Writing about potential Vice-Presidential selections is one of the more absurd realms of political speculation. Nonetheless, I wanted to present an idea that I hope will take Democratic approaches to selecting Vice-Presidents in a different direction than we have seen in most recent elections. Specifically, rather than choosing a running mate to create balance on a ticket for the purpose of shoring up perceived weakness in the Presidential nominee, it would be best to choose a running mate whose qualities reinforce the rationale behind the candidacy of the person at the top of the ticket.(…)
Instead of shoring up perceived weakness in the top of the ticket, choosing a Vice-President on the basis of "balance" only seems to exacerbate those weaknesses. It makes more sense for a campaign to choose a Vice-President whose argument to become President is the same one put forth by the top of the ticket. Emphasize your strengths, not your weaknesses. Instead of publicly admitting to major flaws on your part, demonstrate comfort in your own skin, and with your rationale to become President.
The tendency to seek "balance" on a Democratic ticket is a relic of the Dixiecrat era of the Democratic Party, when there was massive disconnect between the northern and southern wings of the party. While there are obviously still divisions in the party, current gaps simply do not compare to the chasms that once existed, where Huckabee's voters were about one-third of the party. We should resist the tendency to have our cake and eat it too, or to paper over differences in the party by throwing defeated primary opponents a Vice-President consolation prize. Rather than making our divisions the basis for forging our ticket, the Vice-Presidential nominee should instead serve to reinforce the rationale the Presidential nominee is offering for his or her candidacy.
It is easy to think of possible nominees for Hillary Clinton under this rationale. Clinton's argument to become President is basically experience and competent, technocratic liberal governance. Chris Dodd, Patty Murray, Wesley Clark and a wide range of Democratic Governors, including Bill Richardson, seem to reinforce this argument for Clinton. It isn't hard to find Democrats who embody these qualities, and Clinton should have no problem finding a reinforcement running mate.
By way of contrast, finding a reinforcing running mate for Obama is trickier. Obama is running on judgment, unity and change. Change isn't a quality one will find in many elected officials, since they have all been in office for a while (and since many of them are older white dudes.) Can Obama choose another new officeholder who has only been in office for a short period time? Judgment basically means that person must have opposed the war from the start, which cuts the Democratic pool in half. Further, many of the most outspoken critics of the war who are elected on a statewide level, like Russ Feingold, are not known as unifiers. "Unity" too often means people like Joe Lieberman, who are the opposite of those with good judgment to oppose the war in the first place. Further, Obama running on these qualities in a quasi cult of personality style that emphasizes who he personally symbolizes and embodies all of these qualities. Howard Dean was like that too, but should Obama choose another cult of personality figure, or instead an insider like Tom Daschle won jumped on the Obama train about as earlier as possible?
The problem seems to be that Obama is running a set of qualities that are often contradictory ("judgment" and "unity" for example) and, as such, rarely found in individual Democrats. In many ways, Obama is running on his background and unique blend of attributes, which makes it very difficult to find a "reinforcing" candidate. It also, unfortunately, makes his argument to become President a little muddled. The combination of "change" and judgment" implies getting rid of the insider elites who got us into the mess, but "unity" implies just teaching the insider elites who got us into this mess to get along. By choosing Al Gore as his running mate, Bill Clinton made it perfectly clear what his argument to be President was, and what sort of President he would be. After all, only four years earlier, Al Gore had run exactly the sort of campaign Bill Clinton was then engaged in: a young, southern, electable, "New Democrat." If there isn't an obvious reinforcing running mate for Obama, it might mean that his argument to be President isn't as obvious as it should be. That could cause problems for his campaign, and in more ways than simply selecting a Vice-President.