By Ellen Goodman
BOSTON—Maybe I forgot to get my vaccination against the false-hope flu. Maybe the change mantra has finally overwhelmed my immune system. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. hovering over this week.
But I have a dream. Or at least a dream ticket. Why not the two front-runners on one ballot?
Yes, I am aware that I must immediately hand over my press card to the professional cynic police. I also have to apologize to the two New Hampshire teachers who suggested this wistfully, only to hear me snap back, “Not gonna happen.”
But the Democrats have just recovered from a panic attack over the possibility that a primary fight between Hillary and Barack over race and gender will leave both in the dirt. At the kiss-and-make-up debate in Nevada, a reassuring Obama said that “there’s much more that we hold in common than what separates us.” Clinton said that “we’re all family in the Democratic Party.” Exhale deeply.
“This is a moment worthy of celebration,” said Clinton last week. “Many of our parents and our grandparents—and, I dare say, probably many of us—never thought they would see the day when an African-American and a woman were competing for the presidency of the United States.”
Well, I’ll see your “change” and raise you one. Our parents and our grandparents really never expected to see an African-American and a woman on the same ticket.
I will now pause for the requisite paragraphs explaining why this is a nutty idea. The twofer could be two-for-defeat, double the trouble, double the negatives. As “hope-less” strategists will tell you, there are plenty of folks who don’t want to see a white woman and black man dance together, let alone run for the top jobs together.
The common wisdom says that we need a balanced ticket. But these are both senators, one from New York and one from Illinois. Moreover, the Democratic Party already has racial and gender gaps. Want chasms?
But what if “there’s no such thing as false hopes”?—thank you, Obama. What if “what we need is somebody who can deliver change”?—thank you, Clinton.
What if a new, improved idea of a balanced ticket goes beyond demography and geography? What if balance rests on different personal and political strengths?
By now we’ve heard the front-runners make their own case repeatedly. Obama is cast as the candidate of inspiration. Hillary wears the mantle of experience. Tuesday night, Hillary described her idea of a president as “the chief executive officer.” Obama described his greatest strength as “the ability to bring people together from different perspectives.” He’s fired up and she’s ready to go.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin also blushingly confesses to being seduced by the possibility that the sum of this ticket would be greater than its parts. She compares it to other historic partnerships between those who motivated change and those who implemented it, including, yes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson. “King’s marching and sit-ins and his oratory created a climate that Congress had to respond to,” says the biographer, but LBJ’s political skills wrestled the legislation through Congress.
“In this case, we wouldn’t just be combining a black and a woman, but the two narratives of the campaign: inspiration and experience, both of which are needed for change,” she adds. “It would be a bold move but a great one.”
Up to now, you will notice, I haven’t said who would be at the top of the ticket. Which is where my little attack of idealism may stumble.
In America, as Hillary noted in the debate, we put “the head of state and the head of government together in one person.” Frankly, I think of Hillary as prime minister and Obama as royal philosopher. If Hillary wins, it’s easier to imagine the younger candidate taking the second spot. If Obama wins, it’s harder to see her settling for No. 1 Observatory Circle after eight years in the White House. But at the same time, she has had a whole lot of experience partnering with a president.
This game plan depends, I am fully aware, on Super Tuesday. It also depends on whether the country is, in fact, eager for something different, in a “post-polarization” frame of mind.
But Obama said, “I run so that a year from today there’s a chance that the world will look at America differently and that America will look at itself differently.” And Clinton told Tyra Banks which reality show she’d choose: “I think it would have to be ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ especially if I could have one of those really good partners.”
Against the low, incessant chant for change, do I hear a T-E-A-M? Or only a dream?
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group