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Ed Kilgore On The Unity Ticket

The idea of a Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton "unity ticket" has been floated quite a bit the last few days. But, seriously, is the idea any good? We asked a few friends of the magazine to weigh in. Here's Ed Kilgore, managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, an online magazine.

There are a lot of obstacles to an Obama-Clinton "unity ticket." Maybe she doesn't want to be vice president. Maybe they or their staffs or their spouses can't get along. Maybe Clinton can't offer sufficient assurance of loyalty and subordination, or a practical plan to eat many unfortunate words she said about Obama during the primary competition. 

But if these obstacles can somehow be overcome, Obama should ask her to run with him, and she should accept. 

I know this is a deeply unpopular, even infuriating, suggestion to many Obama supporters who've watched the Clinton campaign savage their champion for many months. Indeed, some of them think the vanquishing of the Clintons from power in the Democratic Party is the whole point of the Obama "movement." Why, many ask, should Obama take on Hillary's "baggage" after finally defeating her at the cost of so much blood, sweat, tears, money, and approval-ratings points? 

The answer is simple, and for me at least, overwhelmingly compelling. Right now the Democratic Party is deeply divided, as evidenced by the steadily rising number of Democratic primary voters threatening to take a dive in November. Those divisions are, in fact, John McCain's most important political asset. Yet they are not about ideology, or about policy issues, really; they are about these two Democratic politicians, and all the symbolic freight each has assumed.  The easiest way, the fastest way, and the only sure way, to heal these divisions is to unite their sources on a single ticket. 

Sure, many, perhaps most, disgruntled Clinton voters will "come home" in any event, and Obama could appeal to some vulnerable constituencies through a different choice for running-mate. But nothing quite scratches the itch like a unity ticket. 

Would Hillary Clinton as a vice presidential candidate overshadow Obama? There's no reason to think that; his candidacy remains the big political story of the year. And let's have no illusions that if the Clintons are assigned a minor role in the fall campaign, they won't be a distraction. For one thing, the Democratic National Convention, no matter how well stage-managed it is, will be "about" Obama's narrow margin of victory and his and others' efforts to unite the party. A unity ticket will greatly enhance the positive side of that story. As for the much-cited idea that Hillary's presence on the ticket will "energize" conservatives, I think the events of the last few weeks have abundantly shown their willingness to whip themselves up in a hate frenzy towards Barack Obama as much as Clinton. 

Symbolism aside, Hillary Clinton would bring some tangible political assets to the Democratic ticket. Even if you dismiss her relative strength in the primaries among white working-class voters, older voters, Appalachians, or Catholics as ephemeral or irrelevant to a general election campaign, there is simply no denying her personal and positive appeal to professional women and Latinos, with whom she has generated as much excitement as Obama has among younger voters and African-Americans. She would also bring some national security street cred to the ticket, which is an Obama vulnerability that I suspect is being underappreciated at the moment. 

If the unity ticket is going to happen, it ought to happen as early as possible. We need to put the nomination contest behind us, and get on with the task of ending the Bush Era once and for all.

--Ed Kilgore


Alan Wolfe: Using identity politics to move beyond identity politics.
Mark Schmitt: The party doesn't need that much repairing. 
Michael Tomasky: He can do better in both substantive and symbolic terms.
David A. Bell: Ten reasons not to pick Hillary Clinton as V.P.