The Upside of Dodd as Obama’s VP

Douglas Burns of the Iowa Independent has posted his list of the ten people Barack Obama should consider as his pick for vice president. Atop the list: Senator Chris Dodd. Burns argues:

1. Chris Dodd. I have had the theory that Dodd would make a strong running mate for Obama should the Illinois senator get the Democratic nomination — even though this would run counter to conventional wisdom about picking a vice presidenntial candidate from a key state (Florida or Ohio) or going with a Southerner or Latino.

As I reported earlier, Dr. Steven Kraus of Carroll observed something several weeks ago at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner: Dodd, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, and Obama clearly have respect for each other.

Dodd is simply a classy senator who can answer questions with reliable competency. Yes, the Southwest likely will determine the 2008 election, and sure, a Richardson vice presidential nomination makes sense because of this. But Dodd is fluent in Spanish as I saw firsthand when Lorena Lopez of La Prensa and I conducted a joint interview with him. If Obama gets the nomination Dodd complements him in a number of ways as a running mate — including his ability to campaign in Spanish.

Dodd won’t make mistakes out there and with his reassuring white hair, the elder statesman would be a nice balance for Obama. Youth and wisdom. Age and experience.

I worked for Chris Dodd because I thought he was the best person to be President, so it’s not surprising that I think Dodd should be on the short list for Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. I think Burns raises some very good points about Dodd’s upside for Obama, but I’ll make a few more.

I’ll start with a pre-buttal of the apparent downside of Dodd for Obama. The natural hit from the Beltway punditocracy on Obama picking Dodd will be that in picking an experienced Senator, Obama has drawn attention to his inexperience. But this argument only holds if you presume that no one – not the press, not the GOP, not off-message surrogates – will highlight Obama’s relative inexperience in Washington politics and use that as a line of critique. Of course, we know that Obama qua nominee will face a heavy line of criticism for his short tenure in the Senate. Nothing he can do, including his VP pick, will change that.

Even if he were to pick a younger, more transformational VP to go along with his message of change (Kathleen Sebelius or John Edwards come to mind), you know the Beltway set will criticize his pick for not adding the “needed” balance of experience – his own Dick Cheney – to the Democratic ticket. And trust me, they won’t just be putting Obama through this wringer – any Democratic nominee will face intense scrutiny that seeks the most negative side of any decision from both the GOP and the Beltway press.

Leaving the foreseeable bunk flinging aside, here’s why I think Dodd is a good pick for Obama.

Dodd’s experience would be a tremendous asset for any of our nominees. From two and a half decades on the Foreign Relations Committee and extensive work negotiating ends to wars in Latin America and Northern Ireland, to one of the longest resumes of landmark domestic legislation with his name on it, to longtime experience monitoring the financial sector, Dodd brings tangible experience as a guy who gets things done in Washington. If a large part of Obama’s critique of DC partisanship preventing our government from getting substantive results for the good of the country, Dodd stands clearly as an example of someone who has been able to build bipartisan consensus around progressive Democratic principles. That strikes me as valuable.

A post-Cheney VP will have to redefine the role of the office (as well as reaffirm its existence as part of the executive branch). But that doesn’t mean that we need to regress to Dan Quayle contradicting school children on the spelling of “potato.” I don’t see inherent harm in structuring an administration in such a way that the other elected member of the executive branch plays a formative role in governance outside the halls of the Senate.

If I were Barack Obama, I would establish the role of his VP in advance of being elected and use it as a hammering point on the campaign trail. In the case of Dodd, the natural role would be as the person tasked with bottom lining the success of Obama’s legislative agenda. Obama and his policy team should pick what they want to get done in his first term and then hand the ball off to Vice President Dodd to get it done. Be up front about it: Dodd will quarterback Obama’s legislative agenda and he will get it done.

I think it’s an easy sell (but then again, I’m something of a partisan). In Obama’s narrative, change is a means to secure results. The Dodd campaign was largely framed around his career of getting results, so he could slot in on the back-end of the Obama message with relative ease while not taking away from the primacy of Obama’s change candidacy. In this scenario, Dodd is Obama’s answer to how he will ensure that an Obama presidency can bring change. Obama will be able to answer questions of his ability to get results in DC with extreme confidence, “What, are you kidding me? Dodd’s my guy – together we’ll get it done. I trust him and he’s extremely well respected on both sides of the aisle in DC. If you don’t think VP Dodd will get it done, you don’t know a one thing about Washington.

In short, I agree with Burns that Dodd probably adds a tremendous amount to an Obama ticket. I’m not going to go into the comparative merits of Dodd over any other Democrat out there (though I cringe at Burns’ list including two prominent Republicans, Dick Lugar and Bobby Jindal). This is an exercise in pure political speculation.

And to preempt whatever questioning may come about my knowledge of Dodd’s future plans, I do not know if he would pursue or accept a request to be on anyone’s ticket as vice president. I do not know if he will endorse anyone or who he would endorse. I’m speaking solely for myself here.

3 thoughts on “The Upside of Dodd as Obama’s VP

  1. Matt,

    I agree that Dodd would make an excellent Vice President, but I think he could be even more effective remaining in the Senate as the Majority Leader. From there, he could be just as useful in implementing Obama’s legislative agenda.

    My choice for Vice President would be Edwards. I think that the extreme damage that has been done to our country from the Vice President’s office is going to take a lot of work to undo and that Edwards would be uniquely qualified to take on that task. Cheney’s MO has been to use young, unprincipled lawyers to implement his policies and to provide bureaucratic cover. I think that an attorney with Edwards’ experience would be perfect for digging through the mess and working out the path back to a government that is accountable to the governed.

    [Thanks for all of your hard work on the Dodd campaign. I agree that Dodd would have been the best choice for President. Best of luck on the new blog.]

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  2. Jim,
    I think Edwards would be a very good pick as well in so far as he compliments Obama’s image of youth and change.

    But I think excluding Dodd on the grounds that he would be a good Majority Leader is a grave mistake. Dodd hasn’t expressed any interest in the position, though he hasn’t expressed interest in VP either. The difference between ML and VP, though, is that Majority Leader takes a majority of Dodd’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate wanting him in that position. It is highly political and as of now, I do not know of a single Senator who is calling for or supportive of a Dodd candidacy for Majority Leader. The support on the blogs is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything as far as realizing Dodd becoming the Majority Leader.

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