Tonight, on the cusp of the final two Democratic primaries, I find myself reflecting on something other than superdelegates, elected delegates, or What-Will-Hillary-Do. I've noticed that the nation seems to be taking a breath - a long, slow inhalation that has lasted for days, if not weeks - as it collectively tries to make sense of the fast-paced yet historic nominating process finally coming to a close.
As an unabashed Obama supporter, I confess to having been annoyed to various degrees with Hillary Clinton's candidacy. I have found many of her claims to electoral strength and "working class" identity cynical. I have lamented her campaign's often underhanded and exploitative rhetorical tactics. Most of all, however - and perhaps least fairly - I have admittedly been irritated at her refusal to acknowledge the inevitable delegate math after the point at which she could realistically expect victory.
On this last count, the rapidly approaching end of the nominating process has triggered in me a renewed sense of perspective - one that comes on a cool gust of long-awaited relief, like the unleashed rain of darkly hanging summer storm clouds. Even the most die-hard Obama fan must acknowledge Mrs. Clinton's herculean mettle and unmistakable intellectual power. Each every reason these qualities have vexed Obama supporters such as myself now makes an equally compelling case for Obama to unify the Democratic ticket with her, by asking her to be his Vice-Presidential running mate.
The many reasons for my admiration of Barack Obama notwithstanding, Hillary Rodham Clinton embodies many of the traits we have found so lacking in our Democratic politicians. Whereas beginning with the shrugging collapse of the 2000 Election debacle we have only seen Democrats beg for further humiliation and defeat, Mrs. Clinton's presidential run has displayed a dogged relentlessness to a degree that has made her nearly unrecognizable to her party. Of course, I do except her vote on the Iraq War, which I and many others will never forget.
However, on every other count, she has been unapologetic and forceful in her advocacy, and equally as eloquent - never more than now. She has more than earned her bona fides as a battle-tested warrior for progressive causes, and she shows no signs of tiring or slowing. Her undeniable persona, intelligence, and fighting spirit have brought the best out of Barack Obama, sharpening his edge for the fateful contest that looms this summer and fall.
The time has come for Barack Obama to demonstrate the strength of his character and his party's diversity with this gracious acknowledgement of his rival's abilities. Indeed, such a decision would fit perfectly his themes of inclusion and reconciliation. Obama must banish the whispers of "what about Bill" and "what about Hillary's baggage," realizing that these firecracker concerns would be utterly drowned out by the blasting shockwave of significance and advantage produced by making Hillary Clinton his Vice-Presidential running mate.
This epic, unprecedented nomination battle, the smoke of its scattered explosions still hanging in the air, has led the Democratic Party by the nose to this final climax. Capping off such a titanic struggle with the ultimate act of reconciliation and unity would be monumental, dwarfing the notion and threat of John McCain almost instantly and perhaps irrevocably.
Then, with the surging, cacophonous alacrity of the resurgent Democratic Party itself, Obama-Clinton can lead the entire pantheon of Democratic presidential hopefuls in a bristling, full-throated onslaught against the dispirited and flatfooted Republican Party. Old rivalries would be extinguished, the two main candidates united. The bitter disappointment of so many ardent Hillary Clinton supporters would be salved. America would have the breathtaking opportunity to make history not just by electing America's first black President, but also its first female Vice President, at the same time.
To my mind, there is simply no Vice-Presidential candidate from a strategically chosen state or demographic that could rival the redemptive, symbolic, and substantive power of an Obama-Clinton ticket. There is no Obama advocate who could equal Mrs. Clinton's seasoned, thoughtful, and potent voice - particularly when that voice carries the reckoned history of having competed so vigorously with the man.
Furthermore, there is no harm that Bill Clinton could inflict as the husband of the Vice President that he couldn't also cause as the husband of Obama's strongest former competitor. There is also no "baggage" carried by Mrs. Clinton herself that could sully Obama now, his having already survived an often treacherous minefield of personal associations.
Even in office, the boons of Mrs. Clinton as Vice President far outweigh the disadvantages. If Obama can stay so firmly true to himself through this bruising nomination battle, he can certainly hold his own in office with her. She (and Bill) can make formidable surrogates and field marshals for President Obama's agenda. Happily as well, there is barely any light between their stances on the major issues. Reforming health care will be fraught with complexity and peril in any event, and who better to tackle it than Hillary Clinton, from the position of Vice President. Such an administration, perhaps with Edwards, Richards, Biden, and Dodd in key positions, would manifest and enshrine into institutional reality the magnificent, quintessentially American diversity of talent and identity in the Democratic Party.
Truly, the more I contemplate this possibility, the more it thrills me.
In a contest among family, the victor does not vanquish the defeated. Instead, knowing larger battles loom, they embrace. Such an embrace between the inspiring Obama and the steely Clinton would shake the political earth. Indeed, it would strike mortal fear in a Republican Party that knows only how to exploit division, knocking its candidate back on his heels. Looking beyond, this powerful combination could augur an even greater, longer-lasting Democratic ascendancy for years to come.
By these thoughts, I absolutely do not mean to take anything away from the victory Obama is about to realize in eventually becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee. No one should begrudge Obama's achievement in defeating a candidate with immense name recognition, establishment support, and initially presumed front-runner status. I am also not asking anyone to completely ignore and forget Hillary Clinton's less admirable qualities and positions, or the fact that she represents an old model of politics that Obama hopes to repudiate.
In addition, obviously, no one should lose sight of the towering significance that Obama will soon be the first African American to become the presidential nominee of a major American party, with a good likelihood of winning in the general election.
What I am calling for, however, is some maturity from Obama supporters, and some recognition of political truth. As much as I have been and continue to be inspired by Barack Obama, it is folly to romanticize any leader too much, or to pretend they lack any of the cynical qualities of other politicians. We must now be very hard-nosed and realistic about the nature of elections generally, and this election in particular. The reality is that Hillary Clinton has commanded a dedicated electorate that has hardened to a large degree in their support of her.
It certainly isn't impossible that Hillary could persuade her supporters to come out for Obama even if she were not the Vice Presidential candidate, and I'm sure she would still make a formidable campaign asset in that case. Nevertheless, I think the prolonged nomination process, the intensity of the two candidates' supporters, and the closeness of their delegate and popular vote levels calls for giving Mrs. Clinton a much more central role in the general election.
I also, of course, realize that this is Obama's decision alone, and that he will have to contend with a multitude of factors and considerations in the days going forward. Nevertheless, as an independent observer who has still managed not to succumb completely to any politician's spell, my assessment is that the benefits of selecting Hillary as VP far outweigh the disadvantages. But we shall see.