Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting the Message

In the middle of every president’s first term, political insiders start floating rumors that he’ll dump his vice-president in favor of a rising star in his party who can make up for deficiencies in the president’s first-term record. It even happens when the vice-president plays as crucial a part in a presidency as Dick Cheney played in George W. Bush’s.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re hearing such talk about Obama’s dumping a vice-president with Joe Biden’s reputation for affable buffoonery. That doesn’t mean that we should put much stock in rumors that Biden’s days are numbered. The forces of inertia in these circumstances are formidable enough to protect people who bring as little to a ticket as Dan Quayle brought in 1992.

These rumors merit our attention less because they tell us what’s going to happen than because they’re a medium through which figures worth listening to send noteworthy political messages. They help us identify who the rising stars in the president’s party are. And they tell us something about how people who know a thing or two about politics diagnose a sitting president’s political vulnerabilities. The things that single out a rising star for a place on the president’s reelection ticket are virtues that the people floating the rumor think the president conspicuously lacks. Consider, in this light, the rumor that Andrew Cuomo is going to be Obama’s running mate in 2012:
“A Prominent Republican is joining a prominent Democrat in predicting that Gov. Cuomo will become President Obama's running mate for vice president next year.

“Former New York GOP boss William Powers, credited with playing a key role in electing Rudy Giuliani mayor and George Pataki governor, was effusive in his praise of Cuomo's successes in the just-ended legislative session, and in his prediction of the freshman governor's political future.

"‘Andrew had a fabulous session. It was fabulous. A property-tax cap, ethics reform and, for Democrats, gay marriage,’ said Powers. . . .

“Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown earlier this year also predicted that Obama would pick Cuomo to replace Biden, who he claimed would be named by the president to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The chances of Cuomo’s replacing Biden, of course, are vanishingly small. But, on the theory that it’s a vice-presidential candidate’s job to plug holes in the presidential candidate’s resume, the idea of replacing Biden makes some sense. He belonged on the 2008 ticket because he supplied the experience and political seasoning that Obama plainly lacked. Biden has become dispensable, however, since no Republican presidential candidate will be able to match Obama when it comes to intensive executive experience in 2012. So it’s worth asking what message the likes of Powers and Brown are sending when they float the rumor that Cuomo’s going to be on the Democratic ticket.

For one thing, they’re revealing that Cuomo is suddenly the first guy everyone thinks of when they’re asked to point to a Democratic rising star. That, in itself, is a remarkable state of affairs. Ask a Republican to name his party’s rising stars and he’ll give you a list of successful Republican governors that includes people like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Nikky Haley, Scott Walker et al. Ask a Democrat the same question and you’re likely to hear about Andrew Cuomo . . . and who else? And mind you, even if the Democrat can think of other names to put on that list, Cuomo has jumped to the head of it by presiding over a single session of the New York legislature. That shows you how few rising stars there are in the Democratic Party.

What virtues single out Cuomo as one of them? In his six short months in office Cuomo has managed two
very impressive political achievements: he passed an austerity budget and he maneuvered a same-sex marriage bill through the Republican-controlled New York Senate. Passing the budget is impressive because Cuomo had to say no to a lot of formidable Democratic constituencies to get it done. And getting the same-sex marriage bill is impressive because it was an example of a Democratic governor in an inhospitable political environment not only sticking his political neck out in behalf of a core liberal principle, but adroitly building a consensus behind it.  Cuomo showed that he knows how to make divided government work from a Democratic standpoint.

So Cuomo’s the rising star of the Democratic Party because he’s managed to demonstrate executive competence, the fortitude to stand up to special interests within in his own party and the readiness to invest scarce political capital in upholding core liberal principles.  If people keep saying that he belongs on the Democratic ticket you might get the idea that they think these are virtues that Obama doesn't have.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I can really see how Cuomo would improve Obama's chances of reelection compared to same old Joe. Give Joe Hillary's job as she is leaving anyway. It all makes sense. Obama is going to have to shake things up and protect his flanks from extreme Republican/tea partier opposition and a lot of disgust from the left.