02 February, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

(and be grateful you didn't get it)

I think it's time for all the Clintonites (and even a few Palinites) to recant their claim that Barack Obama made a gross error in not choosing Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Obviously, he won the election so it was no electoral error, but with Clinton's appointment and easy confirmation as Secretary of State, her supporters ought to realise now that she got a much better deal than she ever would have as Vice President.

Constitutionally, the Vice President is nothing more than a spare tyre, whose official duties range from the trivial to the banal. Or as John McCain put it (in what was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Dick Cheney), the VP's duties are to break ties in the Senate and enquire daily as to the health of the president. It could easily be a one-day-a-week job. Any further duties are within the gift of the president. As far as most presidents have been concerned, the office of VP serves two very different purposes: it placates a section of the party that has reservations about the top of the ticket in an election year, and it keeps them out of the way in between elections. You don't make someone Secretary of State if you want to keep them out of your hair.

People have short memories. The fact that the Bush administration devolved so much power to the vice president says far more about Bush and Cheney than it does about the office of VP. Al Gore is not a household name today because of anything he did as Bill Clinton's VP. Between 1993 and 2000, far more eyes were on Warren Christopher, Janet Reno, Madeline Albright and, of course Hillary Clinton. By comparison, Al Gore was better known as Tipper's husband and the man who was just a cheeseburger away from the presidency. To think for a moment that Obama was going to give his VP even half as much power as Bush gave his, is ludicrous.

In fact, Obama showed great leadership in his choices. He gave the Clinton supporters what they really wanted (a position of high power and influence for Hillary) instead of what they merely thought they wanted (her name on the ticket). It would be easy to imagine that if Clinton had been nominated VP (assuming it wouldn't have cost Obama the election), her supporters waking up on the 21st and suddenly realising she'd been consigned to political irrelevance. Instead, she will be answering far more of those eagerly-waited 3am 'phone calls than she might have, even as president.

It's not that Joe Biden isn't capable or loyal. But we are going to be hearing a lot more from Secretary of State Clinton over the next four years than we will from Vice President Biden. It would be nice to see the sisterhood of the travelling pants-suits give Obama some credit for that.

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