Sunday, March 9, 2008

Clinton's VP Smokescreen

In a recent campaign event Bill Clinton told reporters that Hillary was 'very open to the idea' of Barack Obama as her running mate. This followed Hillary's statements to the news media that a joint ticket "may be where this is headed".

This is may sound like good news to Democrats who want this so called 'dream ticket' and to those who are worried about party unity. Clinton's offer suggests that she does not want the race to get irreparably negative. However the strategy behind this recent VP buzz is more tactical than altruistic.

Why Obama is not interested:
It is quite uncommon to see the front runner being offered the post of VP by the trailing candidate. Even though Sen. Obama is ahead by all measures in the race so far, Clinton's offer undercuts Obama's achievements and gives the illusion that she is ahead. It also puts him in an awkward spot where he either has to show some warmth to the idea or make a counter offer of his own to Hillary.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Obama was trailing Clinton. Even in this scenario Obama cannot accept the offer because it would fly in the face of his entire platform. He has gotten this far by promising change and vowing not to allow the same old people to run Washington. By accepting the offer he would not only support the same old people, he would in fact facilitate the process as VP. Obama would also ruin his chances of running again in 2012 or 2016 because his message of change would be exposed as hypocritical.

Why Obama cannot counter the offer:
With Hillary as his running mate Obama would still be seen as facilitating giving power to the same old faces in Washington. He would also be worried about Hillary trying to undermine his authority. Denials aside, Obama will require on the job training if he becomes President. One can safely assume that he will not want the Clintons to be his trainers.

A President Obama would also constantly be wary of Bill and Hillary trying to second guess him. It would be an ugly power struggle where a seasoned former President and First Lady outshine and out maneuver the rookie President. Obama cannot afford to risk an undercurrent of hostility and political cunning in his running mate(s).

The Clinton camp has already figured out this dynamic and is thriving on it. They know Obama is cold to either idea and they have put him in a tough spot. Hillary comes across as the uniter extending an olive branch to her opponent while he comes across as the one willing to risk a divided party. Hillary would also largely benefit if Obama did accept her offer since she does not share the above dilemmas. The Obama camp is on the defensive against the retooled Clinton machine.

The Clintons have accepted their role as the insurgent candidate and have adapted to it brilliantly. They are at their best when fighting in the trenches and it will be interesting to see how Obama responds from his 'above the fray' pedestal.

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