It looks like Barack needs our help. The Obama VP search team lost senior Democratic strategist Jim Johnson after revelations that he received favorable lending terms from Countrywide. Since neither of us are getting any special rates on credit and lending, we can weigh in on the running-mate choice with clear consciences. Here's our analysis of the frontrunners:
Hillary Clinton: The "bitter" rivals team up on a single ticket.
Melissa: I can't imagine that anyone in the Obama camp thinks that this is a good idea. Hillary does not bring Barack a single vote that he can't already get for himself in the general election. She is polarizing, and Obama is unifying. Barack is a clean slate (okay, he has a few smudges), while she brings more baggage than Paris Hilton on a weekend trip to the country. This ticket does more to unify the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. I also need to point out that her assassination fantasies make her uniquely unsuitable for this position
Marc: A few months ago, I would've said that Americans wouldn't support a black man and a white woman on the same ticket. After the bloodbath that was the Democratic primary, an Obama/Clinton ticket may be the only thing that can unify the party. Unfortunately, like Kennedy/Carter in 1980, too much blood has been spilled for anyone to believe that these two respect, much less like, one another. This is problematic for Obama since, unlike you, I believe that Hillary can deliver older white women and working-class voters who may otherwise vote for McCain or stay home.
Joe Biden, the outspoken senator from Delaware who kicked off his own presidential bid last year by remarking that Obama was unlike other black leaders because he was "articulate," "fresh" and "clean."
Melissa: I like Biden for Machiavellian reasons. He brings additional height to the ticket and everyone knows that tall guys are more likely to win. He can play "crazy Joe" to Barack's serious tone. It makes Obama look even more presidential if all the nutty outbursts can be outsourced to Biden. And you just know that the media will remind us of Biden's "articulate" comments. By publicly forgiving and embracing Biden, Obama will soothe the collective conscience of well-meaning white Americans who often say things that they "hope won't offend you." What better way to build a winning multiracial coalition?
Marc: I agree. The fact that Obama can look beyond Biden's racist "articulate" remark will further endear him to whites who are waiting for a post-racial moment more eagerly than the Second Coming. Also, given Barack's lack of foreign policy experience, Biden's know-how will make them a formidable duo. If I were choosing candidates, this would be my favorite.
Janet Napolitano, the current governor of Arizona
Marc: Before McCain became the nominee, Arizona was viewed as winnable terrain. By choosing his current governor, the Dems would have a legitimate shot at the state again. Her strong popularity in the Southwest, as well as her humane stance on border issues, could help Obama fight for Latino voters. Unfortunately, an Obama/Napolitano ticket would be one of the weakest foreign policy duos in recent history.
Melissa: OK Marc, I like Napolitano except that the bumper sticker sucks on this one. Obama/Napolitano 2008. Cringe. I just can't imagine any good viral hip-hop videos from this one. She also does not bring enough national name recognition and fundraising power. And if you are honest, you will admit Bush/Cheney is the weakest foreign policy duo in recent history. Could anyone make a bigger mess than those two?
Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor of NYC. He became a Republican to run for mayor after being a lifelong Democrat. Now he is an Independent.
Marc: A lot of people are pushing for New York's current mayor to be on Barack's ticket. In many ways, this isn't an awful choice. After all, his business experience and post-partisan persona would strongly complement Obama's "Washington outsider" schtick. This could be key to winning over highly coveted Independent voters. Also, his Jewish heritage may allay the anxieties being produced by the GOP's attempts to depict Obama as anti-Israel. If Obama is looking to strengthen the traditional base, however, this doesn't help him very much.
Melissa: I absolutely agree, Marc. There is no way that the Democrats need a Chicagoan and a New Yorker on one ticket. But I do love the partisan androgyny of this pair. I sure would love to have the mayor's personal checkbook available for fighting McCain.
Colin Powell, the former secretary of state. He oversaw the first ground war in Iraq under Daddy Bush and then made the case to the international community for the invasion of Iraq under W.
Melissa: I love this ticket, Marc. The bipartisan piece is emblematic of Obama's campaign. Powell brings gravitas, foreign policy experience and the enduring respect of millions of Americans. Powell desperately needs redemption for his role in dragging us into the war in Iraq. Who better to get us out, than the reluctant general who got us in? But the best part of this pairing is that they are both black. Having a black VP will instantly end the assassination fears that continue to haunt Barack. It is the same strategy that worked with Miss America. The first runner-up to Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, was also black. When they came after Vanessa, we still had Suzette Charles!
Marc: First of all, can you please stop with the assassination talk? No one is killing Barack or Colin Powell. Presidents only get killed if they are a threat to the status quo. Besides, if they were both killed, Nancy Pelosi would be president. That's better than having a full Secret Service detail!
Jim Webb, the Democratic senator from Virginia whose name is on every pundit's lips these days
Marc: Well Melissa, if nothing else, Jim Webb deserves consideration for exposing George "Macaca" Allen, who otherwise might be the Republican nominee right now. Also, Webb's experience as Secretary of the Navy and Assistant Secretary of Defense (under Reagan!) would help Obama improve his street cred among the warmonger crowd. Still, this is one of the scariest options on the table. With Obama drifting further toward the center, the last thing he needs is a running mate who has only been a registered Democrat for a few years. Also, with less than six years of Senate tenure between the two of them, this duo would rank as one of the most inexperienced presidential tickets in history. Unfortunately, he's probably on Barack's short list.
Melissa: Marc, I am torn about this ticket. Democrats are so foolish when they think about how to win the South. African-American voters are the base of the Democratic Party in the South, and Obama's already got that demographic wrapped up. But, I do believe Virginia is truly in play this time, and Webb just might deliver it. Also, this guy's G.I. Bill for a new generation is actually a substantive policy proposal with possible far reaching, positive consequences. He has a kind of bulldog quality that will bring a little fight to the ticket, too. Here is my big worry: The guy is not good on gender and choosing him might further alienate HRC's women voters.
Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who built his own campaign for the U.S. presidency on his foreign policy experience in various diplomatic roles
Michael Buckner / Getty Images
Melissa: Well, this guy is qualified as both a party insider and an experienced international negotiator. I fell in love with him when he endorsed Barack at the height of the Rev. Wright controversy. He does seem well positioned to broker a peace accord among the battered Dems, but Marc, I cannot imagine why anyone would think this is a good idea. Maybe he could deliver a few Latino voters who might not turn out for Obama, but Richardson doesn't do much to attract the critical swing voters in Michigan and Ohio.
Marc: I think we can strike this from the list, Melissa. The only people eager to see a Negro and a Mexican on the same ticket are the folks at BET Comic View. That said, Bill Richardson is the most qualified of the bunch. He has so many of the things Barack lacks: executive experience, Washington experience, foreign policy experience and a natural connection to Hispanic voters. It's too bad Americans aren't ready for a Black-Brown ticket.
Claire McCaskill, senator from Missouri
Melissa: I would love to McCaskill on the ticket. She has been an Obama loyalist since the very beginning. Throughout the campaign she has been a smart and savvy surrogate. Like Obama, she has a fast learning curve and rarely makes the same mistake twice: She lost in a close election and then came back and won by changing her strategy. She rarely ever discusses gender as important to her political identity, and the HRC Democrats might push her in directions that she doesn't like.
Marc: I strongly disapprove of this pick. Although McCaskill represents a crucial purple state, her pro-fence immigration stance will ward off the desperately needed Hispanic voting bloc. Also, McCaskill's approval rating barely hovers above 50 percent, with high disapproval numbers among evangelicals and pro-lifers. Bottom line: If Obama's going to pick an unpopular white woman, it better be Hillary!
Al Gore, Nobel Prize winning, climate-change activist, former Clinton VP and defeated 2000 Democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency
Melissa: Have we forgotten that this guy is ridiculously unappealing without a power point presentation to distract us from his wooden demeanor? Gore's endorsement of Barack two weeks after he secured the nomination was the least courageous act of the campaign season thus far.
Marc: There you go focusing on those pesky facts again. The reality is that most Americans don't remember the Al Gore who was beaten by Jesse Jackson in 1988 and failed to win his own state in 2000. Right now, Al Gore is an international rock star whose appeal is only matched by, well, Barack Obama. With Obama/Gore on the same ticket, you could start booking Earth, Wind and Fire for the inaugural ball. The only problem is that Gore is still shell shocked from his last electoral beatdown at the hands of Bush and his gang of seven. If he weren't, he would have sought (and won) the nomination himself.
John Edwards. Former North Carolina senator, Edwards was veep on Kerry's ticket in 2004 and made a run for the White House this year
Melissa: Marc, this one is a sentimental favorite for me. An Obama/Edwards ticket is my dream team. I thought Edwards should have been at the top of the 2004 ticket. His populism is genuine. He had the most comprehensive health care plan in the primaries this year. He fundamentally cares about the fate of New Orleans. He is quite good at talking about race. But I don't think he does the ticket much good. His well timed endorsement did not have the desired effect of solidifying the "hard-working" white guy base. Come to think of it, Elizabeth Edwards might be the better pick. She is a spunky fighter who can probably attract every woman voter in the country.
Marc: Other than being the prettiest presidential ticket ever, this one is a certified stinker. First of all, John Edwards hasn't won an election in a very long time. Americans hate losers. More importantly, Edwards' pro-populist platform would undermine Obama's successful attempts to please everyone, especially economic conservatives. Also, it would be really awkward to see Edwards snicker every time Obama refers to his corporatized health care plan "universal."
Kathleen Sebelius, current governor of Kansas
Marc: Other than Biden (and an unlikely Gore), this is my favorite choice. Sebelius is a smart and experienced governor with a respectable stance on many social and fiscal issues. She brings strong appeal in the Midwest and could help strengthen Obama's position among older white women. My only concern is that she might be viewed as a cheap replacement for Hillary Clinton.
Melissa: Marc, I am with you on Biden (my personal favorite next to Colin Powell) but I have to disagree on Sebelius. I am sure that she would be seen as an attempt to pander to Hillary's base. A big strategic mistake likely to simply piss off the feminist second-wavers who are determined to have HRC in the White House no matter what bruising democracy has to take in the process. She is serious cabinet material, but no running mate.
But hey Marc, you can be my VP when I run!
Melissa Harris-Lacewell is associate professor of politics and African American Studies at Princeton University.
Marc Lamont Hill is assistant professor of urban education and American Studies at Temple University.