Why Not the Best?
May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
This issue of The Weekly Standard features advice from Yuval Levin and Jay Cost for Mitt Romney in his presidential race. A Romney victory is devoutly to be desired. But a truly grand victory requires worthy opponents. Barack Obama is one. With all due respect to our affable vice president, Joe Biden is not.
Obama and Clinton in Unity, N.H., June 2008
AP / Elise Amendola
For our part, we’d like to see a decisive triumph for Romney and his running mate over two formidable representatives of contemporary liberalism, rather than a discounted victory over a flawed ticket with only one strong candidate. So we sincerely suggest to President Obama: Dump Joe Biden.
We’re sure the thought has occurred to the president. He knows his undisciplined vice president did him no service by popping off about same-sex marriage on Meet the Press, thereby forcing Obama to engage the issue prematurely. Instead of making his announcement of his evolution in a well-prepared speech for which the groundwork had been laid, the president arranged a rushed interview in which he rather inarticulately expressed his personal view in a way that persuaded no one who wasn’t already convinced. This wasn’t good for him.
Nor is Biden’s presence on the ticket. In a Fox News poll last week, President Obama had a 52 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable rating. Vice President Biden’s numbers in the same poll were 41 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable. In other words, Biden will clearly be a drag on Obama’s fortunes this fall.
Who should replace Biden? Everyone knows the answer. Hillary Clinton received nearly 18 million votes in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Her rating in a Washington Post survey a couple of weeks ago was 65 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable. Biden hurts Obama. She would help him.
What’s more, she’d help with precisely the undecided voters Obama needs in November. Many of them are white, working- and middle-class Americans who supported her in the 2008 primaries. They overcame their disappointment at Clinton’s defeat to vote for Obama that November. But many became disillusioned and voted Republican in 2010, producing that year’s GOP landslide. Barack Obama needs to win back as many of them as possible in 2012. They voted for Hillary Clinton once. Surely they’d be more likely to return to Obama if given the opportunity to vote for her again as part of the ticket.
Wouldn’t a Biden-Clinton switch be messy and embarrassing and chaotic? Not really. There aren’t many Biden loyalists around, after all, to cause much of a fuss. In fact, Biden’s chief of staff, Bruce Reed, is a Clinton loyalist who could help ensure a smooth coexistence during the slightly awkward months when Clinton would be the vice presidential nominee and Biden still the sitting vice president.
Hillary Clinton would of course have to step down as secretary of state in order to campaign in September and October. But David Petraeus would be ready to move over to that job and would be promptly confirmed by Congress; his appointment would also help politically, serving as a reassuring signal to voters as to the nature of a second Obama term. Meanwhile, Biden could still be useful as a surrogate campaigner in third-tier media markets that might be grateful for a visit from a celebrity, even one without much of a future. And of course Bill Clinton’s formidable campaign skills could be unleashed effectively as the prospective second spouse.
Is this fanciful? One might have thought so—until last Monday. For in his May 14 commencement speech at Barnard College, President Obama seemed to be beginning subtly to pave the way for the switch.
In the more than half-hour-long speech, Vice President Biden is a nonperson, nowhere mentioned. Dr. Jill Biden isn’t mentioned either. Hillary, on the other hand, is praised effusively, as “doing an extraordinary job as one of the finest secretaries of state America has ever had.”
What’s more, in his remarks, President Obama went out of his way to point out, “Today, women are not just half this country; you’re half its workforce. . . . You’re more than half of our college graduates, and master’s graduates, and Ph.D.s.” Yet surely he’s aware that right now women fail to constitute even half of his presidential ticket. President Obama, sensitive to such matters, knows the devastating message that sends to young women—and to all the “Julias” of whatever age whom the Obama campaign considers its prototypical clients and supporters.
Even more fundamentally, as President Obama said at Barnard, “we know we are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life.” True. And is it fair if the buffoonish Biden gets a second shot at being vice president of the United States while Hillary Clinton, after the “extraordinary job” she’s done, is retired to private life? The president said to the graduates, “after decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world.” Where better to start a century of women-shaping destiny than with Hillary Clinton as vice president?
President Obama’s Barnard speech looks like the beginning of an “evolution,” which will culminate with his dumping Joe Biden and elevating a woman who has worked hard and played by the rules—Hillary Clinton.
Why not the best for President Obama and the Democratic party? And how much more will victory be worth having this November when it’s a victory over the liberal dream team of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?