While the question of what women, in general, want may still be up in the air, this afternoon a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll sheds considerable light on what Democratic women want. In a survey of Democratic voters, 60% of the women polled stated they hoped Sen. Barack Obama would choose Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his running-mate. This compares to 46% of Democratic men who had the same opinion; 54% of the males polled thought Obama should choose someone else. (Overall, 54% favored a choice of Clinton.)
Now, as I promised yesterday, a look into the question, what does Hillary want?
It seems clear, for one thing, that she wants the vice-presidential nomination. Each statement from her office indicating that she is “not actively seeking” the nod for veep puts me in mind of those innocent days in January when her camp repeatedly assured one and all that the results of the Michigan and Florida primaries would not be figured into her vote and delegate totals, and that her presence on the Michigan ballot, when almost all the other candidates had removed themselves from it, was nothing to bother about. In other words, the veepship is being sought.
But does Hillary actually want to be elected vice-president? I have to wonder about that. By Jan. 20, 2017, she will be nine months and six days short of threescore and ten. Think of the difficulties any candidate pushing seventy has faced in the past.
More to the point, by 2016 Hillary will have been a major player on the national political scene for nearly a quarter-century. In the last 150 years of this republic, just two people have attained the Oval Office after being national figures for as long as twenty-two years: the gentleman after whom this blog is named, and George H. W. Bush. But there are important differences. “41” Bush had gradually built up his public profile, starting as a Congressman; it was not until the mid-1970s, probably when he became the first American diplomatic representative to the People’s Republic of China, that he came to be really known to ordinary voters across the land. And Richard Nixon, starting in early 1963, had a year or so when he faded from public view, so that when he re-emerged during the primary season of 1964, then moved away from the limelight for another year, then returned to prominence in the 1966 Congressional and Senate elections, the imaginations of pundits and plebians alike were stirred and fascinated, so that by the time 1968 came around he was far from old news.
By contrast, Clinton has never really had a moment away from the spotlight since the spring of 1992. By 2016, a major case of burnout on the part of the public might well be at hand. There are also some other factors to consider. By that year Bill Clinton will be 70. His mother died at that age and very few of his male ancestors came close to reaching it, and he has often intimated he does not expect to live long past the Biblical allotment, or be in the pink of health if he reaches it. Therefore, it would make little sense to expect him to be playing the kind of role in a 2016 Hillary campaign that he did in this one.
There’s also the matter of the role Hillary would play as Vice-President. The one that was traditional for Veeps – presiding over the Senate, traveling hither and yon, loyally defending the President’s policies while having little input – would not be for her. But would Obama allow her to duties as extensive and prominent as Vice President Cheney has performed for seven years? It’s the old give-an-inch story. If he gave her an extensive portfolio in 2009, then in seven years, if the Olympics came to Chicago, it might be Hillary (who, after all, is a native of the greater Windy City area) who might be standing in a Cubs cap and Bears jersey (and White Sox towel, or some such), hollering, “Let the games begin!” – and doing a lot more besides. It would be a somewhat cruel joke on the African-American community if the first of their number to attain the Presidency were to be perceived as simply a bystander for eight years.
But that would assume that an Obama-Clinton ticket could win in the first place. There’s no doubt that Clinton-Obama (had Hillary achieved the nomination through winning primaries, rather than cajoling superdelegates as she struggled to do at the end) would have been a very powerful and intimidating matchup. But Obama-Clinton is a much less impressive matter. It ensures that the focus of coverage in the general election is on the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, which has never worked well for that party.
Remember 1984? Facing an almost insuperable challenge against the incumbent Ronald Reagan, Sen. Walter Mondale went for broke and put Rep. Geraldine Ferraro on the ticket. But after the initial talk of the “history-making” step he took, there were few pluses. It turned out Rep. Ferraro was rather abrasive, not a very winning personality (in both senses of the word), and had a husband with a habit of leasing properties to individuals of somewhat less than sterling repute. When November rolled around, Rep. Ferraro managed to lose her own state of New York, and Mondale was lucky to carry Minnesota.
Another example is the Hubert Humphrey-Edmund Muskie ticket of 1968. Many voters were impressed by the tall Senator from Maine, pointing out his “Lincolnesque” quality – does this sound familiar? In those days one often heard talk at the grocery or barbershop along the lines of, “Now this Ed Muskie is really presidential – why can’t he be running for President instead of the other way around?” The Democratic rank-and-file were therefore encouraged to vote for the ticket, but in the end that wasn’t enough to win. A similar case happened in 1988 when Sen. Lloyd Bentsen made a highly favorable impression as Gov. Michael Dukakis’ running-mate. There, too, the Democratic ticket went down to defeat.
Where these two examples are concerned, 1968 is the more pertinent one. Muskie came out of that election a strong contender for his party’s presidential nod in 1972. After Chappaquiddick, he was the main contender and stayed that way until the primaries started and he lost traction.
That may well be what Hillary has in mind. If she were to run with Obama, and if he were to lose the election through a series of slipups and gaffes (in debates or otherwise), and if she by contrast managed a well-organized, well-choreographed operation, she would emerge the prohibitive favorite in 2012. Is Hillary really capable of going into a full-bore presidential campaign with the intent of sabotaging the chances of the man at the top of the ticket in order to improve her own chances in four years? Well….Michelle Malkin and probably Bob Tyrrel wouldn’t doubt it, and it may be worth pondering.
This weekend I’ll look into another question: What does Obama want?
Note: I should have written that Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush were the only two people elected to the Presidency after being in the national spotlight for over 20 years. It’s true that when Lyndon Johnson succeeded John F. Kennedy (then achieved election in his own right in 1964), and Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon, they had both held office in Washington for 22 and 26 years respectively (and Johnson had been a familiar figure on Capitol Hill as far back as the early 1930s when he was Rep. Richard Kleberg’s aide). But Ford never aspired to the Presidency – he said many times that his greatest ambition during his career as a Congressman was to be chosen Speaker if the Republicans gained control of the House. And, had JFK not been assassinated, it is very unlikely, given Johnson’s health issues, that he would have succeeded to the Presidency in 1968.