These two posts from The New Republic and The Washington Monthly raise important but interrelated points about Obama’s choices for the Vice Presidency. So much of the commentary surrounding the VP selection focuses in the short term considerations involved; what state might the candidate might help Obama win, how the candidate would help unify the party in the aftermath of the primary, how the candidate’s experience and public profile could help Obama against McCain, etc.
What this level of analysis misses is the fact that VP candidates rarely do much of anything for the ticket. What did John Edwards do to help Kerry? Anything substantial? I don’t really think so. Cheney did relatively little for Bush beyond helping with the impression that Bush was surrounded by competent adults, although that thought was completely wrong and in any event was more helped by the presence of Colin Powell.
What both Patashnick and Sinhababu point out is that Obama really has an opportunity to shape the future of the Democratic party. When Vice Presidential selections have succeeded, such as with Al Gore, George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon, they have dominated their respective party for decades. Gore ran and lost, but he is still the most respected senior figure in the Democratic party and a global leader. Bush won the presidency and still had enough clout eight years later to help get his son elected. Nixon and his neuroses defined the Republican party for the next 15 years after he was nominated.
Looking at it this way Obama’s choices don’t seem great. Of the names floated thus far for Obama, only Tim Kaine, Janet Napolitano and Evan Bayh would unquestionably be young enough to run in 2016. Wes Clark would be 72 then, Ted Strickland would be 75 and Joe Biden would be 74. Those three are likely too old to mount a credible run. Jim Webb would be 70 and Kathleen Sebelius would be 68, both at the outer edge of being able to run. If a dream ticket does come about, Hillary Clinton would be 69.
From a future of the party perspective Napolitano and Bayh seem to make the most sense. Both are young, impressive and could credibly run in their own right 8 years from now. Biden and Strickland, on the other hand, seem completely ruled out on these grounds. The rest are somewhere in the middle, but not terribly desirable.
Now, all of this is probably completely overstated. Most VP nominees, like Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Lloyd Bentsen, Geraldine Ferraro, Sargent Shriver and William Miller quietly go away and are never heard from as serious candidates again. Nonetheless, its another quality to take a look at.