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Obama and Who? On Choosing a Democratic Running-Mate

    Now that the primaries are out of the way, and the summer conventions have been demoted from real elections to noisy fraternal rituals, Obama, McCain & Companies turn their attention to the choice of running-mates.  For McCain, the decision is unequivocally bearish.  
He must choose a partner willing to join him on his private razor blade: the dilemma of either supporting an insupportable lame duck or losing the support of the Republican machine.
    Obama’s lot is easier.  Admittedly, he must first sew up the exit-wound left by Jim Johnson, one of his senior advisors, after Johnson was revealed as an in-too-deep Beltway insider whose favorite dance was the quid-pro-quo.  Choosing Johnson in the first place was a bad mistake – perhaps the senator’s worst so far.  But give Obama his due.  Errors notwithstanding, he is reasonable, resilient and self-critical. These humane qualities have not been shown on the 1600 block for some time.  In and of themselves, they are strong arguments for an Obama presidency.
    But what of a running-mate?  The list of possible candidates includes senators, governors and generals, and the press bristles with their titles and exploits.  But before evaluating them, we ought to have a look at the qualifications that define an outstanding running-mate.  Karen Tumulty has just published a set of guidelines in Time, June 23,


and though her article is full of tried-and-true advice, the following recommendations may be of some value as a second opinion:

The candidate should be presidential.  The vice president must be ready to take command in the event of any emergency, and should be considered a suitable presidential candidate eight years down the line. In such a candidate we would expect to see proven integrity, gravitas and solid character.

The candidate should be of middle years.  Age is a critical factor in presidential elections.  This is because a) the presidency is a certifiably athletic challenge, b) our thought and choice are intellective functions that prosper or languish with our energy levels and c) the nation does not want to commit its future to a leader who is dependent on medication.  Since the vice president may well serve two terms after the president, a “+ 16 years” rule would seem advisable.  Take a candidate’s current age, and add 16 years for four terms.  With this measurement in mind,  55 would seem a reasonable cutting-off point for a vice-presidential candidate.  It would bring our president home to pasture not long after the age of three-score and ten.

The candidate should have held elected office.  Winning elections and sitting where the buck stops are priceless components of political experience.  Military command, not matter how high, is not even an inferior substitute.  The military is totally unlike a well-governed state.  The military exists in a knowledge-famine and depends for its stability on authoritarian precedence.  Thus military leaders usually are out of their depth in the give-and-take of democratic politics.

The candidate should be savvy in DC interactions.  If “in-too-deep” is not good enough, neither is “out of it.” DC is not just a location.  DC is a living knowledge base, and our elected leadership should be well-versed in its discourse.  Obama has had four years’ experience in the DC halls of power. That’s four years’ better than either Bill Clinton or George W. had (and with them it showed), but still it’s not a plethora.  Obama would do well to choose a running-mate who is better-versed than he in national politics.

The candidate should have bipartisan respect and reasonable name recognition.  The best of our politicians have been able to achieve change by practicing their humanity across party lines.  Although two divisive presidencies have eroded the possibilities of cooperation, there are still individuals who are respected on both sides of the aisle.  Our most likely suspect here would be a senator, for senators, who serve longer, typically gain more name recognition and pass under more scrutiny than representatives.

The candidate should have a clean record and a career of achievement.  We cannot expect our candidate to be perfect – seeking elected office is prima facie evidence of not being so – but we must at least demand a record that is free of felony or deviancy.  If this is not too much to ask, let us require additionally that our candidate have a record of acknowledged achievement.

Finally, the candidate should speak well and with panache.  The knowledge at the heart of good policy should be rendered with equivalent eloquence.  This is the rare art that the literate Obama can bring to the presidency, redeeming what has been trashed by the functional illiteracy of the incumbent.  Obama, who writes ably in addition to speaking well, needs a partner and successor who shares his concern for the integrity of thought and language.  This concern is in large measure what gives a candidate panache: that elusive quality which moves, delights, awakens understanding and breeds public confidence.

Readers probably will not find these requirements too stringent, or surprising in any way.  The shock, however, is that (especially in terms of age) they rule out most of the candidates that I have seen mentioned recently.  In fact, of all the Democratic senators past or present, I can think of only two who fulfil the requirements list above.  The names are Edwards and Feingold, and we are not hearing much about them at present.