Terms, I

May 7, 2008 9:21 p.m.
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Does Hillary Clinton really want the vice presidential nomination? Let’s set aside whether she’s owed it or deserves it or whether her place on the ticket might provide the Democrats with a crucial edge in November. Does she really want it?

Let me start by saying this is speculation. And my record is not good. Not long after Hillary won her senate seat (actually before she was even sworn in) I wrote an article in Slate in which I explained that while I thought she’d be a great senator I found the idea of her running for president ridiculous. So clearly I didn’t get that one right. And re-reading the article almost eight years on reminds me of how difficult it is to see even clearly a handful of years into the future.

But past mis-prognostications aside.

Does Hillary Clinton really want the vice presidency? It seems to me that the senate offers her a better venue for achieving her ambitions and goals personally, politically and in public policy — and a future in public life with much greater longevity — than anything she’ll find as Barack Obama’s number two.

Let’s run through a few of the scenarios. And let’s start with what I believe is the unassailable assumption that if and when Hillary relinquishes her senate seat to become vice president she won’t get it back and there will no other office she can run again for beside presidency.

So the scenarios.

If Obama wins the presidency, Hillary would not be able to run in her own right until 2016, when she will turn 69. As John McCain is showing, that’s certainly not too old to run for president. But she will be nearing the age when ‘age’ becomes an issue in her candidacy.

Most people who accept the vice presidency do so either because they believe it will line them up to succeed to the presidency or because it brings them to a level of power and honor their careers held little prospect of bringing them otherwise. But neither applies to Hillary Clinton. She’s already of the stature and standing to run for president. She’s a genuinely historic figure. And she’s already been heavily involved in a successful two term administration.

Remember too that the recent trend for greater vice presidential involvement in key administration decision-making has brought with it a flat requirement that vice presidents be strictly loyal and politically subservient to the president. Quite simply, the vice presidency is beneath Hillary’s stature. It’s not clear to me why Hillary would want to spend four or eight years in a position that I think would actually diminish her stature for the possibility of running for president again almost a decade from now.

On the other hand, Hillary has and can probably hold her seat in the senate for the rest of her life. One never knows, but the prospects look good for the Democrats to hold a majority in the senate — perhaps even a substantial one — for a number of years into the future. And some key leadership role would probably eventually be in her grasp, perhaps even hers for the taking. So whether you think Hillary’s ambitions are political, ideological or personal — altruistic or selfish — her range of action for achieving is better as a lion in the senate than a second banana in the West Wing.

I actually believe that Hillary would really only come into her own in the senate after she set her presidential ambitions aside precisely because they have so tightly constrained the range of actions she’s allowed herself and made others so closely scrutinize those actions in light of her ambitions for higher office.

Now, I grant there are some other scenarios. You might speculate that if she ran hard with him and lost she’d line herself up for another try in 2012. But I’m not cynical enough to believe she’d run a race she hopes to lose. Alternatively perhaps she’s so committed to her agenda of public policy goals that she’d go for the reduced stature and constraints of the vice presidency for a chance to have great influence on the executive branch from the inside.

Put it all together and whether or not Obama would offer it to her, and even though she might want to be asked, I just don’t see where she’d really want it. She should stay in the senate.

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