In the last week, the national media has ramped up its speculation that Indiana senator Evan Bayh is going to be named to the vice-presidential ticket by Barack Obama. Mind you, this is all speculation -- this is what our national media now substitutes for actual reporting. What's worse, the same media hasn't really looked at who Bayh is, what he would represent, and why there is a growing backlash to the prospect of him being Obama's runningmate. So I did that in my newspaper column today.
I'll let you read the column for the rundown of what I think Bayh would do to the Democratic Party should he be nominated. What I want to explore here is the concept that he's a "safe" pick -- because that's the underlying rationale for selecting him.
The traditional definition of "safe" in vice-presidential politics is someone without any secret skeletons in their closet. The Tom Eagleton disaster in 1972 made this the number-one priority for Democrats for the last generation, explaining truly unimpressive picks like Lloyd Bentsen and Joe Lieberman.
The problem with this definition of "safe" is that it creates a separate danger -- namely, the nomination of someone who demoralizes (or at least fails to energize) voters, and also refuses to put the heat on the opposing ticket. Think Lieberman in 2000 -- a DLCer who demoralized the progressive base and spent the vice-presidential debates telling the country how great Dick Cheney is.
The true definition of a "safe" pick is someone who 1) has a respectable history of service or of winning elections 2) will energize key constituencies and 3) will go on the offense against the opposing ticket. If a potential candidate like Bayh is only #1, but not #2 and #3, then he's unsafe, because he hurts the ticket's chances of winning.
Obviously, it's not productive to show why one candidate would be terrible without offering up some ideas for possible runningmates. You can see my personal suggestions in this earlier column.
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