Hillary Clinton's pick for vice president, now expected this Friday or Saturday, will tell prospective Democratic voters much about her attitude towards the progressive base of the party, the ideological drive of her general election campaign, and the manner of her potential presidency.
While a "conventional" pick seems increasingly likely, critics warn the perils of such a choice could be disastrous—both for her campaign and, ultimately, the country and the planet.
"Selection of a corporate militarist—flacking for Wall Street, pursuing the despoiling of the environment and promoting vast militarism—would underscore Hillary Clinton's commitment to destructive policies. Whatever the importance of platform planks and promises from podiums, the VP selection is the one decision that Clinton can't go back on."
—Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction and Sanders delegateWith the notion of party "unity" on edge, as Common Dreams reported earlier this week, many potential voters inspired by the bold campaign of Bernie Sanders will be greatly disappointed if Clinton goes with someone like Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack—currently the most likely choices according to the New York Times, Washington Post, and others.
Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org and national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, told Common Dreams the signal such a selection would send to Sanders' delegates like himself would be worse than not good.
Choosing someone like Vilsack or Kaine, Solomon wrote in an email, "would be a very pronounced middle finger to the 13 million people who voted for Bernie."
And what should the response be if Clinton makes such a choice?
"The appropriate progressive response to Vilsack or Kaine on the ticket would be expressions of outrage and nonviolent protest, from the convention floor in Philadelphia to communities across the country," said Solomon. "Selection of a corporate militarist—flacking for Wall Street, pursuing the despoiling of the environment and promoting vast militarism—would underscore Hillary Clinton's commitment to destructive policies. Whatever the importance of platform planks and promises from podiums, the VP selection is the one decision that Clinton can't go back on. Her choice for the VP slot will be quite illuminating."
According to the Post:
Kaine has been a favorite for the job for months and is the name most often mentioned by Democrats as the front-runner. He and Vilsack share many professional and political attributes, notably their governing experience. Both fit Clinton’s ideal of low-key, loyal effectiveness, people who know both men said. Vilsack carries the additional quality of a long-standing personal friendship with Clinton.
Two Democrats described [Labor Secretary Thomas] Perez as a solid third choice, but others cautioned that he may not be in the same category as Vilsack and Kaine. Several Democrats emphasized that the fact that Kaine and Vilsack appear to be the leading contenders does not preclude Clinton’s continuing to weigh her choices from a larger list of contenders.
And CNN reports:
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have emerged as leading contenders after a rigorous vetting process, Democrats close to the selection believe, but they are not the only two prospects still in contention."The conventional wisdom in this case seems likely to be right," one Democrat close to Clinton told CNN, believing Kaine has the upper hand but cautioning that Clinton could still deliver a surprise.
The Times was among outlets, citing unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, reporting that Clinton is interested in someone with deep "national security experience," suggesting that a candidate's readiness to step in as commander-in-chief would outweigh considerations of experience on domestic policy matters. The newspaper said that James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served as the 16th supreme allied commander of NATO, was now on the short-list alongside Kaine, Vilsack, and Perez.
While Secretary Perez was struck by critique in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Tom Philpott, writing for Mother Jones, offered a devastating exploration of Vilsack's record when it comes to food and agriculture policy.
Other people still being mentioned include Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
"[Clinton] must embrace the populist moment and the electorate’s yearning for change if she is to fend off Trump’s insurgent challenge. That’s not just the smartest course. In the end, it’s also the safest."
—Richard Eskow, Campaign for America's FutureAmong all those believed to be under consideration, only Warren and Brown stand out as being firmly aligned—specifically on economic policy and issues related to labor and international trade—with the populist agenda put forth by Sanders.
For his part, however, Solomon expressed doubt that either is still under serious consideration.
"Warren—and to a lesser extent Brown—would be a nod from Clinton to the progressive wing of the party," he said. "Warren in particular seems to be quite a longshot; her inclusion in the Clinton campaign-generated speculation is likely nothing more than a sop to make progressives feel like they sort of matter as part of the triangulating mentality that routinely prevails in Clinton calculations, a routine that the Bernie campaign has disrupted."
However, increasing evidence that she may ultimately go with a "safe" vice-presidential pick—someone from within the Establishment circle of the party—is lamentable for progressive advocates like Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America's Future. On Wednesday Eskow wrote rumors circling about Vilsack, Warner or Kaine should be deeply worrisome to Democrats. "In this political climate," he writes, "a search for 'safety' could put her candidacy in serious danger."
Kaine and Vilsack have forged bland political profiles that lack progressive fire or conspicuous leadership. Both supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of job-destroying and corporation-empowering trade deals. So did Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
Clinton claims to oppose the TPP, but she has a credibility challenge on the subject. She helped negotiate the deal as secretary of state and frequently spoke in favor of it before running for president. Prospects like Kaine, Vilsack, and Warner are liabilities for a ticket that must confront Trump’s faux populism on trade.
Warner is also a longtime advocate for destructive budget cuts. He backed the unpopular and impractical “Bowles-Simpson” fiscal plan that included cuts to Social Security, pushed austerity economics measures as part of the Senate’s misguided and self-promoting “Gang of Six,” and even urged business elites to get more involved in politics – at a time when we need campaign reform to reduce their political power.
That may be an effective way to flatter rich donors, but it is a poor way for a Democrat to win votes in 2016.
Meanwhile, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America Donna Smith, in an op-ed for Common Dreams on Tuesday, said Clinton's decision to ignore the intensity of support generated by Sanders would be a grave mistake. Assessing the specific shortcomings of Gov. Hickenlooper, Smith said that for Clinton to choose him "as a running mate would be another signal of the disconnect the DNC has with a large segment of its base – a very vocal, engaged segment of the base."
If she makes a corporate-friendly choice like Hickenlooper, Smith writes, Clinton would severely "weaken the modest progressive gains made during the DNC’s platform struggle and set the tone for what [her] presidency might value."
Eskow shares those concerns and warns that for Clinton to gravitate towards what is euphemistically referred to as the "center" of the political spectrum would be a disastrous decision. "Hillary Clinton needs to show voters that she can make bold choices," he argues. "She must embrace the populist moment and the electorate’s yearning for change if she is to fend off Trump’s insurgent challenge. That’s not just the smartest course. In the end, it’s also the safest."
Unfortunately, said Solomon, the corporate media—"and perhaps the Clinton campaign"—appear largely checked-out when it comes to understanding the mood of most Sanders' delegates ahead of next week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. A recent survey of approximately 1,200 delegates pledged to Sanders conducted by RootsAction showed that more than 7 in 10 say that Clinton's VP choice is either "very important" or "important" to them. In addition, many expressed willingness to "publicly denounce" or "protest on the convention floor" if their level of disappointment with the VP candidate warrants it.