Female V.P. Hopefuls Who Shouldn't Be

Washington Matters

Female V.P. Hopefuls Who Shouldn't Be

Am I the only one offended by all the talk that Barack Obama may -- or should be -- looking to a woman to be his running mate? To me, that's a reverse form of sexism and it's all wrong.


Given the conventional wisdom that Obama won't pick Hillary Clinton, I guess it's to be expected that fears of losing the female vote will prompt talk of selecting another woman as a vice presidential candidate. But that misses the point. Clinton won the right to be considered not because she's a woman but because of what she proved as a candidate. The millions who voted for her didn't vote for her just because of her gender, and you can't just substitute another woman and expect that to wipe out the disappointment so many Clinton supporters feel.


The three women mentioned most often are Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. McCaskill is only on the list because of her gender, her  early support of Obama and the fact that she hails from a swing state. But she has been in the Senate only 16 months and has accomplished nothing of note. Sebelius and Napolitano, in particular, have stronger credentials. They've shown an ability to govern in a hostile political environment, both having won in very red states.  But they have no national seasoning and no foreign policy or Washington experience. At another time, they might deserve consideration on their merits, but right now, they are on the short list mainly because of their genders. That's not going to help Obama unite the party and it won't help anyone who wants to get sexism out of politics.


More important, none of the three are likely to help Obama govern. Obama hasn't even completed his first Senate term and is still very much a Washington outsider with slight international experience.  What he needs most from a vice president is a savvy knowledge of Washington and an understanding of how power is brokered, not to mention someone with heavy-duty national security and foreign policy credentials. That could both reassure voters about making Obama commander in chief, especially against Sen. John McCain, and give him a dependable perspective to lean on. If the candidate can help him win over a key constituency or a state or two along the way, so much the better, but that's rarely the case and shouldn't be the prime motive for his pick. That's why he's better off looking at someone like former Sen. Sam Nunn, who understands Washington, adds foreign policy and defense heft and just may tip Georgia to Democrats, all points made by New York Times columnist David Brooks yesterday.


Picking someone primarily because she's a woman would be all wrong. It wouldn't make the Clintons any happier (Hillary wouldn't want to be upstaged), and it would be seen for the obvious ploy it is. As well intentioned as Walter Mondale may have been in picking Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, it hurt a lot more than it helped because she wasn't the right candidate. Obama shouldn't make the same mistake.