Now that the national guessing game has turned to Obama's vice-presidential possibilities and commentators everywhere are discussing their lists and preferences, it's time for some serious vetting.
Despite the competence and accomplishments of those on the lists, many are obvious nonstarters in the vice-presidential lottery.
Hillary, for example. A few months ago the media was propelling her as almost a sure thing. They gleefully proclaimed, over and over as they are wont to do, that her addition to the ticket would combine her strengths with Obama's. A Dream Team! What's not to love? Little has been heard of this inspiration since Jimmy Carter matter-of-factly noted the obvious: it would also combine their negatives.
General Wesley Clark makes a lot of lists. However, the fact that he's a four-star general and a Rhodes Scholar can't compensate for the awkward feel he brings to the Democrats. Although he's now a convert to the progressive cause and has been a good friend and supporter of Hillary, he's made statements in the past that sounded right-wingish and his opinions on a number of issues when he ran for president in 2004 were muddy. Despite his keynote address at YearlyKos, we might be pardoned for wondering who he really is.
Kathleen Sebelius, twice elected Democratic governor of red-state Kansas, also seems to make everybody's list. She has done tough-minded work for conservation and civil rights in her state against pressure from a Republican legislature. But given a national audience after Bush's 2008 State of the Union address, she failed to cash in on the golden opportunity. The image left in the mind of the viewing public was not of strength, resolve or the vice presidency. Stuff happens.
Janet Napolitano (AZ) has been another noteworthy Democratic governor in a red state. Despite her resume, it doesn't seem reasonable to expect that the addition of a female, any female, to the ticket with a black man is going to boost Democratic chances. Remember the misogyny on display during the primary season? Ms Napolitano is only 50. We should see more of her in the future but now is not her time.
Senator Joe Biden and former governor Bill Richardson suffer from the same electorally fatal condition: Failure to excite. Biden is one of the more hawkish Democrats, which will not play any better in the national election than it did in the primary season.
Richardson makes much of his Latino roots, ignoring the immigration hot button and seeming not to understand, as Obama does intuitively, that ethnicity is not a suitable qualifier for national office. Further, he publicly and unnecessarily betrayed his good friend Hillary by endorsing Obama, and Hill's supporters have long memories. Richardson seems to lack good judgment at crucial intersections.
Several lists contain the name of Senator Evan Bayh, (IN) for reasons that are entirely unclear. He's another legacy politician "" the son of long-time Indiana Senator Birch Bayh. He likes tax cuts and the Wall Street Journal likes him, leading some to wonder if he is actually a closet Republican. If he left his senate seat, a Republican in his very red state would be selected to replace him, jeopardizing the Democrats majority in the senate, such as it is. Worse, he and Obama seem to share little of the same vision.
Another you've-got-to-be kidding prospect who makes a surprising number of lists is Senator Chuck Hagel (R,NE). His main qualification seems to be his strong anti-war position which apparently compensates in some minds for his solid Republican credentials.
With Senator Jim Webb (VA), we're getting closer. Senator Webb is a charismatic, no-nonsense, don't-b.s.-me, type that Democrats have hungered for. He is pro-choice, pro-prison reform, and supports same sex unions. He is nearly as disdainful of John McCain as he is of George Bush and Little George's war. So far so good. But if he were Obama's running mate, Republicans would make sure that he answered for his past misogynistic comments at a time when plenty of women are incensed over the treatment Hillary received during the primary. Webb has said that "women can't fight" because they are biologically unsuited for combat; he called the Naval Academy "a horny woman's dream"; he derided the Navy's attempt to clean up its act after the infamous 1991 Tailhook sexual harassment scandal. Jim Webb for Secretary of Defense, maybe, but not for vice president.
And now for the real contenders: Senators Sherrod Brown (OH) and John Edwards (NC). Both are economic populists, opposed to the war and against free trade as it is now engineered. If Sherrod Brown stepped down from the senate, the Democratic governor of Ohio could appoint another Democrat to replace him. Not to mention that Ohio is a delegate-rich state. But few outside of the Beltway and Ohio have heard of him. To make him a positive addition to the national ticket would require some effort.
John Edwards, on the other hand, is a known quantity. As a result of the polling that was done during his losing presidential campaign, we know that Edwards has the priceless advantage of being both well known and well liked. The polls repeatedly showed that he was the single Democratic presidential candidate who could beat any Republican challenger, any day of the week, across the board -- a remarkable fact that the media never saw fit to mention in their public relations blitz for Hillary and Obama.
Obama is currently looking unbeatable. His choice of a running mate may be almost irrelevant to his chances of winning the election, which gives him the opportunity to create a real dream team to run the country based on his own political l and economic vision. He doesn't have to compromise by slotting a running mate to attract the greatest numbers of delegates or for the sake of symbolism. Adding a John Edwards, or even a Sherrod Brown, to his ticket would help to reassure his base of his real intentions as he tacks to the right on more and more issues, like NAFTA, gun control, wiretapping and campaign financing.
In fact, at the rate he's now modifying his positions, he may need all the help he can get by Election Day.