By Farooq A. Kperogi
Long before Barack Obama became the color bearer of his party, there have been suggestions in a section of the American media that an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket would be an unbeatable “dream ticket.” But here is why I think such a ticket would, in reality, be a nightmarish ticket, one that has the potential to imperil Obama’s chances of winning the presidency.
1. The first obvious reason why such a ticket would be problematic is that it represents too radical a shift for a still largely conservative country like America. A nonwhite president AND a female vice president would rudely jolt the settled certainties of American political life and, most importantly, alienate white males who constitute the majority of the U.S. population.
Since this election is about symbolism in more ways than has ever been the case in America’s political history, the Democratic Party cannot afford to push white male voters to the margins, although they have always been the main characters in the movie of American politics. I think electing an African American male as president is transformational enough; having a female vice president along with a black president is expecting—or demanding— too much in one election year.
This is especially important because since about the late 1960s, the white male in America has been the object and subject of so much vitriol from historically oppressed groups—women, blacks, etc—for understandable and, I think, justifiable reasons.
This fact has spawned feelings of indignation among many a white male. The white male, once the unquestioned standard by which everybody was measured, is now a traumatized hegemon who is under unremittingly vituperative attacks from every angle. But the pang of these unceasing attacks is especially felt by lower-income, minimally educated white males who have not historically partaken in the privileges of middle- and upper-class white society. It was no surprise that this category of people was reluctant to vote for Obama in the just ended primary elections.
If white males who constitute a huge chunk of the U.S. population feel estranged by the Democratic Party, it is probable that they will opt to support their kind, John McCain, in protest. This important demographic and social category needs assurance that power—or notion of power— is not irretrievably slipping away from them.
2. The ticket is doomed because Hillary Clinton is too strong-willed and too ambitious to be second fiddle to anybody, not least an Obama whom she had derided as not having passed the “commander-in-chief test.”
When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, his campaign slogan, which he later advisedly dropped, was that a vote for him was synonymous with “buying two for the price of one.” And some commentators actually said the Bill Clinton administration was an unofficial co-presidency, with Hillary Clinton as the co-president.
An unofficial former co-president who fancies herself as the repository of American presidential politics isn’t likely going to be submissive (as vice presidents should be) to a rookie politician like Barack Obama. What is more, with Hillary as Vice President, Obama would have to contend with the disruptive prospect of a tripartite presidency involving himself, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.
3. Because Obama’s opponent is a retired naval officer who is widely regarded as a war hero by Americans, he needs a running mate with a distinguished military background. This is especially important because Obama has never served in the U.S. army—unlike many past American presidents. What is more, there are still lingering doubts about his patriotism and pairing with Hillary will only exacerbate this because Hillary herself had repeatedly called Obama’s patriotism into question.
4. Both Obama and Clinton are U.S. senators who have never had any kind of executive experience. Bringing together two senators to run for the office of president and vice president of America will be counterproductive, especially because, historically, American voters tend to prefer people with previous executive experience to be their president. Fortunately, Obama’s opponent is also a senator with no previous executive experience.
From all indications, McCain will choose a former governor as his running mate to compensate for his lack of executive experience. To be competitive, Obama would also need a former governor, preferably from the South, who has a military background.
5. Choosing Hillary as a vice president will vitiate the very basis of Obama’s wild popularity among, especially, young voters. He began his campaign on a promise to represent a decisive break with old, divisive Washington politics, which Hillary Clinton in many ways typifies.
Again, Obama’s campaign message from day one was “change we can believe in.” This message resonated very powerfully with many Americans. Since Hillary Clinton is the very antithesis of the new kind of politics he professes to advocate and embody, choosing her as vice president will cast Obama as a guileful, opportunistic politician who cozened Americans into a false sense of comfort with his politics when he was seeking votes for the nomination of his party.
6. Hillary Clinton has the dubious honor of being America’s most divisive political figure in recent times. People either intensely love her or viscerally hate her; it’s rare for people to be neutral about her. That’s not the kind of figure to have as a vice president. Her deficits will certainly detract from the strengths associated with Obama. And Obama risks losing a significant chunk of his hardcore supporters if he chooses Clinton as his vice president.
7. Obama and Clinton simply don’t share any chemistry. As an Associated Press writer noted recently, when Obama was closing in on the nomination, Hillary kept exposing his weaknesses and portraying him as second-best. “On [Obama’s] night of triumph,” the writer said, “she stole [Obama’s] thunder by refusing to concede and by dropping hints of a vice presidential slot. Where is the chemistry, the trust, the compatibility?”
8. There is widespread belief that Clinton’s desire to be Obama’s vice president is informed by a "Bad-stuff-happens" maneuver, instanced by her gaffe about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. While defending her decision to remain in the race when it was obvious that she couldn’t possibly close in on Obama’s lead in the delegate count, she made an impolitic reference to the assassination of the late JF Kennedy’s brother, a reference that was interpreted to mean that Obama could be assassinated before the primary season was over. Many Americans were outraged by this.
Interestingly, many prominent Democratic elders are hostile to the idea of having Clinton on Obama’s ticket. An early opponent of an Obama-Clinton ticket is Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who is the first female to occupy that position.
Similarly, Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, in a (London) Guardian interview, said it would be a mistake for Obama to have Clinton as his vice-presidential nominee.
"I think it would be the worst mistake that could be made," said Carter. "That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates." Carter justified his view by citing opinion polls showing 50 percent of US voters with a negative view of Clinton, adding: "If you take that 50% who just don't want to vote for Clinton and add it to whatever element there might be who don't think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he's got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds." You just can’t beat that logic.
The former president also said: "What [Obama] needs… is a person who can compensate for his obvious potential defects, his youthfulness and his lack of long experience in military and international affairs." Based on this reasoning, Carter suggests that Obama consider Sam Nunn, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who hails from his own state of Georgia. "That would be my preference, but there are other senior Democrats who would have similar credentials to Sam Nunn," he said.
Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that Hillary Clinton can also bring a lot of strengths to Obama—such as attracting women, Hispanics and low-income, rural white males to Obama—but such strengths are offset by the ponderous liabilities she will bring. What is more, in line with the tradition of American politics, Clinton would ultimately campaign for Obama and persuade her supporters to vote him—whether or not she’s nominated the vice presidential candidate.