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The Biden-Hillary Switch: Don’t Scoff

Bob Woodward made news this week by asserting there is talk inside the Obama administration about saying goodbye to Joe Biden in 2012 and nominating Hillary Clinton in his stead as vice president for the Obama reelection bid. This revelation has been greeted with extreme skepticism by Obama-watchers like the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder and others, who say it is not under consideration; Clinton and Robert Gibbs have issued flat denials. The skeptics say it’s been decades since anything like it was done. Gerald Ford swapped out Nelson Rockefeller for Bob Dole in 1976, but then neither Ford nor Rockefeller had actually been elected; Ford was brought in as veep after Spiro Agnew had to resign; only Franklin Roosevelt traded in vice presidents regularly, inadvertently blessing the country by doing so with Harry Truman in 1944, a decision that not only led to one of the most important and tough-minded presidencies in U.S. history but also saved  the nation from a President Henry Wallace, who proved himself, literally, a Communist stooge when he challenged Truman from the Left in 1948.

Fine, but that something hasn’t been done recently isn’t an argument. If one can say anything about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t follow precedent. And what this says to me is that he will almost certaintly consider something like it if he has reason to believe his reelection is in jeopardy in 2012. He was convinced to pick Joe Biden on the grounds that it would help him with working-class swing voters and because he couldn’t bring himself to pick Hillary in 2008. Biden has not been an asset; he hasn’t proved to be the national comic relief Dan Quayle was for George Bush the Elder, but that’s because the mainstream media are protective of the Obama administration. Biden could supply inadvertent daily hilarity, as he did yesterday by saying he would “strangle” a Republican if that imaginary Republican talked to him about closing the deficit. That he is not a national embarrassment is one mark of the way in which having a friendly media is a help to Obama.

Biden is not even as useful to Obama as Quayle was; Quayle did in fact do Bush some good by shoring up his boss’s support on the social-conservative Right when that could have melted down. Even so, recall that there was serious talk in 1992 of ditching Quayle for somebody else. Given that Bush scored 38 percent in November 1992, that Hail Mary play might have been of marginal utility to Bush, at least in the sense that it would have convinced voters he had a pulse, or wanted to do what it took to win, or wanted to change course, or something.

The problem with anointing Hillary would be the same as in 2008, I suppose; could Bill Clinton be kept from doing mischief? The answer would seem to be yes, since he is now the husband of the secretary of state and doesn’t seem to get much ink or be getting himself in too much trouble.

Anyway, if Obama needs to throw a change-up, and right now it’s looking like that’s a plausible thing, Hillary-for-Biden is as good a change-up as anything else one can think of. Biden could become a senior counselor or head of the DNC; he couldn’t become secretary of state, because that would be too cute. But then, who cares what Biden would be? Would Biden make trouble on his way out? That’s not his style. He would say it was his idea. He could go write a book, make television commercials, get nice and rich. A fine post-VP life.



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