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The Running Mate Choice / NYT

Op-Ed Columnist

The Running Mate Choice

Published: May 27, 2008

My first thought on the running mate question is that to balance his ticket, Barack Obama should pick a really old white general. Therefore, he should pick Dwight Eisenhower. John McCain, on the other hand, needs to pick someone younger than himself. Therefore, he also should pick Dwight Eisenhower.

David Brooks

My second thought is that most of the commentary on vice president picks is completely backward. Most discussion focuses on what state or constituency this or that running mate could help carry in the fall. But, as a rule, recent vice presidential nominees haven’t had any effect on key states or constituencies. They haven’t had much effect on elections at all, except occasionally as hapless distractions.

A vice president can, however, have a gigantic impact on an administration once in office (see: Cheney, Richard). Therefore, a sensible presidential candidate shouldn’t be selecting a mate on the basis of who can help him get elected. He should be thinking about who can help him govern successfully so he can get re-elected.

That means asking: What circumstances will I face when I take office? What tasks will I need my chief subordinate to perform to help me face those circumstances?

If Barack Obama is elected, his chief challenge will be that he hopes to usher in a new style of politics, but he has no real strategy for how to do that.

He will find himself surrounded by highly partisan Democratic politicians, committee chairmen and interest groups thrilled to finally seize power. Some of them might have enjoyed his lofty rhetoric about change, but in practice, these organization types have no interest in changing politics. They just want to take the money and patronage that has been going to Republican special interests and give it to Democratic special interests.

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