Now that the Democrats have a presumptive nominee and Senator Clinton has conceded Senator Obama’svictory, the focus shifts to the all election. Over the past few days, my friends who are Clinton supporters have flooded their Facebook and Myspace status updates with declarations like “Clinton deserves to be VP,” “Obama must choose Clinton to win,” or “Obama/Clinton is the winning ticket.” The problem is that all of these people are dead wrong. Even the political talking heads on the cable networks refer to a Clinton/Obama slate as the “Dream Team.” Their argument goes a little something like this:
Obama is great for the Democratic ticket for President; and
Clinton is great for the Democratic ticket for President; therefore
An Obama/Clinton ticket is the best Democratic ticket for President
Sounds pretty simple and compelling right? Well, before we let this simplicity wash over us, I invite everyone to take a breath, think, and make sure that our logic for pairing Obama and Clinton together for the general election is sound and not based on a fallacy of composition. Hilary may not be good as we hope for an Obama’s ticket.
Essentially, a Fallacy of Composition occurs when a person mistakenly believes that by combining two great things together the outcome will also be great. We do this all the time. For instance, when the owner of our local sports team signs two top established players to the team, we mistakenly believe that the overall team will be better and will win the championship that year. However, what often happens is that by season’s end our team has the worst record in the league and the players are not getting along. (Most people recall the latest incarnation of the USA Men’s Basketball Dream Team’s embarrassing losses in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, ending American dominance in that sport.) To avoid the fallacy of composition, Democrats should be careful not to assume that Sen. Clinton would be a good running-mate just because she finished second or lots of people voted for her during the primary season. Those reasons are not enough to serve as justification of putting Clinton on the ticket if the goal is to win in November.
To be clear, I am not advocating against having Sen. Clinton on the ticket. She is strong politician who, on a personal note, because of her concession speech showed the grace and political temperament that made me a fan of hers since high school. She energizes many women to vote for her. She has an unyielding allegiance from the gay and lesbian communities and her blue-collar ties are thick. All-in-all, her scouting report looks good for the position of Vice President. But the issue is whether her baggage will hurt the campaign more than her positive attributes could help. Much like the owner of your local sports team we have to look at the prospect’s personality, teamwork, and coachablility, and not just their raw talent before signing them up for the season. We should examine Sen. Clinton in the same way. Here, unlike in the most democratic primary contests, the focus cannot just be on democratic voters. We have to take into account Independents and Republicans and what we know so far in this contest.
First, we know that many Americans for whatever reason, sexist or not, do not like Clinton’s personality. Many think that she is dishonest and/or has a “win at all costs” political philosophy. One need only look at her sniper fire story with Sinbad and Sheryl Crowe to question her ability to tell the truth. Then, in a desperate attempt to win the Democratic nomination, there was her statement that Sen. McCain – the presumptive Republican nominee – was more qualified than Sen. Obama – a Democrat – to be President.Obama has premised his campaign in part on being honest, open, and transparent to the American people.Admitting mistakes and taking ownership of them is a hallmark of his journey to the Presidency. How will Clinton meld with that message? Will adding her to the ticket frustrate his honest conversation with the American people? Can she authentically coalesce with a movement aimed at bringing civility back to politics, and not winning at all costs?
Second, we know that Clinton is a dynamic individual but how will that translate into teamwork on Obama’s team. We know that after the last democratic primary, when she did not concede the nomination, the New York Delegation questioned her commitment to the greater cause – electing a democrat. The delegation had to plead with her to end her campaign for the good of the party and themselves moved to endorse Obama in order to force her hand. Is that teamwork? Having your hand forced by your teammates, some of whom were your biggest supporters? Does this meld well with Obama’s all-inclusive lets do what best for the country message?
Last, we know that Clinton has called the shots in her campaign. We know that part of her message has always been that she is ready to be the President on day one and to take that call at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. There is no doubt that she is a good leader, but how good of a follower can she be? If Obama sets the direction of the campaign can she follow and play a subordinate role? Will her former foot soldiers be able to swallow the fact that she is not calling the shots? Does she have the humility to take the back seat . . . to dampen her star for the greater good of the team? Especially, when she has made it infinitely clear that she thinks she should be the coach.
Moreover, Obama’s Democratic primary campaign was unique and like no other. No, not just because he is black, but several other reasons. His campaign was based predominately on grass roots power where little interference or fiats were inflicted on the volunteers. He raised significantly more money than all candidates, shattering previous records. The reason that Obama supporters often seem to be so zealous is not because of Obama himself, rather the movement that he represents – change in Washington, change in who participates in our government, change how we talk to each other, and most importantly change in each of our own personal relationships with the political process. This last change is an important nuance that most Republican strategist, talking heads, and disenchanted Clinton supporters have not yet figured out. Can a person be a part of ticket where she does not understand the core of its belief or recognize this nuance?
I do not have the answers to these questions and there are many more that are not asked here. But it is this type of rigorous debate we should be having in order to avoid the fallacy of composition and win back the White House. What worries me is that I have yet to hear this conversation from our democratic leaders or our campaign architects.
Samantha Thompson grew up in Detroit, Michigan and is an alumni of Michigan State University.She attended law school at American University. Currently, she is currently a lawyer at a large downtown D.C. firm and lives in Silver Spring, MD.
Zuberi Williams grew up in Charles County, Maryland and is an Alumni of TCU, Fort Worth, TX. He received his JD/MBA joint degree from American University, Washington, D.C. Currently, he is a lawyer in D.C. and lives in Silver Spring, MD.