Some of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are huffing, puffing and threatening sad consequences for Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations if he does not name her his Democratic running mate, and I have a question. Why?
Why would she want the vice presidential job if she does, and why would anyone who respects the New York senator want to bury her in a position so boring and utterly without content when she has the possibility of doing something that matters, namely hunkering down to become one of the most influential senators of her time?
Yes, I know, some people say President Bill Clinton gave Vice President Al Gore real, solid, interesting tasks to perform, but that’s mostly hooey — Gore’s various assignments amounted to nothing much– and, one author has written, his advisory role was largely usurped by — guess who? The first lady. Ultimately, this author and others have observed, Bill and Al came to have little use for each other.
Especially in the early going of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have been hugely influential, but similar circumstances would appear unlikely under Obama, whose outsized ego would scarcely find Hillary help crucial. More than likely, the role would revert to being "standby equipment" (Nelson Rockefeller) and "not worth a bucket of warm spit" (John Nance Garner).
It’s true that vice presidential nominees are often in a splendid spot to capture their party’s presidential nomination at some point, whether the ticket is elected or not. But given her efforts, competitiveness and widespread support in this year’s race for the Democratic nod, Hillary would also be an automatic frontrunner if she returned to the Senate, and especially if she returned ablaze with energy and purpose.
Her model, it seems to me, could be Ted Kennedy. He wanted the presidency and didn’t get it, but then became a major force for liberal causes as a U.S. senator. Even if you don’t care for his political philosophy — and I don’t — I think you have to admire him for assembling bright staffs, applying himself with great vigor and doing fierce battle for his beliefs. He has sometimes won his fights — over time if not immediately — and even when he didn’t, he helped clarify what the liberal point of view was. He did this not as a congressional leader absorbed by tactics, but as a policy enthusiast absorbed by legislative possibilities.
More than a few senators show up in D.C. with high ambition — to them, the Senate is more stepping stone than an opportunity to serve — and if they don’t make it to the presidency or another position of high power, they bow out. The job gets boring to them, and frustrating. Being part of a crowd of 100 people as bumptious as themselves is not their idea of fun, and dealing with incessant, perplexing legislative entanglements — sometimes with meager impact –is a tedium they can live without. It would be nice to think Hillary Clinton is different — that she does mean all those caring words she uttered in her campaign.
Can the ticket win without her? Of course it can. I don’t doubt that some of her followers are upset, but mass desertions to John McCain seem to me unlikely. I think you can make a case that some in the press favored Obama and showed it in their copy, but press favoritism is nothing new, and I see little substance to allegations of sexism decisively fatal to Clinton’s chances. At any rate, her followers really should consider that their own agenda would likely be better helped by having Hillary Clinton as the most persuasive woman senator in U.S. history than as the first woman in the nothing job of vice president.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)