Change times two: Daring to dream of a Clinton-Obama team

January 18, 2008|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON -- Maybe I forgot to get my vaccination against the false-hope flu. Maybe the "change" mantra has finally overwhelmed my immune system. Or maybe it's just the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hovering over this week.

But I have a dream. Or at least a dream ticket. Why not the two front-runners on one ballot?

Yes, I am aware that I must immediately hand over my press card to the professional cynic police. But the Democrats have just recovered from a panic attack over the possibility that a primary fight between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama over race and gender will leave both in the dirt. At the kiss-and-make-up debate in Nevada, a reassuring Mr. Obama said that "there's much more that we hold in common than what separates us." Mrs. Clinton said that "we're all family in the Democratic Party."

"This is a moment worthy of celebration," said Mrs. Clinton last week. "Many of our parents and our grandparents ... never thought they would see the day when an African-American and a woman were competing for the presidency of the United States."

Well, I'll see your "change" and raise you one. Our parents and our grandparents really never expected to see an African-American and a woman on the same ticket.

I will now pause for the requisite paragraphs explaining why this is a nutty idea. The two-fer could be two-for-defeat, double the trouble, double the negatives. There are plenty of folks who don't want to see a white woman and black man dance together, let alone run for the top jobs together.

The common wisdom says that we need a balanced ticket. But these are both senators. Moreover, the Democratic Party already has racial and gender gaps. Want chasms?

But what if a new, improved idea of a balanced ticket goes beyond demography and geography? What if balance rests on different personal and political strengths?

By now we've heard the front-runners make their own case repeatedly. Mr. Obama is cast as the candidate of inspiration. Mrs. Clinton wears the mantle of experience. He's fired up, and she's ready to go.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin also blushingly confesses to being seduced by the possibility that the sum of this ticket would be greater than its parts. She compares it with other historic partnerships between those who motivated change and those who implemented it - including, yes, Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson.

"In this case, we wouldn't just be combining a black and a woman, but the two narratives of the campaign: inspiration and experience, both of which are needed for change," she says. "It would be a bold move but a great one."

Up to now, you will notice, I haven't said who would be at the top of the ticket. Which is where my little attack of idealism may stumble.

In America, as Mrs. Clinton noted in the debate, we put "the head of state and the head of government together in one person." Frankly, I think of her as prime minister and Mr. Obama as royal philosopher. If Mrs. Clinton wins, it's easier to imagine the younger candidate taking the second spot. If Mr. Obama wins, it's harder to see her settling for No. 2 after eight years in the White House. But at the same time, she has had a whole lot of experience partnering with a president.

This game plan depends, I am fully aware, on Super Tuesday. It also depends on whether the country is, in fact, eager for something different - in a "post-polarization" frame of mind.

But Mr. Obama said, "I run so that a year from today there's a chance that the world will look at America differently and that America will look at itself differently." And Mrs. Clinton told Tyra Banks which reality show she'd choose: "I think it would have to be Dancing with the Stars, especially if I could have one of those really good partners."

Against the low, incessant, chant for change, do I hear a T-E-A-M? Or only a dream?

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is ellengoodman@globe.com.

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