The falling curtain on this year’s primary season was supposed to have left Barack Obama with the stage to himself. That did not happen. Obama had to contend with both John McCain, who he will face in the fall election, and with Hillary Clinton, who refuses to go away. Within moments of Obama’s sealing his party’s nomination, the speculation is still about the Clintons.
Will she fold her tent or will she not? Will she use her late-season victories as leverage to force Obama to take her? Can he accept her as his running mate without forfeiting his claim to be the candidate of change? And — the question that has been hovering over Obama for months — how would he contend with Bill as vice-presidential consort?
Obama tried to be nice. He credited Hillary for “making history.” He proclaimed himself a worthy heir, not just to Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, but also to the last self-proclaimed “change agent” offering hope, the Bill Clinton of 1992.
The Clintons will not make it easy for Obama. They are intent on either forcing him to take Hillary or seeing many of her supporters defect to McCain, who worked hard to enhance their comfort level with the Republican candidate of change. Obama’s choice will not be easy.
He can accept Hillary as his running mate, creating the impression that he is weak. This will cause new speculation that he surrendered major many chunks of his presidency before he even won the election.
Alternatively, Obama can spurn Hilary and work hard to charm her supporters into voting for him. That will entail taking as his running mate a Hillary backer with appeal to working-class voters, such as Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. Just as Reagan cut off negotiations with those trying to foist former President Gerald Ford upon him in 1980, Obama may just say “no.”
– Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.