Joan Walsh wonders: “Are Kaine and Bayh the best Obama can do?”
No. Conventional wisdom has narrowed the Democratic veepstakes to those two and Kathleen Sebelius. Kaine gets a lot of the DC attention, since he’s right there in Virginia, but there’s no reason Walsh should blow off Sebelius.
Bayh would be a stupid choice. Obama’s strength against McCain is that he was right about Iraq, so his VP shouldn’t be one of the war’s congressional cheerleaders. The speculation (from Walsh if no one else) that Bayh would be some sort of sop to disappointed Clinton fans doesn’t hold up, since there’s no evidence in the polling of any substantial residue anti-Obama Clinton voters. Obama has to be thinking about the undecided voters, not folks who were passionate enough about the Democratic party to get into its primary fight. And he also has to think about governing with someone.
Bayh brings a good visual, the all-American white boy from Indiana, but ultimately that doesn’t help Obama. Racists won’t ignore his skin color and vote for his VP, so the Hoosier in the wings won’t win him many votes from that bloc. Obama is a change agent, and the campaign will be stronger with a VP nominee who represents change. Bayh has been in the Senate forever, and comes from a long line of Indiana politicos. That ain’t change, nor are Bayh’s mushiness on a woman’s basic right to choose nor his wrongheadedness on the war. Throw in that nominating Bayh lets Mitch Daniels ® select a new Senator, and I don’t see why Bayh is even in the running.
Kaine is fine, but has a weak environmental record, and not a lot of political seasoning. Plus he’s got a Republican Lieutenant Governor, and there’s no reason to give Republicans that power, especially heading into redistricting in a battleground state. That said, I don’t think there’s any compelling argument against him. Virginia’s a battleground state, and Kaine could tip it Obama’s way. Worry about Kaine’s lack of foreign policy experience misses the point. A foreign policy whiz could make Obama look like he’s compensating, or would be ceding his foreign policy agenda (the easiest place for a president to make a mark) to someone else.
Kathleen Sebelius, however, has a Democratic LG, has spoken out forcefully about the resources trapped in Iraq, and has a record of defending strong Democratic values in a red state. I’m a bit peeved that she hasn’t done more to share her popularity (re-elected with 58% of the vote, but didn’t even put the word “Democrat” on her yard signs and bumper stickers). I’d also like to see her run for the Senate seat Sam Brownback is abandoning in 2010. Of course, Jim Slattery is running a great campaign against Pat Roberts this year, and if he doesn’t pull it off, he could come back in two years and take the open seat handily. Or Dennis Moore may decide to look at the Senate seat. Sebelius, however, would take it easily, and once there, she could stay for decades, not just for 8 years.
Still, I think Obama could do worse. She’s got a great record of standing up for the environment, first denying permission to build massive coal plants (citing global warming as the basis for the denial), then vetoing three separate bills which would have overruled that decision. She brought the Kansas budget out of the fiscal hole dug by her Republican predecessor, and did it without cutting essential services or raising taxes. She wasn’t afraid to call out George Bush for deploying National Guard troops and equipment overseas when they were needed in the aftermath of tornadoes in Kansas. As chair of the Democratic Governors’ Association, she’s got a national profile and useful allies in swing states. She’s also got family ties in Ohio, where her father served as governor.
Time named her among the top 5 governors, and she was among four governors given the top rating in Inc. magazine’s election-year survey in 2006. I’ve been consistently impressed with her ability to work with the legislature, including the ultra-conservatives who tend to run the show. Despite their disagreements, I’ve never gotten a sense of deep-seated hatred from the folks who work with her (and her staff) on a regular basis. That says a lot, and it goes to the heart of Obama’s message about working across the aisle. She hasn’t given away the store, and hasn’t assumed everyone can be swayed. She has, however, treated people with dignity, and found ways to craft compromises that are fair to all, but that preserve core values. That’s what we want from our President, and it’s what we want from a Vice President.
Walsh objects that Sebelius is:
another appealing red-state moderate with no foreign policy credentials or national profile.
I don’t consider foreign policy experience terribly critical in this election, and I don’t think the VP needs to be the locus of that experience in an administration. That’s what a Secretary of State and a UN Ambassador (as well as National Security Advisor, etc.) are for. And saying she’s got no national profile is simply silly. She gave the response to the State of the Union this year (not her best performance, granted) and her service as chair of the DGA gives her as much national profile as President Clinton had before his successful bid for the presidency. Sebelius has gotten plaudits from national media for her excellent administration, and has gotten lots of attention for standing firm against new coal plants. The political media tends to focus on Congress, and then on neighboring states or those readily accessible from DC. But I’d wager that just as many swing voters need an introduction to Bayh, or perhaps even Biden, as need one for Sebelius.