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Obama-Hillary Ticket? Ain't Gonna Happen

By Toby Harnden

Imagine it is January 21st 2009. You are President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is your vice-president.

She's already demanded her old office back in the West Wing. You've learned from CNN that Bill Clinton is on a jet with Ron Burkle heading for Kazakhstan. Drudge has a flashing siren up beside a report from a British tabloid about a mystery blonde who emerged from the former president's apartment in at his library in Little Rock just before dawn last week. The blonde is promising a full interview tomorrow.

Mark Penn, White House counselor, is busy polling whether a divorce or a brief separation from Bill might best help the former First Lady become in 2012 the first member of a president's own administration to defeat him for his party's nomination.

The new vice-president's case is bolstered because your margin of victory was barely wider than George W. Bush's in 2000. According to exit polls released after John McCain's popular vote win, 78 per cent of late deciders cited the leaked tape of Hillary calling you a "wimp" as a key factor. Some 64 per cent agreed with her.

For months, the pundits have been ridiculing the Obama-Hillary (she insisted on her first name) slogan of "Ready for Change and Experience We Can Believe In on Day One". Bill Clinton's Labor Day quip that it would be a "three-for-one" deal didn't help either.

OK, stop imagining. An exaggeration? Certainly. But you get the picture. If Obama even begins to consider whether a Vice President Clinton would loyally help him better govern the country, she's toast in the veepstakes.

Which is why the notion that Hillary will get the nod can be summed up in three words. Ain't. Gonna. Happen. She may be on anyone's short list, as Obama has stated cannily. But she's already inked in at the bottom of his.

Let's face it, the chances were never high. Underpinning Obama's campaign has been his potent argument that it's time for fundamental change in Washington - an end to triangulation, the politics of personal destruction and, by implication, an end to the dynastic rule of the Bushes and the Clintons. Oh, and an end to the Iraq war - which Hillary authorised.

Obama's top advisers believe she sought to diminish him and at best failed to rein in supporters and allies who played the race card or encouraged the ignorant and gullible to view him as some kind of Muslim fifth columnist. She even said that McCain was ready to be commander-in-chief and Obama wasn't.

Electorally, moreover, the benefits of her being on the ticket are dubious. The vast majority of her 18 million voters are likely to plump for him anyway if he runs even a half-decent general election campaign. Those Appalachian types who backed Hillary in the primaries after baulking at a black man won't vote for Obama no matter who's at the bottom of the ticket.

It's easy to forget that Hillary remains one of the most polarising figures in American politics. Naming her as running mate would mobilise the Republican base for McCain more quickly than if the angels Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley descended from heaven to anoint the Arizona senator live on C-SPAN.

In his baroque rant about Todd Purdum this week, Bill Clinton's accusations about Obama got relatively little attention. "They had all these people standing up in this church cheering, calling Hillary a white racist, and he didn't do anything about it," he vented to the Huffington Post. "The first day he [Obama] said 'Ah, ah, ah well.' Because that's what they do - he gets other people to slime her."

If those words had been uttered publicly by Frances Strickland or Susan Bayh do you think their hubbies would still be in the veepstakes reckoning? And that's even before you consider Bill's foreign financial deals and the undisclosed donors to his library.

All this is leaving aside what happened this week. Hillary didn't only display a breathtaking - though characteristically Clintonian - self-pity, delusion, sense of entitlement and blatant desire to put her own good above that of her party. She also showed an astonishing political ineptitude.

The test of a true leader is how he or she performs under the pressure of dramatic events. Her self-regarding defiance was the worst political misjudgment by a leading Democrat since Al Gore blew the 2000 election by conceding when Florida was still in the balance.

To authorize the likes of Bob Johnson (whose charming contributions to the election cycle thus far have been to call Obama a "Sidney Poitier", allude to his youthful drug use and state he would not have been beating Hillary had he been white) to lobby for the vice-presidential slot is plain stupid. And then denying it all in a press statement fooled no one.

For Obama to opt for Hillary over candidates such as Sam Nunn, Jim Webb, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Joe Biden and Wesley Clark would be an acknowledgement of weakness. It would also indicate a decidely uncharacteristic lack of confidence.

The Illinois senator's primary campaign was remarkably well disciplined, consistent, on message and lacking in drama. Despite Hillary's undoubted mastery of policy minutiae and her impressive fighting spirit, her campaign exhibited none of these qualities.

Obama will need to pay due deference to his vanquished rival's bruised feelings while deftly courting her angry, disappointed supporters. But he's not about to gamble everything by bowing to her presumptuous and preposterous demand.

Toby Harnden is US Editor of The Daily Telegraph of London. His blog is at http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/foreign/tobyharnden

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