Against the “dream ticket”

Any management theorist would recoil in horror, says a reader.

A friend (and Obama supporter) writes:

Has anyone who advocates an Obama/Clinton ticket managed anything, ever?

Today there is further speculation about the possibility of an Obama/Clinton ticket. Let’s stipulate that Senator Clinton is amply qualified to be Vice President in every way. Let’s stipulate that she is fully qualified to be President. Let’s even agree that her policy proposals are close to Senator Obama’s and would be good for the country. A joint ticket would please many people, and seems to be a nice compromise to end the Democratic campaign.

Am I the only person who thinks that an Obama/Clinton ticket is a nutty idea? I don’t say this because an Obama/Clinton ticket would fail politically. I don’t say this because there is too much bad blood between the two warring camps. It’s a nonstarter because they might actually win, only to discover that they can’t govern.

I would venture that every management professor who watched today’s CNN’s Clinton VP news story is off having a seizure. Here’s one reason why. I’m sure there are others, but this is sufficient.

An Obama administration would be filled with former Clinton administration folks. There’s no avoiding that. These are the horses they have to run with. President Obama will inevitably face delicate challenges that come from that history of relationships. Imagine Secretary of State Tony Lake directing a Clinton team in matters of Middle East policy. Imagine Domestic Policy Czar Robert Reich coordinating a common message on NAFTA with the same Clinton people.

One possibility is that the VP office would become an entrenched power center in an administration headed by a young newcomer to Washington. Alternatively, Vice President Clinton might be totally or partially frozen out of serious policy planning. In that case, her office would become an immediate locus of political infighting, leaks, and conflicts that would be quite damaging.

In academia, former deans and losing candidates generally take sabbaticals that coincide with the arrival of a new guy. Businesses occasionally experiment with installing a former leader down the hall from the CEO. This may be fine when the former leader has played out his or her personal ambitions and is willing to be consigliere. Yet it is a terrible idea to start right off with a #2 who might readily overshadow or undermine the main guy. Would the next CEO of General Electric agree to place Jack (and Suzy) Welch in a nearby corner office? Would the next Citibank head want Sandy Weil or Robert Rubin looking over her shoulder and having powerful, non-fireable roles?

For so many reasons, the joint ticket that is fun to think about turns into a nightmare when one thinks for more than 30 seconds. By all means, let Chelsea keynote the convention. Let one or two Justice Clintons serve on the Supreme Court. An Obama/Clinton ticket: that is a terrible idea.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: