A Heartbeat Away

When Bill and Hillary Clinton tout the virtues of a joint ticket with Barack Obama, they're trapping themselves in a bit of a box about the qualifications necessary to be vice president. The subtext of HRC's "ready from day one" argument is that she IS, and he ISN'T. Of course, there are gradations; someone might be more qualified than someone else, but for the purposes of politics, there's a bright line above which someone is qualified, and the Clinton campaign has taken to arguing for two weeks that Barack Obama is below that line. And yet... as a vice president, a heart-beat away from the presidency... suddenly the line moves. Here's an example of how this argument plays out in real life.

MR. RUSSERT: Governor Rendell, I want to talk to you about some comments made by Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton about the vice presidency. Yesterday in Mississippi, Bill Clinton said that if Hillary Clinton was the nominee, she would certainly consider Barack Obama. In fact, they would be "almost unstoppable" together. Hillary Clinton herself on Friday was talking about this also in Mississippi. Let's listen.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): I've had people say, "I wish I could vote for both of you." Well, that might be possible some day.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Would--do you think that Barack Obama would be acceptable as vice president?

GOV. RENDELL: Acceptable? I think it would be a dream to Democrats all over this country. Personally, for me, it would be a great ticket. I mean, I'm going to fight hard for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, whoever the candidate is. But put them together and I think it would give America a rare opportunity to experience something just incredibly wonderful.

MR. RUSSERT: So, if you believe he's acceptable as vice president, one heartbeat away from the presidency, you believe that Barack Obama is qualified to be commander in chief.

GOV. RENDELL: I think he's qualified. I don't think he's as good a potential commander in chief right now as Hillary Clinton is. But I certainly think he's qualified. And I will work my heart out for him if he's our nominee, just as I know Tom will work his heart out for Senator Clinton if she's our nominee.

MR. RUSSERT: It--that seems to be in conflict with some things that you have said and what Hillary Clinton has said. On Wednesday you sent out a statement from the Clinton campaign that says, "We want a president who's ready, not one we hope will one day be ready," suggesting Barack Obama is not ready. Hillary Clinton said this on Monday. Let's listen.


SEN. CLINTON: I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: And she went on to offer these observations about a threshold for commander in chief. Let's listen.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. CLINTON: I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold, and I believe that I've done that. Certainly Senator McCain has done that. And, and you'll have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: So, Governor Rendell, if Barack Obama's qualified to be vice president, he has crossed the commander in chief threshold. Correct?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, I, I think he's ready. He's not nearly as ready as Hillary Clinton is, there's no question about that. But, look, make no mistake about it, he's a talented, dynamic politician and, and a, and a good senator, and I think he would make a fine president. Again, is he as experienced and as ready as Hillary Clinton? Nobody is. Tim, I've been talking to Democratic candidates since 1980, and Hillary Clinton is the best-prepared candidate I've ever talked to. Far better prepared than Bill Clinton was in 1992.

MR. RUSSERT: But if, in fact, there's a possibility Obama may be the Democratic nominee, would it be better, in the interest of the Democratic Party, that the Clintons not suggest that he hasn't passed the threshold to be commander in chief?

GOV. RENDELL: Well, sure. Look, there, there's rhetoric in a campaign on all, on all sides, and I, I think the, the issue should be framed as ready compared to Hillary Clinton. And, and that's the way I would frame the issue going forward. To me, there's no contest. I don't think--it's not Barack Obama's fault. I think almost any of the other candidates would have fallen into the same category, ready but not as ready as Hillary Clinton.