Barack Obama appears to be on the cusp of winning the Democratic Party nomination. While many will score this as a defeat for Hillary Clinton, in truth it will be a win for her and the Democratic Party. Clearly, Clinton would have preferred to be the Democractic nominee. But that outcome was unlikely after Super Tuesday and the March primaries. Many have criticized Clinton for staying the race. But, the Democratic Party will be stronger for her tenacity. First, the hard faught, sometimes nasty primary war will bolster Obama’s political credentials in the general election. No one will doubt his ability to persevere in a tough political environment. He will have demonstrated leadership through a dogged commitment to his agenda. Second, Sen. Clinton will have further secured her credentials as one of the nation’s most important and experienced political leaders. She will have successfully revitalized a truly national political career by recasting herself as the stealy, experienced pragmatist. She will have won even in defeat. Now, the Democratic Party has to think ahead. What ticket would make the most sense against John McCain? In my view, an Obama-Clinton ticket would likely secure the presidency for the Democrats in November. Both Obama and Clinton have been respectful to each other throughout the campaign, letting campaign staffers lead personal and political attacks on the other. Thus, personal bridges have not been burned. More importantly, an Obama-Clinton ticket would immediately assuage concerns about Obama’s lack of political experience. Although some might think putting Clinton on the ticket might seem paradoxical, even hypocritical, for a candidate running on a platform of change, in fact it would show an extraordinary sense of political maturity. No presidential candidate has been elected on the strength (or weakness) of their vice presidential nominee. In practice, the vice presidential nominee is more sympolic, primarily used to send a message to the broader public. Even when the strategy backfires (remember Dan Quayle?), vice presidential candidates don’t sink the general election. In this case, Obama has the opportunity to follow in the path of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies by significantly elevating the vice president’s role in policy. Hillary Clinton, like Cheney under Bush, and with Obama’s blessing, could become one of the most important policymakers in Washington. Moreover, more than a few pundits have noticed that Clinton and Obama are far closer on their political agenda than they are further apart. So, as a practical matter, their politics and campaign strategies, and personalities are likely close enough (and respectful enough) to forge a team, albeit with one where Obama is (and should be) first among equals. So, in the end, Clinton’s strategy of staying in the race to the end was both smart and politically saavy. Obama’s respectful treatment of Clinton on the campaign trail gives him the opportunity to create an unprecdented ticket that balances leadership and experience. We may not like the policy agenda, but the Democratic Party is now poised to redefine presidential leadership and power. And it all came about because of competition.
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.