Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why not Feinstein?

Not quite a rhetorical question

The Democratic National Convention was held in San Francisco in 1984. Presumptive nominee Walter Mondale, former vice president under Jimmy Carter, was going to have an uphill battle in his effort to oust incumbent president Ronald Reagan. In an attempt to capture the imagination of the American electorate, Mondale decided to name a woman as his running mate. The choice fell to U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro, a congresswoman from New York state. Despite some initial hopes that Mondale-Ferraro could upset President Reagan and Vice President George Bush in the general election, the Democrats never gained much traction. The incumbents enjoyed a landslide victory while the Democratic ticket carried only Minnesota, the home state of its presidential nominee, and the reliably Democratic District of Columbia.

Everyone knew that Mondale had narrowed his list of potential running mates to two names by the time of his party's convention. He had also seriously considered Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, who had hosted the national party's convention with aplomb and was widely regarded as a Democrat with a bright future. Mondale balked, however, at the prospect of enduring constant scrutiny over the financial involvements of Feinstein's spouse, investment banker Richard C. Blum. While critics continue to harp on Blum's potential conflicts of interest with his wife's votes as a U.S. senator, Feinstein and Blum have weathered such accusations without visible political or financial damage to either.

Mondale might have hoped for such resilience when it turned out that Ferraro's husband, real estate agent John Zaccaro, had some problems with his tax returns. Or perhaps he wished that he had chosen Feinstein instead. In any case, the first rule of running mates is the same as the cardinal rule for doctors: “do no harm.” Actually benefiting the ticket is a pure plus. Ferraro failed that test in 1984 (just as Quayle did in 1988, but not fatally that year), and today both Obama and McCain are looking for vice-presidential candidates that will, at the very least, not hurt their campaigns and might, in the best case, actually help a little.

Sen. Obama is said to be reviewing prospective running mates with the objective of shoring up his support among potentially disaffected Democratic constituencies: women, Jews, and Hispanics. While Hillary Clinton's strong endorsement at the time of her suspension of her campaign has accelerated the process of reuniting internal factions in preparation for the fall election, an apt choice of vice-presidential candidate could perhaps seal the deal.

Several names have been bruited about. Sen. Clinton is the obvious possibility, but there's the question whether she would settle for the proverbial “bucket of warm spit” (in John Nance Garner's likely bowdlerized description of his job during the first two administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and whether Sen. Obama would want to offer it to her in the first place. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico could potentially bring in the Latino voters with his Hispanic heritage and Spanish language skills; Spanish-speaking voters stuck with Hillary throughout the long primary battles and Obama would like to have them on board. Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas is also certain to be on Obama's short list of prime prospects for a running mate. Sebelius is a popular and successful Democrat in a state dominated by Republicans and she would likely appeal to women and Midwestern voters. A Roman Catholic, Sebelius has been chastised by clerics in Kansas for refusing to sign into law anti-abortion measures that she says would unduly restrict women's freedom of choice.

No one is really talking about Dianne Feinstein as a possible vice-presidential nominee and no one has suggested that she is on Obama's list. Perhaps she should be. Feinstein made presidential campaign news recently when she played host to Obama and Clinton's end-of-campaign powwow. A strong Clinton supporter who had signaled it was time to close ranks behind Obama, Feinstein has good relations with both camps. While one might wish (as I do!) that Feinstein were less inclined to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt on his judicial appointments or to be more suspicious of the White House position on FISA, Sen. Feinstein has a well-established record of working effectively with both sides of the senate aisle. Her diplomatic skills are significant.

If Obama were to pick Feinstein, she could bridge the gap between his original supporters and those in Hillary's brigade. Feinstein is Jewish and could strengthen Obama's support among her coreligionists, many of whom seem to find him insufficiently pro-Israel and are being eagerly courted by McCain. Unlike Sebelius, Feinstein would not be seen as someone whom Obama was setting up to preempt Clinton's future as a national politician (whether Hillary has one is another question). Feinstein, after all, turns 75 this year and could run as a senior stateswoman. (Surely the McCain campaign would hesitate to try to use age as an issue.)

Of course, this notion that Feinstein could be a good running mate for Obama runs horribly aground on a terrible reality. The governor of California would appoint her successor in the event she is elected to the vice presidency. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican and no one in the Democratic ranks would want to surrender a prized seat to the opposition. Fortunately, however, there is a simple solution:

Strike a deal with Arnold.

Schwarzenegger has a good working relationship with Feinstein and would undoubtedly relish the prospect of having a friendly voice inside the White House (assuming that his preferred candidate John McCain does not win). To hedge his bets by making a side deal with the Democratic ticket, Arnold could ensure his ready access to the federal executive branch no matter what the outcome of the election. The state of Wyoming provides a useful example. When an incumbent Repubican senator died in office, the Democratic governor of Wyoming was required by state law to choose a replacement from the late incumbent's political party. California has no such law, but there is no reason that Feinstein and Schwarzenegger could not strike a similar deal. If Arnold were to pledge to appoint Feinstein's successor from a list of three names that she would provide in the event of her election as vice president, her senate seat would not switch parties. Schwarzenegger would have no particular reason to balk at such a deal and every reason to avoid reneging and poisoning his future relations with the opposition party (which dominates the California state legislature).

Is any of this going to happen? I certainly don't think so. But I've heard much worse suggestions.


eProf2 said...

Two problems should Feinstein be selected: One, she's a member of the US Senate and two Senators running together without a strong executive background will not work; two, Feinstein will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as another Joe Lieberman. Any other suggestions?

Zeno said...

Feinstein does have a strong executive background, having served two terms as mayor of San Francisco (not an easy job). And I can't imagine her being mistaken for Joe Lieberman. They have nothing in common except their religion. While Feinstein can work across the aisle, Lieberman has actually crossed it (and he ain't coming back).

P.S.: Kennedy and Johnson in 1960 were both senators. And it worked.

Jeff M. said...

Really, what does Schwarzenegger have to gain from striking a deal? He already has access to Obama via his wife, and Obama is going to naturally want to work with moderate Repubs on issues like global warming anyway.

Seondly, what does Feinstein have to give him? California is going blue in the fall - despite our slightly purple electorate and the gay marriage issue. I'm sure McCain will put some face time in the state, but he's not counting on winning here.

Furthermore, Feinstein is 75 years old. She won't be able to run for president in eight years, and a Reagan-Reagan-Bush reign of power is what Dems like Obama are hoping for.

I'd pick Jim Webb if I were Obama. We've advanced as a nation on the issue of race, but not so much that we don't require the totemic white male on the presidential ticket.

Jeff M. said...

One more point, Obama doesn't need to bring the Clinton supporters over to his side. They will rush over to his side as soon as the prospect of Dems winning in the fall comes into view. I will predict that you will hear virtually nothing about Hillary after the convention.

It's the independents in states like Ohio and Florida that he needs to win over. Hillary voters are just a symptom of a larger problem, namely, getting poorly educated whites to vote against their racial anxieties.

Luckily for Obama, after the summer of $5+ a gallon gas, the good people of the USA will be ready to vote in a gay, French socialist.

Interrobang said...

As long as that gay, French socialist thinks abortion is between a woman and her doctor, not a woman, her doctor, and her minister, yeah, maybe the gay, French socialist would get at least one of the Clinton constituencies back.

I don't have a dog in this fight being Canadian and all (and as far as Canada is concerned, all the candidates suck), but for a vast number of the die-hard Clinton supporters, it ain't racism, it's the misogyny, stupid. Obama's more than a little tone-deaf on the subject of feminism (PMS jokes aimed at a postmenopausal woman?!), and a lot of them aren't really happy about the abuser logic coming into play: "Vote for us or else you'll lose Roe v. Wade."

By the way, for what it's worth, Jeff, you're doing it yourself -- why are you referring to Hillary Clinton as "Hillary" and Barack Obama as "Obama"? I know, because everyone else has been doing it. But haven't you noticed it's a little bit sexist to single her out that way? Even earlier in the primary, you had all the male candidates referred to by their last names...and then "Hillary." (There is only one person in this race named "Clinton.")

Zeno said...

Jeff, I do think Feinstein would appeal to the cohort of middle-aged women who were the backbone of the Clinton campaign. Yeah, California is in the bag for the Dems, so it's not as though she would shore up a shaky state, but running mates aren't that good at that anyway. I mention Feinstein mainly because I think of her as a safe choice that could look good to Clinton supporters and Feinstein would not be looking to run for the top spot later herself, which would please a lot of potential rivals.

Interrobang, I think you're right about the rank misogyny that Clinton confronted throughout her campaign. It reeked. As for the name thing, however, Sen. Clinton campaigned on her first name. All her bumperstickers said "Hillary". The T-shirts said "Hillary". It was her choice. And I still have a campaign banner in my computer room from when I helped out in Feinstein's close-call re-election in 1994 (vs. Mike Huffington). It says "Dianne". Maybe it's the fact that lots of women still adopt their husband's last names (as did Hillary and Dianne) that causes them to feel comfortable campaigning with the name that actually belongs to them, but I don't know.

Phaedrus said...

I'd have to dig a little more, but did she block the FISA immunity, or the other odious legislation coming out of the senate (Patriot Act, Habeaus suspension, bankruptcy bill, Alito & Robertson appointment, etc.)? I've been told that one senator has the power to gum up the works, but that didn't happen. So, even if she mouthed her disapproval of these events, she doesn't seem to have tried hard to stop them. I don't think we need to reward that, or have that one step from the presidency.

Webb is worse.

GOPnot4me said...

As a Californian, I have grown increasingly disappointed w/ my Senator, especially when it comes to her willingness to capitulate on Tele-com Immunity, her vote on Authorization for Use of Force, amongst other shortcomings. Why not Sen. Boxer? She is a far more reliable Progressive than Dianne and her staff much more inclined to respond to constituent concerns with genuine interest, rather than dissmissive impatience.

Zeno said...

But that, GOPnot4me, would ruin my scheme to boot Dianne upstairs into the vice presidency and clear the way for her replacement by Debra Bowen, Jackie Speier, or Karen Bass.

Besides, my semi-serious recommendation of Feinstein is based on my assessment of her likely appeal to a broader constituency than someone like Boxer, who is rightly viewed as more partisan (which is also why I like Boxer better).

Phaedrus said...

I don't think we need someone who can broadly appeal to the currently mis-informed public. I think we need someone who can clearly correct and educate the public on what is good for America.

Republicans of all stripes have been saying that Democratic foreign policy will make us less safe and cost lives. Where is the Democrat pointing out the current Republican policy is, right now, making us less safe and costing actual (not hypothetical) American lives. It is an easy case to make. Was America better off with Saddam Hussein in power than the current mess? Hell yes, but it takes some education - countering the current "everything is rosy" propaganda - and the media doesn't help that kind of talk.

I think progressives need to start setting some basic standards :

1. No torture
2. Rule of law (no FISA immunity, habeas, Geneva Convention)
3. No rendition
4. Government transperancy
5. No pre-emptive war

If a Democrat can't pass that muster (and most of them can't) I think we shouldn't vote for them. If that means the Neocons win for the moment, so be it, and we work (get active) in developing and electing rational, humane candidates.

The whole talk of Social Security, Universal Health care, etc., seems like rearranging deck chairs to me.

GOPnot4me said...

How about VP General Wesley Clark?

The more I listen to him, the better I like him. Did you ever see him with Jon Stewart? Funny and smart would be a welcome change.