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 (R) 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.


  1. #1 natural cynic
    August 1, 2008

    Evan’s father would have made a much better VP.

  2. #2 Flex
    August 1, 2008

    Add that Sebelius has experiance in executive office, which is something that Obama is rather short on.

    Governors are often strong canidates for presidents or VP’s because there is a record of governance. I’ve been dismayed that in recent years the Democratic party has chosen to pick senators instead of working within each state to elect state governors who are able to be nominated as presidental candidates at a later time.

    Further, I can easily see Clinton supporters getting strongly behind Sebelius.

    Sebelius shouldn’t be removed from consideration.

  3. #3 Ian
    August 1, 2008

    Josh – you’re blogging like the election is going to be decided on calm logic and rationality. It isn’t. Given the electorate, it cannot be. It’s pretty much going to be decided on raw emotion. I’m not saying that this is right. It isn’t. But it is what it is.

  4. #4 Oldfart
    August 1, 2008

    Dennis Moore is a “Blue Dog” and proud of it. He voted in favor of telecom immunity and in favor of gutting the 4th Amendment when he voted for the FISA bill. Let’s see how he votes when it comes to off-shore drilling and whether he believes the woo that raping the environment and exploiting ALL US oil reserves will do anything to reduce oil prices at all.

    I, personally, will work to replace Moore with a real Democrat.

  5. #5 MonkeyHawk
    August 2, 2008

    I think the better fit for Sebelius would be to serve as President Obama’s Secretary of HEW for a couple of years and come back to replace Brownback in the Senate (assuming he lives up to his promise to retire).

    I dunno if health care reform can be achieved within the first two years of Obama’s administration, but Kathleen is a superb and knowledgeable advocate.

    I’ve forgotten where I read it, but someone made a pretty good case that Obama should pick a relative non-entity for a running mate; someone who isn’t likely to distract voters from Obama as might a woman, another minority, a Kaine or a Bayh. I don’t like the idea of taking a Democrat out of the Senate and I’m not sure of the succession issues in states such as Virginia, Arizona (Napolitano), New Mexico, et cetera. But another Senator is probably not as good an approach as selecting a governor, or Wes Clark, or…

    Okay, here’s a mindfuck:

    What happens if the convention nominates a Vice-Presidential candidate and s/he says no? Can you say no? I mean, if the Democrats were to select Josh Rosenau as Obama’s running mate, what could ya do? “If nominated, I will not run. If elected I will not serve”?

    Sez who?

    So — and here’s the mindfuck — the Democrats nominate John McCain as Obama’s running mate!

    All of a sudden, the issue gets turned on its ear!

    “McCain is obviously the second-best candidate for President this year. And that’s how the Founding Fathers wanted it, even though the actual process got complicated and led to the 12th Amendment.”

    If McCain went all Sherman at the prospect, he’d look like a power-grabber who wants it all nor nothing. Since McCain has flip-flopped on all sorts of issues, the Democrats could emphasize his flips (and/or flops) and say, “Yeah. That’s why he’s the second-best candidate for President.”

    And after McCain is sworn in as Vice-President they hand him a pitcher full of warm piss.

  6. #6 Custom Valances
    August 7, 2008

    Bayh seems like a likable person, but you have to think why not Clinton? Surely, her 18 million voters must account for something. Plus, she’s already got the name and she’s already been in the public’s eye during this race. Time is important now and introducing someone new may not be the best idea. But, whoever ends up supplementing to Obama’s ticket, I’m sure it will be a good decision. Obama’s campaign has got some pretty smart people.

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