Friday, February 01, 2008

Dream Team? Be Serious

My maveness has been suggesting it for weeks. Now the CNN guys have brought it out in the open. How about a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket for the Democrats in the fall? Not only would it be historic in having a woman and an African American as nominees for president and vice president (not necessarily in the order stated) but it would be hard to beat.

For the media, it just couldn’t be better. The media have really loved this past year with both the first woman and the first African American as serious candidates for president (not that I forget Shirley Chisholm). But, alas, we are approaching midnight and half of this story may soon go away. At whatever time either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama gain enough delegates to win the nomination, the other will go back to the Senate and this year will suddenly become only half as historic as now. So, in the fine media tradition of trying to make the news rather than just report it, Wolf Blitzer and his “Best Political Team” have proposed this dream team. And, as everybody is reporting it today, neither candidate ruled it out.

Oh really? This maven watched the debate last night (there’s nothing more entertaining than rival candidates just oozing with love for one other) and I’m not sure I heard the same thing. What I did hear was both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton acknowledging that the other would make a fine running mate. What I didn’t hear was either candidate saying s/he would agree to run as number two.

Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton have to run for reelection this year, so it is safe for either of them to run for VP (although if my memory serves me right, Joe Lieberman did run both for VP and for reelection to his Senate seat in 2000). The real question is whether it is safe for either of them to be elected vice president. Although in recent administrations vice presidents have been given more and more responsibility (some suggest that Dick Cheney is actually the closet president), it is still second place. Moving from the Senate to vice president just might prove to be a career-ending decision.

Mrs. Maven tells me that being vice president puts one in position to run for president in a few years. I agree (and not just because she is my wife). Being vice president often makes one the odds-on favorite to win the party’s nomination four or eight years hence. But let’s look at a little history. Of the four sitting vice presidents who have run for president since 1960 only one, George H. W. Bush in 1982, has been elected (although, of course, Richard Nixon was finally elected eight years after he left the vice president’s office). As Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Al Gore in 2000 learned, being vice president doesn’t necessarily mean you will be elected president.

Of course we can’t discount the possibility that the president will die in office and that the vice president will inherit the office. As we’ve heard in many campaigns in the past, “Would you want _____ to be one heart beat away from being president?” Although eight of our presidents have died in office thus thrusting their vice presidents into the White House (and one resigned making his vice president into president), there is a long list of vice presidents who were elected to this office and were never heard of again. For a person ambitious to be president, accepting the vice presidency and hoping that your boss will die before January 20 four years from now is not the best way of getting the job.

So, why would either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama give up her/his influential seat in the United States Senate to become vice president? For the good of the party? To get a chance to run for president in eight years? To get the chance to cast a vote in the Senate when there is a tie? I’m not sure agreeing to serve as vice president is a good political decision for one eager to serve at the top.

But, didn’t Lyndon Johnson agree to give up his very powerful job as Majority Leader of the Senate to run for vice president in 1960? I really don’t know how the Kennedy brothers convinced LBJ to run for number two. (Historians suggest that the vice presidency was offered to Johnson as a courtesy and that the Kennedy brothers—especially Robert—were shocked when Lyndon accepted.) Senator Johnson certainly couldn’t have known that the considerably younger man who would become his boss would not live to complete his term. Why he gave up such power for a job not worth a bucket of warm spit will forever be a mystery.

We will have to wait to see whether my maveness’ and Wolf Blitzer’s “Dream Team” becomes a reality. But, if I were you, unless you have a wonderful set of lungs, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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