined to remain on the sidelines. A loss to the country as well as to the Democratic Party in my opinion.

    Gore would make a good addition to the ticket except for one thing. Running for President he failed to deliver his own state into the blue column. Had he done so he would have been President. I fear that he carries, unfairly or not, the stench of loser. I’d vote for him again but I doubt that I will have a chance.


  11. 33rdSt

    There is no dilemma. That is the basic fallacy of the original blog. Obama leads McCain nationally, and leads McCain in key states that will shape the final outcome. He does not need to hurry into a choice, nor does he have any pressure to pick a running mate to fill a critical gap in his appeal.

    He was attacked mercilessly from the Texas primary onward by a member of his own party. To his credit, he and his campaign responded with as much honor as a national candidate can and still win. Very few personal responses and these were based on the opponent’s own record, leaving the baggage train of the Clinton history largely untouched. The states toward the end of the string also were states in which the Clintons historically have been strongest. Obama’s numbers suffered accordingly.

    In the general election, however, he will be able to address in very stark terms the very sharp policy differences between his and his opponent’s platforms. Whether the economy, foreign policy, personal freedoms, campaign finance reform, ad nauseum, Obama’s positions are far more consistent with the will of the voters than are McCains. Obama now is free to focus his attention on sharpening those differences. As he does, the numbers will only climb.

    The notion that he needs person x for his running mate to deal with the rust belt states is simply not valid. First, because he will carry at least half of them. Polls are very consistent even at this point in the race, when Obama is as bloodied as he is going to get. Second, he doesn’t need more than one of these states to reach 270 and he will do so, most likely Pennsylania. Third, the various “must choose” options aren’t. Each of them, for their own reasons, must ride Obama’s coattails for their own political reasons. While Clinton might have had the option of sitting out the general election and taking another run in four years, her failure to concede on the final primary night has done her future in the party grievous damage. She will have to provide at least lukewarm support for Obama or change parties. Her too-little, too-late concession speech seems to make clear that even she is not prepared to be that hypocritical. So the folks who might help Obama on the ticket will be working to deliver their respective constituencies anyway.

    There is no parallel between this situation and the 1960 race.