Obama's Options: Someone Just Right

Tomorrow, Obama will announce his Vice Presidential candidate. He knows who it is, but none of the rest of us know anything.

Obama said the right thing, noting that first of all he needed someone who could become President and second someone who could help him govern. He did not say, but perhaps should have, that he needs someone he can get along with – because the single most salient fact about Vice Presidents is that they can’t really be fired until the next election (and doing so that point usually looks pretty bad.)

The third quality is a bad sign for two possibles, Joe Biden and Jim Webb, both of whom have been known for gaffes. Vice Presidents can never show any deviance from the President’s policy – neither of these gentleman, worthy in many regards, could be guaranteed on that front.

It is difficult to say who is fit to be President – we just tend to know it when we see. But for aid in governance, Obama is a classic outsider with limited Washington experience. So first and foremost, he needs someone who knows Washington. Other knowledge deficits are national security and executive experience.

Obama may be running on his judgment, but process is about how things actually get done – and the learning curve is steep. Mondale, Gore, Cheney, and to a lesser extent Bush 1 served as senior counselors who could assist the President in getting stuff done. Mondale took over the White House agenda setting process, Cheney ran the Budget Review Committee. Bush 1 ran the NSC’s Crisis Management Committee.

This is the stuff that will flummox Obama and he will need a VP who can take on these kinds of nuts and bolts tasks, disagree in private – but remain loyal in public.

Arguably, the best relationship between a President and his VP was Clinton-Gore, where, in addition to having strengths in policy areas where Clinton was weak – Gore also brought discipline to the process.

Virginia’s Tim Kaine has been much touted, but he has zero Washington or national security experience. None. In fact his resume most closely resembles that of Spiro Agnew (former Baltimore County Executive and 2 years into his first term as Governor of Maryland.) Kaine is undoubtedly a better and smarter man than Agnew, but Agnew was the last outsider VP and – personal weaknesses aside – there were process issues that isolated him as well.

Golden Boy is the Golden Mean

Evan Bayh is called the safe choice, but he is also an excellent choice. He (paralleling Al Gore) was the son of a Senator and attended St. Albans. In his own right he was a two term governor and has been in the Senate for 10 years – where he as served on Armed Forces and Select Intelligence. Resume-wise he is exactly the kind of person Obama needs.

Within the party he is a moderate, who has spoken about the importance of Democrats reaching out to more conservative groups. This is also a classic VP selection strategy – picking someone from the opposite wing of the party (Reagan-Bush, Carter-Mondale, Kerry-Edwards – are just a few of the examples.)

Finally, Bayh is low-key and unlikely to overshadow Obama but likely to make a good impression. Bayh’s background shows him as a person with good qualifications for the Presidency and the right skills to help govern. Bayh would highlight Obama’s good judgment, and further the campaign’s youthful appearance.

At the same time, VP would serve Bayh well. Bayh is an oddly unforceful speaker, but Veeps spend a lot of time on the campaign trail (party-building) and Bayh would get better in this role very quickly.

If Biden is a bit too much and Kaine is not quite enough – Bayh is just right.

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