Over at TalkLeft, Jeralyn Merritt is saying that she thinks that the Obama campaign has put Tim Kaine's name out there as a smokescreen, and that he's really planning on choosing Kathleen Sebelius as his running mate. Now, I hope she's correct about this, as Sebelius has long been a top choice of mine, but there are some things about her reasoning that bother me.
Here's her argument:
Why does Obama need Kaine as a smokescreen? To make Sebelius more palatable to Hillary supporters who will be more than a bit upset at his choosing a woman other than Hillary.Let's get the first thing out of the way quickly--there aren't a lot of Clinton supporters who haven't accepted Obama as the nominee. Zuzu over at Shakesville, who is no great fan of Obama, points this out regularly when there's even a hint of the idea that women will be blamed if Obama loses. So the number of voters we're talking about who will switch sides if Obama chooses a woman other than Clinton is marginal at best. There's just no evidence to suggest that Sebelius is a risky choice in this way, other than in the minds of media types who are desperate to keep this race close and in those people like Lanny Davis and some other nutters.
It's the same theory behind the five stages of grief, 1. Denial and Isolation, 2. Anger 3. Bargaining. 4. Depression 5. Acceptance.
Hillary supporters are just coming out of the anger phase. They realize Obama is going to be the nominee and, as loyal Democrats, have been trying to get to a place where they can accept him. One of Obama's dilemmas has been that Hillary supporters aren't ready to accept a woman other than Hillary for the ticket. They view it as a slap in the face. The only way Obama can pick a woman other than Hillary is if the alternative is worse
So, Obama tosses out Kaine's name as a serious contender, knowing he's a deal breaker for women. Kaine is their worst case scenario. The prospect of Kaine makes them feel adrift. Is this even their party? To avoid Kaine, he’s betting they are willing to move to stage 3 and the bargaining table.
Obama is hoping given time, once women process and come to grips with the fact that the VP candidate is not going to be Hillary, they will accept it. Then the issue becomes who can he pick? Knowing Kaine will scare them to death, he bets that . anyone else, even another woman, would be a relief by comparison.
In the next few weeks, should Obama announces his running mate is Sebelius, he is counting on that sigh of relief from Hillary supporters: he didn't completely abandon them. He could have slammed them harder. He could have picked Kaine or Hagel. By picking Sebelius, he's throwing them a bone, and after contemplating the prospect of Kaine, they may just be hungry enough to take it. I think I am.
Another quick note--I don't think Obama could have chosen Hagel, not without risking an all out revolt from his left flank. Hagel has been right on the war in the last couple of years, but that's about the only endearing thing about him, and that ain't much.
But here's the real thing that bothers me about this sort of argument. It assumes that women in general are going to be insulted if Obama chooses an non-Hillary Clinton woman as a running mate. It discounts the significant support Obama got from women, both white and of color, during the primaries, and it assumes that the only reason Obama might pick Sebelius is because of her gender.
Is it really a stretch to think that Obama just might think he'd work well with Sebelius, assuming he picks her? She's a hell of an administrator, and she fits well with Obama's centrism--she practically resurrected the Kansas Democratic party by getting centrist Republicans to work with her and then getting them to switch parties. If that sort of thing appeals to you--and it certainly seems to fit with Obama's "reach across the aisle" rhetoric--then she's a great fit. And the benefit of looking at it in that light is that you don't have to insult anyone to come to that conclusion.