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You can’t turn on a television or have a conversation about politics without being accosted by speculation about whether Barack Obama will select Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Will he ask her or won’t he? This is the extent of today’s political debate – personality-focused chatter that goes about as deep as prom-season gossip at a local high school.
The better question is should he or shouldn’t he? This is also easier to answer: No, though not for the reasons you might think.
The conventional reason why Clinton shouldn’t be on the ticket is a purely political one – the theory goes that because she is so despised by Republicans, her name on the ticket could help John McCain consolidate the GOP base behind his candidacy. Little discussed is the fact that putting Clinton on the ticket could directly undermine the mandate of the party’s primary: the rejection not of Hillary Clinton, but of Clintonism itself.
Clinton backers have long said Clintonism is all about moderation, negotiation and smart positioning in the face of Republican extremism. But it really is the politics of capitulation, triangulation and obfuscation in the face of money and power.
Bill Clinton spent his time in the White House working with Republicans to champion trade, telecommunications and financial deregulation – destructive policies specifically crafted to boost corporate profits at the expense of ordinary workers. As a key Clinton administration player, Hillary Clinton promoted many of these policies, and as a senator she has backed abominations like the credit card industry-written bankruptcy bill and the war in Iraq.
After realizing that the Democratic primary would be a battle and not a coronation, Clinton desperately tried to obscure this record. The saber-rattling lawmaker who helped lead the country into war presented herself as a steadfast critic of it; the first lady who gave speeches backing NAFTA claimed she never supported it; the senator gracing Fortune magazine’s cover suddenly tried to be a Huey Long populist. With such a clear line from Reaganism to Clintonism to our current national security and economic crises, it was too little too late.
Some say Hillary Clinton’s defeat was the victory of sexism – but Obama faced at least as much racism. No, this resounding defeat goes beyond pernicious -isms and beyond one candidate – it is a fist-pounding rejection of a corrupt ideology.
Now, John McCain is trumpeting his support for NAFTA, deregulation and intensifying the war in Iraq. It is the Arizona senator’s very own kind of Clintonism. That means for Obama to really draw the most effective general-election contrast, the smart vice presidential pick is not Clinton, but an anti-Clinton – and there are many of them.
In the Senate, there is Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Jim Webb or Claire McCaskill – all economic populists. In the statehouse, there is Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer – a guy who told The New York Times, “I was a critic of Nafta, I was a critic of Cafta and I’ll be a critic of Shafta.” And outside the electoral arena there are people like Anna Burger – a leader of one of the largest labor unions, who was recently hailed by The Wall Street Journal as one of the 50 most influential women in America.
These are icons from potential swing states and swing constituencies whose careers show they can shore up Obama’s weakness among working-class white voters far more effectively than New York’s junior senator. More importantly, they are people who can help Obama draw an outsider-versus-insider, populist-versus-corporatist contrast that reinforces the most powerful message of all: The era of Clintonism is over.
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