Could Clinton and Obama Team Up?

With both candidates in what appears to be a dead heat, speculation of a possible dual ticket is heating up. The inconclusive results of Super Tuesday have made the notion even more attractive. Is it realistic or just a pipe dream?

The Democratic Party base can’t decide who it likes better: Obama or Clinton.

New Yorkers are inventive people, with a nose for new trends. Take, for example, the West Village, a bastion of intellectual culture where people were hanging anti-Bush posters in their windows at a time when the rest of the country was still cheerleading its way into a war. For the past few days, a prophetic campaign poster has been hanging on the door of a townhouse on West 12th Street. There are two names on it: “Clinton-Obama.”

Clinton-Obama — a duet instead of the duel that we’ve seen in this election up until now. Clinton-Obama as the Democratic Party’s dream team. The realist and the idealist, the pragmatist and the utopian, hand-in-hand in the White House. A dream, a nightmare, a wish or fantasy? Or could it be the Democrats’ true ticket to an election victory?

The only thing certain right now is that Super Tuesday, the date that was supposed to end with a clear candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, has not provided any conclusions. At least not in regard to who the nominee will be. The only clear thing is that the Democratic Party base can’t decide who it likes better. Forty-nine percent are for Clinton and 49 percent are for Obama. Whites, Latinos and the working class are standing behind Clinton. And African-Americans, young people and the bigger breadwinners are behind Obama.

Two against McCain

Together, they could be unbeatable. They could create a united front not even John McCain would stand a chance of beating — even in a Republican dream ticket together with Mike Huckabee.

Either way, these are historic times. The Democratic Party’s next candidate is either going to be a black man or a woman. And those two factors alone are already a sensation. So why not attempt a ticket that includes both? Or would it be too much for Americans to have representatives of two “minorities” leading the country?

Of course, there’s nothing novel about the idea. It’s been making its rounds in the media — at times the idea is naively ridiculed, at others those who cite it are brimming with hope. Talk-show host David Letterman became the first to raise the Clinton-Obama specter, to an audience of millions, when he had Obama as a guest on his show last April. Obama at the time hadn’t yet risen to his current popstar-like status.

“That would be a powerful ticket,” Letterman said, describing a Clinton-Obama match-up. Obama’s cool reply: “You don’t campaign to become No. 2.” End of discussion.

Of course, that was before Iowa, South Carolina and Super Tuesday. In state-by-state elections, American Democrats have been unable to pick a frontrunner. Instead, they seem to have their eyes set on two. At first, Clinton and Obama bickered terribly with one another, but when they stumbled into palpable resistance from the party base, both put their kid gloves back on again. During Thursday’s debate, Obama pulled Clinton’s chair out for her and even whispered, perhaps conspiratorially, into her ear, prompting both to laugh.

And the Oscar Goes To …

Has the whole thing been a show? After all, it’s in Hollywood where the scenes between the two have become less tense — in the dream factory on the occasion of the CNN debate at the Kodak Theater. On the Oscar stage, where many a brawling couple has whispered away its private disputes. And the Oscar goes to …

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer thinks there’s a chance of a dual ticket. At the most recent Democratic debate, he asked the candidates: “Would you consider an Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket down the road?” That would depend, Obama said, on who would lead the ticket. Clinton didn’t answer at all.

Of course, there could only be one sequence: Clinton-Obama. Clinton, 60, would never allow herself to become Obama’s subordinate. So the only remaining question is whether Obama, with his message of healing, would be willing to subordinate himself to acerbic Hillary, who once supported him as a freshman senator but would later abandon him in an insulting manner after he announced his candidacy.

“If Obama wins almost as many states as she does,” Democratic campaign strategist Tad Devine correctly predicted before Super Tuesday, “there will be tremendous pressure for the two of them to combine their considerable resources and forces.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that political enemies have buried the hatchet in order to attain a common goal — with mixed results. Just look at John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson (1960) or John Kerry and John Edwards (2004).

The celebrity audience in the Kodak Theater clearly loved the idea. Blitzer could barely pose the question before singer Stevie Wonder sprang out of his aisle-side VIP seat.

The notion of combining Clinton’s pragmatism with Obama’s charisma, her success in the cities with his in the rural areas, thrills Democrats — and it makes the Republicans nervous. They suddenly see themselves confronted with a democratic version of the Reagan coalition. “That would be precisely the kind of ticket that would cause their side to sweat,” says a conservative advisor.

“Not a dream ticket,” retorts Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s former campaign manager. “A fantasy ticket!” But this would fly in the face of all accepted wisdom on how these tickets are filled.

‘A New Chapter in History’

For one thing, vice-presidential candidates are supposed to offer political and demographic balance: liberal-moderate, doer-thinker, old-young. Particularly in the first category, the Clinton-Obama combination would be a bit of a stretch.

And secondly, they should strike a geographic balance. Here one could argue that Clinton represents the Northeast, but in fact she’s from the Midwest and lived for a long time in the South. Obama comes from the Midwest, but as an African-American, he has greater emotional resonance in the south.

Thirdly, the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates should complement or cancel each other out. Clinton’s one great weakness is her tendency to polarize: She provokes hatred in many. Obama could counteract that. Her other major weakness is her hunger for power, and that’s something that Obama, if we’re to take him at his word, can neither negate nor accept. So, is it all just a dream?

In fact, it seems to be Obama who is teaching many Americans to dream again. Especially the younger generation, for whom the old rules of society and politics have long since ceased to apply: black versus white, right versus left, pragmatist versus visionary. If there’s ever been a time for new thinking — about the chances of certain tickets among other things — it would be now.

“We must write a new chapter in American history,” Obama said on Tuesday in a speech that was full of digs at Clinton. Because for the time being, it’s all about winning the next primary. Even if only in a bid to be co-author of this history book.

Voter’s Guide To the Issues

Education

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings walk out of the Friendship Public Charter School’s Woodridge Elementary and Middle campus in Washington, DC.

Republicans: Less federal government and more privatization. Republican candidates tend to offer qualified support for President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (nclb) education plan, while calling for more local control and flexibility. The original nclb, they argue, gave the Federal Government too much power. Rudy Giuliani is among the most vocal advocates for privatization and school choice—providing vouchers for private and parochial as well as charter schools.

Democrats: Don’t leave the money behind for fixing our schools. Though nclb passed in 2001 with broad bipartisan support, almost all Democrats now agree it is underfunded and in need of major reform. Democrats would overhaul nclb to ensure that schools are not punished for under-whelming performance. But they struggle to determine exactly how to require accountability. Most argue that educational progress should be measured differently and that there is too much emphasis on tests. Increasing access to prekindergarten programs and investing more in public education continue to be priorities.

Immigration

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols along the fence line of the U.S.—Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.

Republicans: Tighten borders and restrict immigration. There is broad gop support for building a permanent fence along the Mexican border. Many conservatives oppose letting illegal immigrants apply for citizenship. More moderate approaches, like those once proposed by John McCain and Giuliani, provide a path to citizenship for those who pay fines and learn English. Most candidates support tougher penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Democrats: Provide a clear path to citizenship. The Democratic focus has been on providing illegal immigrants a clear path to citizenship that involves requirements to learn English and pay a fine, imposing stricter penalties on those who hire undocumented workers and enforcing current immigration laws.Most Democratic candidates oppose the idea of giving illegal aliens driver’s licenses. The issue of legal immigration often divides Democrats. Politicians from rural areas want to allow in immigrants who could fill essential local jobs. Their suburban colleagues say skilled immigrants compete with vulnerable workers.

Trade

A Chinese toy vender looks after a store at a toy wholesale market in Guangzhou, south of China’s Guangdong province.

Republicans: Expand free trade. More aggressive advocates of free-trade agreements than their Democratic counterparts, Republicans insist that decreasing trade barriers with other nations is necessary to compete in the global economy. Most supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (cafta). At the same time, some Republicans have pushed for tougher laws to protect American patents and technology—particularly from piracy by the Chinese.

Democrats: Embrace fair or “smart” trade. Democrats were largely opposed to cafta and argue that free-trade agreements must be fair. That means including labor and environmental protections, as well as retraining and providing other assistance to U.S. workers whose jobs are jeopardized by lowering economic barriers between countries. They want to enforce the protections guaranteed in past trade agreements.

Environment

Republicans: Go nuclear and pursue energy independence. Some in the party are skeptical of the human role in global warming, but most agree climate change should be addressed. Most advocate expanded use of nuclear energy, while only some support higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles and a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. A popular solution for moving toward energy independence is drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (anwr).

Democrats: Stop climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The party of green guru Al Gore has rallied around instituting a cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Democrats also support reducing energy use, raising corporate average fuel-economy (cafe) standards for cars and making federal buildings more efficient.

Iraq

Samantha Kominic hugs her boyfriend Lance Corp. Earnest Hall as he arrives home in Camp Pendleton, California.

Republicans: The mission must be accomplished. The Republicans are almost all committed to staying in Iraq indefinitely and oppose timetables for troop withdrawals. All candidates except Paul supported Bush’s surge, which increased troop levels in 2007. They disagree about how to determine when Iraq is stable. When local police are fully trained? Attacks decrease? 69% of gop voters want troops to stay until Iraq is stabilized and 73% of Democrats want troops withdrawn as soon as possible, says a December 2007 Pew Research poll.

Democrats: Bring troops home soon—but when? Although many Democrats voted in 2002 in support of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, there are few who still defend that action. These days, the debate is not about whether to withdraw troops from Iraq, but how soon. All Democratic presidential candidates opposed Bush’s surge in 2007 to increase troop levels, and they have pushed for a timetable on an exit strategy for Iraq. Despite their opposition, Democrats still overwhelmingly vote to provide funding for troops in Iraq. Congress passed the latest spending bill by a vote of 397 to 27 in the House and 92 to 3 in the Senate.

Health Care

A patient meets with his doctor in Columbia, South Carolina.

Republicans: Fix the system through cost containment. Republicans haven’t traditionally seen health care as a top priority—but they are increasingly concerned about skyrocketing premiums, which have risen four times as fast as wages since 2000. They oppose government control of the health-care industry and mandates for health insurance. Favorite solutions include converting to electronic medical records, limiting malpractice suits and encouraging preventive care.

Democrats: Achieve universal access to health care. Democrats all agree on a goal of universal health-care coverage that includes the 47 million Americans who are currently uninsured. Some plans would set up a public health-care system and allow Americans to choose between the government-regulated system, which would work like Medicare, or a pool of private plans. All employers, except very small ones, must cover their workers. Democrats would pay for the system by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. They endorse giving patients the right to sue hmos for medical costs and damages.