Most years, the Super Bowl is a dud. Yet the hype machine keeps pulling in new suckers.
The quadrennial announcement of the Democratic nomination for vice president features an identical Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football dynamic: lots of hype followed by deadly disappointment. And there’s never been more hype than this year.
Not that Joe Biden’s pick isn’t important. If he wins, he will be the oldest person to take both of office by a full eight years. (He’ll be 78. Trump, the second oldest, was 70 in 2017.) Even by the standards that the 70s are the new 60s, Joe Biden’s 70s look more like 80s or 90s. His choice has to satisfy several competing constituencies: women, Blacks, and the progressive voters he desperately needs to show up November 3rd instead of sitting on their hands as they did last time.
But past performance almost always being a reliable indicator of near-future returns, Democrats should prepare for a Super Bowl-like fiesta of deep disappointment.
Last cycle’s brutal primaries prompted speculation that Hillary Clinton might unify the party by giving Bernie Sanders the VP nod. She chose Tim Kaine. (Political pundits jammed phone and text messaging with: “who?”) She told Charlie Rose she loved that Kaine described himself as “too boring.”
Clinton thought Kaine’s dullness would provide balance. Voters considered it redundant. “‘Safe,’” observed Politico, “seems to be Kaine’s middle name.” In the year of Trump, safe was anything but.
That’s often the case.
I was traveling through Central Asia when a hotel employee informed me that Al Gore had announced that Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman would be his running mate to go up against Bush-Cheney in 2000. I assumed my Uzbek host was part of some weird post-Soviet gaslighting campaign. How could Gore do anything so stupid?
The mists of time and the Florida recount fiasco have blurred the fact that, like Clinton 16 years later, Gore needed a progressive to balance his record as a Third Way centrist. Inexplicably, both at the time and today, clueless Democratic pollsters somehow convinced themselves that what he really needed to do was distance himself from Bill Clinton—the president under whom he’d served for eight years and who was enjoying improving poll numbers. They also thought the conservative Lieberman’s “moral rectitude” in being the first Democrat to condemn Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal would appeal to left-leaning Ralph Nader voters.
Lieberman opposed affirmative action and gay marriage. He supported every major military intervention, including, at first, Vietnam.
Nader kept his progressive votes.
The first rule of picking a veep is do no harm. The second is to remember the lesson of Bill Clinton/Al Gore 1992, when Democrats won with a pair of centrists of similar age and temperament from neighboring states: geographical ticket balancing as an art peaked out when JFK tapped LBJ.
As tensions mount between voters dominated by the populist progressive left and party leaders who manipulate the Democrats’ primary process to favor corporate centrists like Obama, Clinton and Biden, however, the case for ideological balance seems stronger than ever. Surely Hillary Clinton must wake up in the middle of the night wondering if relegating Bernie Sanders to number 39 on her list of running mates was the best decision she ever made.
By that standard Elizabeth Warren ought to be keeping her phone by the window in her house with the best reception. She would be an interesting choice: both more intelligent and intellectual than her boss, white (OK, white and Native American) in the year of Black Lives Matter, someone disgruntled progressives would have a hard time justifying as the target of a voter boycott.
Of the women floating around on Biden’s supposed short list, Warren would surprise. She would exceed expectations. She might unify the party.
I don’t think she stands much of a chance.
Boring usually gets the nod.