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The Case for Leahy

06/12/08 7:55AM By Philip Baruth
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(HOST) With the Democratic nomination finally in hand, Barack Obama last week created an informal committee to help sift the names of potential running mates. Vermont Senator Pat Leahy has apparently agreed to lend a hand. But commentator Philip Baruth, himself an early supporter and now an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, believes that Leahy could easily play a more central role.

(BARUTH) Hillary Clinton’s concession speech last week was a rhetorical masterpiece: gracious, eloquent, and justifiably conscious of its own place in history. And of course the designated sound-bite was her adoption of Barack Obama’s motto, "Yes we can." Shouting those particular words was a step further than she needed to go, and hence generous, and in that way it was precisely as far as she needed to go.

But it’s worth pointing out that Clinton’s use of the phrase "Yes we can" was a more complex rhetorical moment than it might seem at first. Sure, she was adopting Obama’s refrain, but Clinton was also making her own implicit statement about her own abilities and what she could bring to the ticket. "Yes we can," she said, meaning in part that together she and Barack Obama can win the general election, perhaps only together.

A brilliant moment, genuinely helpful to the Obama campaign and yet true to her own, as well. I came away from that one speech far more open to talk of her joining the ticket than I’d ever been before.

But with due respect to Senator Clinton, I’d like to take just a moment today to advance another less obvious Vice Presidential choice, one that's managed thus far to stay off the media’s radar: Vermont’s senior Senator, Patrick Leahy.

When George W. Bush chose his Vice President, he understood that he needed an elder statesman, to close the gaps in his own resume. Dick Cheney understood that very well too, which is why he selected himself as Bush’s running mate. But forget what Cheney has done with the Vice Presidency - the point is that balancing for age and experience remains a successful electoral strategy. Balancing for geography does not - not in an age where the 24-hour news cycle makes any candidate from any state an intimate companion by campaign’s end.

Obama would do well to pick a more seasoned running-mate, and speculation has tended to focus around those with strong military credentials: Jim Webb, Wesley Clark, General James Jones. And in a post-9/11 environment military issues are high-profile.

But the post-9/11 years have raised the profile of another set of issues as well: civil liberties and the proper reach of Presidential power. Leahy’s opposition to warrantless wiretapping, and his drive to de-politicize the Justice Department, have quickly become the stuff of Senate legend. When Bill Clinton selected Al Gore, it was seen as a way for Clinton to double-down on his own strengths, to reinforce his own credentials as a New Southerner. Critics called it the "Double Bubba" strategy. For Barack Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, to tap Pat Leahy would be to send an unmistakeable signal that the era of governmental overreaching in the name of national security is over.

Call it the "Double Liberties" strategy.

Of course, when it comes to the VP selection, everyone’s a critic. Leahy’s too seasoned, some will say, simply too old for a run at the White House. Well, let me just say this about that: at the end of his first succesful four-year term in office, in 2012, Vice President Patrick Leahy would be almost exactly as old as John McCain is today.
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