- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Only hours after he declared himself the victor of the Democratic nomination in Minneapolis, Sen. Barack Obama hinted that he would not pick Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for vice president, despite her interest in the job. While not conceding, Hillary notified her campaign staff that they’d be closing up shop on Friday when the 60-year-old former first lady is expected to officially end her 18-month-long campaign. Instead of continuing the dialogue about Hillary becoming VP, Barack picked Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg - the only surviving child of the late President John F. Kennedy - to head up his VP search team. Mrs. Schlossberg preceded her uncle Teddy (Sen. Edward Kennedy), who recently underwent brain surgery for a malignant tumor, by endorsing Barack on Jan. 27 and paying him the supreme compliment of comparing him to her father.

Mrs. Schlossberg and Mr. Kennedy endorsed Barack at a critical time only a week before Super Tuesday February 5, where some 22 states and territories could have determined the nomination. At the time, Barack was under blazing attack from Hillary and the GOP hyping the Rev. Jerimiah Wright Jr. controversy. Mrs. Schlossberg and Mr. Kennedy’s endorsement neutralized what could have been a lethal blow to Barack’s campaign. Appointing Mrs. Schlossberg only hours after claiming victory signals that Hillary wasn’t on Barack’s short-list of possible VP candidates. Knowing Mrs. Schlossberg, she won’t settle for a boring pick, somehow steeped in minutia and bereft of charisma. Given Barack has already broken new ground to become the first African American nominee of a major party, they most likely won’t pick another minority or woman. Barack doesn’t have the luxury of picking only on chemistry, personality or region.

Picking either Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius or Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano would dramatically weaken the ticket, adding nothing to Barack’s deficit in foreign and defense policy. While New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson comes with a strong foreign policy resume from the U.N., he harks back to the Clinton administration. Democratic Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a former Navy Secretary, comes with stellar military and foreign policy credentials. Equally qualified is soon-to-be retiring Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, whose opposition to the Iraq war goes down as one of the great profiles in U.S. political courage. Mr. Hagel suffered ostracism from the White House and his GOP colleagues for openly opposing the war. Picking Mr. Hagel would upend presumptive GOP nominee John McCain’s argument that Barack shows bad judgment when it comes to Iraq.

Barack would face deep opposition within the party picking a Republican. Should something happen to Barack, the presidency would turn Republican. Apart from that problem, Mr. Hagel has all the right stuff, both politically and personally, to serve as a distinguished VP. No one during the Iraq war showed more courage, put his reputation on the line and suffered more damage to his career than Mr. Hagel for standing up to the White House.

Other possibilities include veteran Delaware Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, whose years of service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee make him more than qualified to be president. Mr. Biden’s fiery personality is at odds with the cool-and-collected Barack, who could wind up apologizing for his VP. Hillary supporter Wesley Clark, a former Supreme Commander of NATO, offers a better match in terms of temperament and displays outstanding character and experience in both foreign and defense policy.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle offers journeyman experience but is associated with Washington’s bitter partisanship.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg presents problems not only because he’s an independent, but because of his prodigious wealth and business empire. Of all the possible picks, Hillary represents Barack’s most difficult choice because he’ll have to weigh her personal negatives and past with the Clinton White House.

Barack ran on a platform of cleaning the slate of Washinton’s partisan rancor. No one in recent memory creates more controversy and opposition than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Picking Hillary presents difficult fallout for Barack with the ex-president always lurking in the background. Barack’s wife Michelle would have reservations about having Bill Clinton, with his rumored racy lifestyle, too close to the Oval Office.

Barack cannot allow Hillary to push her way into the vice presidency. With Barack’s relative youth and inexperience, he must pick a VP to compensate for his perceived weaknesses. While Hillary is slated to mend fences and endorse Barack today, putting her on the ticket could turn off independents and crossover Republicans. While there are many qualified candidates, Barack must pick a VP based on shoring up any perceived weaknesses and avoiding any controversy on the ticket.

Since he’s breaking the color barrier, he needs to reassure voters that his pick fits more the standard image of presidential candidates. Both Mr. Clark and Mr. Webb fit the bill, neither of whom send out any red flags. Knowing Mr. Webb’s occasional breaks of protocol, Mr. Clark might be the better fit. If Barack bucks the trend and picks Mr. Hagel, he would pull the rug out from underneath Mr. McCain’s campaign.

John M. Curtis is editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of “Dodging The Bullet” and “Operation Charisma.

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