THE PLANK JUNE 11, 2008
Here’s another Barack Obama veep pick, lobbed on CNN today by none other than James Carville:
"I think if I was Senator Obama I would say the biggest economic problem we face is the biggest national security problem and the biggest environmental problem. And if I were him, I would ask Al Gore to serve as his vice president, his energy czar, in his administration to reduce our consumption and reliance on foreign energy sources," he told Wolf Blitzer.
Hold the phones—there is something stirring here; Carville has had, I believe, a light bulb moment. While I was a prime skeptic when the Draft-Gore factions pushed him as a convention-floor presidential choice back in March, there are now serious reasons to support his running on the ticket below Obama. And though it pains me to say it, I think most of the logic of a Gore nod leads right through the current vice president, Dick Cheney. Primary concerns:Will Gore bring votes to the table?Though it’s been tossed around by the right-wing since 2000, with accelerating fervor since his Nobel and Oscar wins, Gore’s brand is still superlative among Democrats. He has no obvious problems with women or white voters, either. His initial appeal on the national stage was as a moderate, southern legislator from the center of the country. Gore carried his home state in both 1992 and 1996, though lost it to George W. Bush by 80,000 votes in 2000. Tennessee, however, is not one typically mentioned as up for grabs for Democrats in 2008. And Cheney has quipped that he certainly didn’t pick, uh, himself to win Wyoming.My bet, though, is that nearby states like Virginia, North and South Carolina and even Missouri and Indiana might be favorable to a Gore bus tour or two. And the bar for his campaign performance is quite low, given how long he’s been off the trail. In this shortened general election, his celebrity stature could serve him no worse than it did Hillary Clinton in the early primaries. His presence, and indeed, just what he has to say to Americans, eight years on, will grab attention and merit debate. What better way to remind voters of the primal scene of the Bush era, and starve attention from John McCain?Will Gore upstage Obama? Perhaps (see above)—but in a good way. Obama’s message of change, while nothing new, has been a powerful brand this election cycle. And it helps that Gore’s own imprimatur comes from real action on, as Carville put it, America’s tripartite energy crisis. Augmenting a fairly solid identity (aside from the “American president Americans have been waiting for” crowd) with a proven leader on a real “change” issue is smart. He’s no admiral, but more than American geography or military bona fides, Gore owns the climate terrain—which is of course, increasingly a matter of foreign political engagement. Will Gore strengthen an Obama administration?Carville wants Obama to make it explicitly known that Gore would be tasked with an environmental portfolio (as, say, Hillary Clinton could be—fingers crossed—tapped to chair health care reform). Here’s where the Cheney example is instructive. Cheney’s past service as Defense Secretary has been a key factor in his ability to influence and direct the lesser-equipped George W. Bush. And while his discrete actions have certainly placed the executive branch on steroids with respect to the rest of the government—intra-executive distribution of labor is not inherently foolish. Jules Whitcover has argued that we ought not let Cheney “ruin it," declaring that Obama and McCain “would be wrong to downplay the importance of past government service when appraising prospective running mates, and they would be unwise return the vice presidency to irrelevance.” That seems fair. And I’m not sure Obama is a natural climate enthusiast (Illinois has its coal and nuclear power problems), but he’s certainly intellectualized the issue and the science enough to know real American energy solutions cannot wait. Gore, playing an outsized role in the Senate, would offer Obama a bit more political capital to spend as his administration tackles the myriad other problems confronting America in 2009. Further, the country is deeply concerned about the unrelenting spike in gas prices—so much so that I suspect with the solidly economic framing that is increasingly de rigeur among greens, Obama and Gore could win the tug of war at the political center on energy action in America. In some ways that very possibility maps onto the center-left economic footholds both have established while in public life. And as for working well together: Gore has been famously neutral in the primary campaign, yet sources have noted the easy relationship Obama has managed to cultivate with the elder statesman. And the last, most pressing question:Is this turning the page?There’s a chance that Obama could be bitten by the throwback politics of a Gore selection. (Chris Cillizza has more on the pitfalls of Obama’s “change everything” message.) Josh has made the good point that veeps should serve as party leaders of the future, and that it would be nice to promote a new face onto the national scene. I think that’s valid, but that Whitcover’s point still stands. No potential veeps mentioned are a total blank slate—nor should they be.Of course, Carville is allied closely with both Clintons, and Gore, though he distanced himself from Bill Clinton in 2000 (most notably with the choice of Joe Lieberman as veep), never got the official “Judas” touch. Which begs the question: Is this change--or worse, some kind of backdoor Clinton scheme to stay hitched to power? Perhaps the CNN boosterism is tat for Hillary’s 2000 Senate run, which in countless ways split the attention of the two popular campaigners. Perhaps, dare I say, it’s an entr