Primaries? Who needs ’em!?

A friend passed along a link to an interesting New York Times Select column from literary theorist Stanley Fish which handicaps the poll of potential running-mates for Hillary Clinton.

This prompted two immediate reactions: (1) How much money has the Times lost on this silly “pay-for-access” thing; and (2) What does Stanley Fish know about politics?

Anyway, chances are you don’t have access to Times Select (unless, like me, you’ve taken advantage of their “free to .edu” policy), so let me recap: Fish cedes the Democratic nomination to Hillary on the grounds that the other candidates “are either running for vice president or just having a good time.” For her Number Two, he says, Hillary can’t pick a woman, a Jew, a Senator (or member of the House), or anyone from the Northeast.

So who does that leave? Fish’s finalists are former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (who passes muster because he was once a Governor), North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

That’s not the worst list – although Doyle is a bland politician who would probably be former Governor Doyle today had he not had the good fortune of running for re-election in 2006. Why Fish includes him and not Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, who gave up his own presidential campaign to work for Hillary and to try to impress her as a potential running-mate, is a puzzler.

But the real issue with his analysis is that it seems rooted in such old thinking. Fish says Hillary’s objective would be to find a running-mate “who can tip the balance in a fairly large state that could go either way.” That’s the way it used to be done – but haven’t we learned by now that it just doesn’t work? When in the modern era has a vice-presidential nominee actually flipped a state to his or her party’s column? John Edwards did nothing in North Carolina last time around, just as Lloyd Bentsen – a home run V.P. choice, if ever there was one – made no difference in Texas in 1988.

The best model was probably forged by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, politicians from bordering states whose 1992 teaming ignored the “regional balance” edict that typically governs running-mate searches. And it worked – because the ticket communicated youth, vigor and an air of change to the public, something that resonated in states in and out of the south.

Who could help Hillary excite the public like that? Fish dismisses Barack Obama purely on racial grounds. In light of the obvious tension between them, a Clinton-Obama ticket probably is impractical – but it would also create a kind of national excitement that Jim Doyle or Mike Easley could never provide.

A smart vice-presidential pick these days takes into account personality and presence much more than geography.

Primaries?  Who needs ’em!?