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Obama's VP Pick: An Unconventional Approach

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By Sean Sabatini

 First published at Buzzflash.com.

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How can Barack Obama choose a running mate who will help him win both independents and Hillary supporters, while reassuring his base that he’s still a progressive leader? It may be time to take a closer look at the controversial concept of the voluntary one-term vice president.

The one-term VP is not an especially radical idea, but it does take a little getting used to. Here‘s how it works: Obama starts with a list of potential running mates who balance the ticket in traditional ways. It includes the obvious choices: the retired Admiral now a Pennsylvania Congressman, the white Southern populist, the decorated general, the seasoned foreign policy expert, and so on. But then, in a surprise move, Obama picks someone on the list who wishes to serve only one term as vice president. This candidate doesn’t see the vice presidency as merely a stepping stone to the presidency. Like Obama, he believes in a new kind of politics, and wants to spend the next four years actually serving the nation, rather than grooming himself to be president. To that end, he and Obama agree that under the new administration, the vice president will have a specific--and crucial--area of responsibility. In John Edwards’ case, for example, it would probably be health care and anti-poverty programs. Substitute Nobel laureate Al Gore, and you get a vice president who uses the office to champion alternative energy. Other candidates would have their own strengths. The bottom line is that four years is the limit. Come reelection time, Obama would have to tap someone else to be his VP.

This tack allows Obama to pick whoever he needs to help him win in 2008, while leaving open the real possibility of a female vice president in his second term.

The Republicans would fuss and fume, but Hillary supporters would have reason to be optimistic again, while Obama’s progressive base would no doubt appreciate an unconventional move from their increasingly conventional candidate. Certainly, the political pundits would be ecstatic at the prospect of having four more years to speculate about Obama’s next VP. On the down side, incensed feminists would demand to know what’s wrong with having a female running mate right now, instead of four years from now. But the answer is simple: in 2012, a woman stands a much better chance of being elected. By then, Obama will have established his presidential experience and Commander-in-Chief credentials, and it will be far less risky for him to take on a female running mate. As for the woman, it’s a historical fact that the best way to get elected vice president is to run under an incumbent president. Then, assuming Obama is reelected, we have the actual prospect of a female vice president running for president of the United States in less than a decade.

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Can it happen? If Obama is way ahead of McCain at convention time, his campaign will be disinclined to think outside the box, preferring instead to take a more traditional approach. If not, then anything is possible.

Jefferson and Lincoln both had different vice presidents in their first and second terms. Franklin Roosevelt had three. Nowadays, it shouldn’t be impossible to conceive of a voluntary one-term VP. It simply means redefining the office of the vice president, at least temporarily, in order to effect political and social progress. If it works, the Democratic candidate will have helped himself win by, in effect, changing the rules of the game. And if there’s anyone who can do that, it’s Barack Hussein Obama.  

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Sean Sabatini is an antiwar activist and union organizer living in Southern Nevada.

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