The silly season is hard upon us. Lawyers, professors, pundits and politicians are having a high old time recruiting running mates, “balancing” tickets and making predictions.
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, doesn’t know whether he’ll run for president or not but he’s pretty sure he knows which Democrats will. His crystal ball reveals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the winning odd couple. Or maybe it’s Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A crystal ball can cloud over in the humid heat of midsummer.
Newt is surely funning us. A Hillary-Obama ticket (or Obama-Hillary) is only slightly more likely than Harold Stassen-Thomas E. Dewey, two top notabilities of yesteryear, who would be our first All-Dead ticket. If mediocrity deserves a seat on the Supreme Court, as a U.S. senator once argued in defending a mediocre nominee to the court, well, in our era of multiculturalism run amok dead people deserve a presidential ticket, too.
Putting two firsts together — the first woman and the first black — is a suicide pact, but anyone who says the obvious risks being called a sexist, racist, nativist, bigot or at least a lout, but correctly calculating the risks of Hillary-Obama is so easy a cave man could do it. You can be sure neither Hillary nor Obama would choose the other. Goodness has nothing to do with it.
Some nervous Democrats are searching for deliverance in a loophole. Lawyers, who love to quibble and cavil, are particularly fond of sniffing out loopholes in the law. The language of the 12th and 22nd amendments, defining the eligibility of presidents, seems straightforward enough for the rest of us, but Brian E. Gray, a law professor at the University of California, thinks he’s found a way to get Bill, not Hillary, back in the White House. He argues in an editorial-page essay in the Los Angeles Times that the 22nd Amendment, adopted in the spirit of “never again” after FDR won a fourth term, sets out only that “no person shall be elected to the office of president more than twice.” It would not prevent, so this law-school argument goes, a former two-term president from “serving” as president.
But the 12th Amendment might: “No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of president shall be eligible to that of vice president.” A vice president has to hold the same qualifications as a president, so that looks like an insuperable barrier to the return of Bubba Nights in the White House pantry. But Prof. Gray says no, it’s a good idea to keep the pantry warm. Bill Clinton, he argues, “is ineligible for election to a third term, but he is constitutionally eligible to succeed to the presidency after election to the vice presidency.”
Those are the disputed legalities. More important are the undisputed politics. The Democrats purely love Bubba and all his works (and warts), but would they love him enough to risk everything for auld lang syne? The issue of eligibility would dominate the campaign, with endless speculation about how the Supreme Court would ultimately sort out what the 12th and 22nd amendments mean.
George Romney, once the governor of Michigan and the father of Mitt, challenged the Republican Party to take a similar a risk in 1968, when he was briefly a candidate despite his birth to American parents living abroad. He argued that the Constitution’s requirement that a president be “natural born” only meant that he be of natural birth, not “naturalized,” and not necessarily born here. Fortunately for the party, Mr. Romney, in a fit of antiwar candor, said he had earlier been “brainwashed” to support the Vietnam War. His candidacy dissolved in mocking laughter 15 minutes later.
Only weeks ago the Democratic candidates were looking at paint chips, examining carpet samples and measuring drapery fabrics, speculating about how to redecorate the Oval Office to suit Democratic taste. But now doubts creep in. Maybe Iraq won’t be the catastrophe of Democratic dreams after all. Hillary’s cleavage goes only so deep, and John Edwards is showing wrinkles and cellulite. Obama imagined hitting a home run with his invitation to tyrants and despots for tea and invading Pakistan, but he actually hit only weak pop-ups to third base. Finding a loophole to slip Bubba through is the latest Democratic sure thing. Not much to write home about.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.
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