If the Sharks hate the Jets and the Jets hate the Sharks, why would anyone assume that starting a new West Side gang with members of each side as leaders would somehow unite the factions in a peaceful new Story?
Yet that is the logic behind purveyors of the rumor that President Obama will dump Vice President Biden for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2012 presidential election. The theory is that less-educated white voters who preferred Clinton to Obama in the 2009 primaries (and who now are flocking to the Republican side, according to an AP-GfK poll released this week) will come back to the Democrats if Clinton is on the ticket. But the math assumes loyalty will trump bigotry, sexism, or just general distaste toward the individual candidates. Adding two strengths can, in politics, result in an equation that is less than the sum of its parts.
An Obama-Clinton (or Clinton-Obama) ticket seemed like a perfect compromise in 2008 to some rank-and-file Democrats. Some appreciated the different appeals of the two contenders—Clinton impressed people, but Obama inspired people—and thought a political marriage would draw both voter camps together. Others couldn't bear the thought of their preferred candidate not getting a spot on the ticket (setting aside, for a moment, the battle over whose name got to go first).
Unfortunately, as we have seen during Obama's candidacy and during his presidency, there is still a significant chunk of the American electorate who won't vote for an African-American (or a mixed-race) candidate like Obama. And there's another group—not all the same people—who won't vote for a woman. A third group, separate from the straight-up sexists, won't vote for Hillary Clinton, who despite an impressive performance as secretary of state, is still a polarizing figure as strong women in politics tend to be. Add up those numbers and an Obama-Clinton ticket will have more hurdles of bias and bigotry to overcome, making any boost from newly energized Clinton-philes statistically meaningless. And if you think Americans have gotten beyond that sort of backward thinking in our diverse, 21st century society, read the Internet. There's an alarming amount of hate and bigotry out there.
It's absurd, anyway, to assume two years ahead of the presidential elections that Obama will be in such desperate political straits that he will need to do something as dramatic as oust Biden for Clinton, and making such a high-profile change only would only make him look weaker. Frustrated fans, whether in sports or politics, like the emotional release of a high-level firing, but it doesn't always fix the problem. Washington Capital fans, petulant over being eliminated in the first-round playoffs of the Stanley Cup playoffs they expected to win last spring, angrily called for the firing of the coach. That's easier than dealing with the truth: that the flashy play of the very talented Alexander Ovechkin can't compete with the focus, team-wide determination, and sheer experience of the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff series. It's far easier to demand the head of someone at the top than to reassess the performance of the entire team.
The Clinton-for-Biden scenario also under-appreciates the advantages Clinton has brought to State. In Latin America especially, Clinton is personally popular, and the secretary, who has made seven visits to a region with whom the United States is trying to repair a once-happy relationship, carries almost as much star power as the president. That makes neglected countries feel they are being given serious attention, and it's an important step towards rebuilding troubled relationships. Clinton has also directed heightened attention to world hunger and international women's rights, both of which are central not only to basic human rights, but national security.
Obama may well be in trouble in 2012, but it's way too early to predict, and it will depend on the state of the economy and other facets of personal and national security. Appeasing one faction of the Democratic party by trading at the vice-presidential level isn't going to make the difference.