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A Modest Proposal: Barack Obama Should Be Hillary Clinton's Running Mate

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Because Hillary Clinton is white and no longer young, a strain of political thought holds that she might lack Barack Obama’s inherent appeal to new and minority voters and thus that she won’t be able to ride the Democratic party’s demographic advantages to easy victory in 2016.

Writing for the Washington Examiner, Philip Klein ably sketches the nightmare scenario for liberals. “If Hillary's performance among black voters retreats to more typical Democratic levels,” he writes, “it will hinder her efforts in swing states such as Ohio and Florida, where Democrats need to rack up huge margins in urban areas to make up for their weaknesses in other parts of the states. ... It's questionable that young voters will flock to vote at historically high levels for a 69-year-old white woman who has been a national political figure since before many of them were born.”

The nightmare for conservatives is a complementary scenario in which Clinton holds the Obama coalition together without issue and simultaneously increases Democratic margins among women and whites. In that world, she defeats her opponent by greater margins than Obama defeated John McCain and Mitt Romney. But there’s no reason to assume that outcome is any more likely than the one Klein alluded to. And there’s also no reason Democrats should tinker with a winning formula. If Clinton can turn out Obama’s voters, she will win.

The challenge, then, is to make sure Clinton’s age and ethnicity don’t discourage Obama’s youthful, diverse supporters from turning out in November 2016. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Clinton simply has to select Barack Obama as her running mate.

LOL, you might be thinking. Obama can’t be the vice president. That would place him at the top of the line of succession, and the Constitution limits him to two terms. Clinton would end up in court before she ended up in the White House if she pulled something like that.

I’ll grant that if Democrats nominate Barack Obama to be their vice presidential candidate next year, it would be somewhat controversial. But here Democrats can borrow tactically from the literal-minded conservatives who have seized on syntactic oddities to unravel Obama’s domestic agenda. As a purely textual matter, the Constitution merely prohibits Obama from being elected to a third term. It doesn’t necessarily prohibit him from actually being president again, should Hillary Clinton no longer be able to serve. And were he on the ticket, Clinton’s potential liabilities with Obama loyalists would disappear.

As hot takes go, this one is significantly more piping than, say, the idea that Al Gore should challenge Hillary for the nomination. My guru for this argument is Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf, though others have examined the issue, as well.

There are three sections of the Constitution that prescribe limits on who can be president and vice president: Article II, the Twelfth Amendment and the Twenty-Second Amendment. While the former two limit who is “eligible” to serve—natural born citizens, 35 or older—the Twenty-Second Amendment begins “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.”

Whether its adopters intended it or not, the plain language of the Twenty-Second amendment doesn’t prohibit a former two-term president from succeeding a sitting president and serving out the remainder of her term. It merely prohibits him from running for a third. By using the term “elected” instead of “eligible,” its authors created a loophole large enough for a Clinton-Obama ticket to coast to victory through.

Clinton and Obama couldn’t pull this off without some awkwardness. The last time this issue surfaced, in 2007, it generated enough buzz that Bill Clinton had to pop the speculative bubble on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

There are some people who believe it can [happen], and they have contorted readings of the amendment, the Twenty-Second Amendment. But I believe as a matter of general interpretation, you're supposed to read all the Constitution including all the Amendments as if they were almost written on the same day at the same moment, so they're consistent with one another. And the Constitution says the qualifications for Vice President are the same as those for President. Now you can read that to mean "to serve," not "to run for." But I just don't believe that it's consistent with the spirit of the Constitution for someone who's been President twice to be elected Vice President. I just don't think it's Constitutional. I don't think it's right and I wouldn't want to do that.

Frankly, though, it would be a great opportunity for Hillary to establish her independence from Bill. The media won’t let her to run an entire campaign without breaking ranks with him over something. Why not her running mate?

I gather Republicans wouldn’t be terribly happy about all this. The Supreme Court’s five conservative justices might even disallow it. But they’d have to abandon their textualist predilections to do so. Reince Priebus v. Barack Obama would become the Bush v. Gore of our time, except in this instance, the Court wouldn’t be able to frustrate the will of the voters outright.