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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Problem With A Bipartisan “Unity Ticket”

Having gone out on a shaky limb to endorse the idea of an Obama-Clinton “unity ticket,” I will hasten to raise objections to the very different idea of a “unity ticket” between Obama and a non-Democrat.
This idea was raised most recently by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who argues that Obama’s post-partisan campaign pitch can best gain credibility through a ticket that includes Chuck Hagel or Mike Bloomberg.
Ignatius clearly doesn’t understand that Obama’s own “unity” message is about mobilizing voters across party lines to demand change, and then to extend to Republicans in Washington an iron fist/velvet glove proposition, offering political cover for cooperation and threatening retribution for obstruction. It’s not about organizing some big barbecue of Democratic and Republican solons and striking split-the-difference compromises on legislation. To put it another way, Obama has embraced High Broderist goals, but not High Broderist methods, when it comes to bipartisanship.
Sure, you can make the argument that putting a Republican like Hagel or an ex-Republican like Bloomberg on the ticket would resonate with those non-Democratic voters Obama really does want to reach. But these names don’t necessarily perform magic outside Nebraska, which Obama can’t win, and New York, which Obama can’t lose. And such a gesture would legitimately honk off a lot of Democrats, who figure that an all-Democratic ticket ought to be able to win in a strongly pro-Democratic election year.
To be crassly political about it, there’s no percentage in excessively angering the Democratic base with a vice-presidential choice unless it’s a clear game-changer. Had John Kerry convinced John McCain to leave the GOP and run with him in 2004, the step would have produced a king-hell backlash from Democratic activists, particularly those in the labor and feminist movements. But arguably, it would have pretty much ended the general election in Kerry’s favor, and victory, like love, covers a multitude of sins. None of the names being kicked around by people like Ignatius have anything like the electoral clout that McCain might have had four years ago. Sure, Bloomberg has an incredible amount of personal wealth, but money isn’t exactly Barack Obama’s biggest handicap in a general election.
The odd thing I can tell you about from personal conversations with Obama supporters after my Obama-Clinton pitch is that a lot of the same people who would seriously consider hara-kiri if HRC’s on the ticket seem entirely open to a non-Democratic running-mate. And some of these same people dislike the Clintons in the first place because of their supposed lack of loyalty to the Democratic Party and its principles.
For all the legitimate objections to an Obama-Clinton “unity ticket,” it would be decidedly strange if a coalition of Beltway Bipartisans and lefty Obama-ites convinced the putative nominee to diss Democratic unity in favor of a “unity ticket” that compromised Obama’s case for progressive change, without a whole lot of return on a questionable investment.

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