Saturday, November 10, 2007

One and Done

2008 could be Barack Obama's only chance to win the presidency.

Consider the most likely outcome of the race for the 2008 Democratic party nomination: Hillary's money, name-recognition and popularity with the party's base give her the nod. Obama ends up going the way of other Democratic party priests like Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley before him. So far it doesn't sound too bad. Obama is only 46. Presumably, he would still be a viable candidate until, oh, say, 2032. But consider what happens next.

When Hillary sits down to select a running mate, Obama is the obvious pick. He's got national name recognition. He's an engaging speaker who is beloved within the party. It's a historic pick that makes the Democrats, with a woman and a black male, look like the party of the future compared to the two white men the Republicans will likely be running. He appeals to independents. He has been throughly vetted by the national press during his own run, so Eagleton-like skeletons are unlikely to appear. So she offers him the gig.

Now Obama is trapped. If he accepts, he will also have to accept the veep role: the subservient attack dog. What he says is handed down to him by the Clinton campaign. He will get to put it in his own words, but it will be whatever Hillary believes is politically advantageous to her. His political future is only a consideration to whatever extent it factors into her political future. Obama makes such an appealing pick because he has avoided being the pit bull, so his harsh words have more meaning, more punch, more oomph. And the Clinton campaign would love it, so they would keep sending him in there to deliver roundhouse kicks to the Republicans. And after four or eight years of being an attack dog, he loses his greatest asset -- the notion that he is not just another politician. And he loses his independence. A vice-presidential nominee is forever anchored to the policies of the presidential nominee. The public doesn't buy it if the former veep distances himself from those policies -- in the future, he would have almost no choice but to run as a continuation of the Clinton years. That cannot be an appealing prospect.

If he turns down the nod and Clinton loses a close race, the fingers would inevitably point Obama's way that he was the cause of her downfall. Had she only had Obama to win over independents, she would have won, the pundits will wag. Obama quickly becomes persona-non-grata in the party for giving delivering America into the evil that would be President Guiliani.

And if he turns her down and she wins, he can expect to be frozen out. The Clintons can play hardball as well as anyone; there is a definite Omerta within the FOB/FOH clan. Not only will Hillary fill the vacuum -- presidents tend to suck the oxygen out of the political room naturally, not allowing new political stars to form -- but she will see to it that the remaining oxygen does not go Obama's way. The press would instantly attach itself to any hint of animosity between the two, creating a new RFK-LBJ rivalry, where every word Obama says critical of the Clinton Administration would been as the latest broadside in a personal and political feud. And again, this robs him of the thoughtful, independent, "not just another politician" qualities that make him such an attractive candidate to begin with.

So he has two options. He can either hope that Hillary passes him over for someone with national security credentials. That isn't the best option either. Obama's campaign has already stolen away several old Clinton hands (see here) and President Hillary is unlikely to be magnanimous, so it would likely turn out very similar to the he-turns-her-down, she-wins-anyways scenario.

Or in the words of Jake Taylor, he can win the whole f**king thing.