Mating Game19 August 2008
The media is buzzing with the meme that Barack Obama has chosen or is on the cusp of choosing his Vice-Presidential running-mate.
I think that Obama has taken far longer than was in his interest to make this choice. Although it developed that there would be a second-choice advantage for the two major-party Presidential candidates in their selection of running-mates, each had to make a selection before or during their respective conventions, and the Democrats had already scheduled their convention before that of the Republicans. While there may have been some tiny hope that the McCain camp would toss-away the advantage, the principal effect of Obama's delay has been to allow Hillary Clinton to hold onto attention that would otherwise have gone to his choice of running mate (on the assumption that it were not her). And the Clintons plan to exploit the Convention as much as possible for their own aggrandizement, not-withstanding the costs to the Obama campaign in particular and to the Democratic Party more generally.
Hillary Clinton might be Obama's running-mate. Certainly, if he delays until the convention is under-way, the Clintons will do everything in their power to make it seem as if she has a sort of right to that spot. But Obama will look even more like Just Another Politician if he selects her. Perhaps the buzz about him nearing announcement of a running-mate comes from an awareness on the part of his camp that he needs to head-off the convention.
He has been encouraged to select a Yeehaw as a running-mate, the notion being that this would
balance the ticket; I think that it would be a major mistake. A integral aspect of Obama's appeal is that he's not a Yeehaw.
Part of the reason that the Democrats have been comparing Obama to John F. Kennedy is that they want to look past the last three Democratic Presidents — Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson. There had been a sort of forced nostalgia for Bill Clinton, but once Obama came over the horizon, Democrats became more willing to look critically at Clinton and at his Presidency; Jimmy Carter was an even more incompetent than is the current President; and Johnson is largely remembered for the Viet-Nam War. Looking past those Presidents to Kennedy is looking past three Yeehaws (the most distant a Cowboy-Yeehaw) to a Yankee. It doesn't do much good to point-out that Kennedy chose a Yeehaw as his running-mate, 'cause that running-mate was Johnson, later one of the Democratic Presidents past whom these Democrats now want to look. And the highest profile Democrat Yeehaw under some consideration this time was John (
Epic Fail) Edwards.
Meanwhile, for the last 14 or more years, the public faces of the Republicans have been largely Yeehaws — men such as Jesse Helms, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and of course G.W. Bush. (Karl Rove is arguably a faux Yeehaw, but he manages to sound like one.) Democrats are alienated from these Yeehaws because they are Republicans, and Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are alienated from these figures because by a great many measures they have been very great failures. When Republicans look back, it is to Reagan, a man who liked to play the Cowboy, but who was raised in the Midwest and rose to importance in California.
As far as balancing the ticket goes, Obama isn't in a great spot. While many Yeehaws really themselves don't want a Yeehaw, they also don't want their nose rubbed in the political mess. Obama might do best to choose a Cowboy, as Yeehaws tend to blur the distinction (hence, for example, the conflation of American country music with that of the Old West), though the rest of the country doesn't place Montana or Arizona in
McCain, who has long positioned himself as a Cowboy, can more easily balance his ticket. Regionally, he can choose a Yankee or a Yankee-Midwesterner. He probably shouldn't choose a plain-vanilla Midwesterner, as then his ticket will be mocked as white-bread.