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the old switcheroo: making your Secretary of State your VP, your VP something else

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The political tea leaves tell TRC that President Obama has a pretty good shot at reelection. Today, the odds are at worst, 50-50 (and probably improving). And that is with Joe Biden remaining as VP on the ticket. Biden has been a fine VP, methinks. He is well respected internationally, and has long been prepping himself for the highest office, even though he’ll never see it. He has been willing to take shots and give shots, despite being ably capable to run himself into trouble with his comments. But really, what more do you want from a VP? A dark Lord?

Given those odds, it is curious, though hardly surprising, to see the push for the Administration to pull the switcheroo with VP Biden and Sec. of State Clinton. If Biden has been a serviceable VP, TRC thinks that Clinton has been an excellent Secretary of State. She has proven to quite loyal to the President, and willing to take on the tough tasks that go with the job with no complaint or fanfare. Exemplar.

And to be clear, TRC does not think this move is in the cards. We just don’t see it happening. But still, the push continues because people love to make political predictions, and they love to think they know something the rest of us don’t. Several opinionators have suggested it. Previously Robert Reich predicted the change. Today at the NYTimes Op-Ed page, Bill Keller is supporting the idea. So here’s TRC’s take on the subject, if it were to be seriously considered in the White House.

Says Keller of Mrs. Clinton:

Hillary Clinton is 64 years old, with a Calvinist work ethic, the stamina of an Olympian, an E.Q. to match her I.Q., and the political instincts of a Clinton. She has an impressive empathic ability — invaluable in politics or statecraft — to imagine how the world looks to an ally or adversary. She listens, and she learns from her mistakes. She was a perfectly plausible president four years ago, and that was before she demonstrated her gifts as a diplomatic snake-charmer. (Never mind Pakistan and Libya, I’m talking about the Obama White House.) She is, says Gallup, the most admired woman in America for the 10th year in a row, laps ahead of, in order, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice; her approval rating of 64 percent is the highest of any political figure in the country.
So it’s too early to hang up the big ambition. And a lot of us would be deeply disappointed in her if she did. This would be none of our business if she had taken the off-ramp after her time as first lady. (Nobody is thinking very hard about what’s next for Laura Bush.) But she moved on to the Senate, to a near-miss presidential campaign, and to a credible term as secretary of state. She raised our expectations.

With all of this, we agree. Hillary Clinton is an exceptionally capable and smart woman, and politician. There’s no doubt she could make a strong VP, or POTUS. And Keller gives us three reasons to put Clinton on the ticket in the fall:

One: it does more to guarantee Obama’s re-election than anything else the Democrats can do. Two: it improves the chances that, come next January, he will not be a lame duck with a gridlocked Congress but a rejuvenated president with a mandate and a Congress that may be a little less forbidding. Three: it makes Hillary the party’s heir apparent in 2016. If she sits out politics for the next four years, other Democrats (yes, Governor Cuomo, we see your hand up) will fill the void.

Again, those are strong arguments for bringing Mrs. Clinton on to the ticket. But there are reasons that such a move could be a disastrous mistake. Keller mentions a few (Obama thinks the Clintons are representative of the old “tawdry” side of politics; Obama doesn’t need Clinton to win; Clinton has a better chance in 2016 without Obama, etc).

But he misses a pretty big problem that this move would create. The nation already struggles to see Obama outside of a politically calculating, dispassionate characterization. President Obama lacks a certain warmth and humanity, they say. Too professorial and calculating. Having fallen far short of bringing about a new era in politics, many seem to think that Obama is interested in serving only his own political ambitions. This is wrong in our reading (well, not entirely wrong, but being occasionally hyper-logical and not overly reliant on gut-instinct and heart is not a flaw to everyone), but it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion of an overly calculating Obama making only the moves that suit him best.

And switching his VP with the Sec. of State to win an election would be just that. There has to be a reason to make the change beyond electoral fortunes, or it could be a major fail. High risk, then, and high reward. And when it comes to VP choices, we have seen quite recently how the high risk/high reward can play.

TRC thinks that Hillary Clinton would be a dynamite VP, and hopes to see her run in 2016, should she choose to do so. And if President Obama decides to put her on the ticket this year, that, too is fine. But don’t be hasty, Mr. President, and don’t be distant in the choice. Be clear and supportive of your people, be able to know why this is happening, and be willing to warmly embrace your former opponent (including allowing her to be in the room, all the time).

Otherwise, don’t do it.

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Written by Christopher ZF

January 9, 2012 at 12:07