Obama’s VP: The Candidate Drops Some Hints

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One reason for the feverish running-mate speculation is that those who actually know anything are a small, leakproof circle. And most leakproof of all is the man who is actually making the decision.

But in an interview (you can see and hear it here) that my colleague David Von Drehle and I did earlier this week for our convention issue, Barack Obama offered some clues as to how he is approaching the decision, and–to my ear, at least–a sense that he had pretty much made up his mind.

The question I asked Obama was what his choice of a running mate would tell the country about Obama himself. Here’s what he said:

Hopefully, the same thing that my campaign has told the American people about me. That I think through big decisions. I get a lot of input from a lot of people, and that ultimately, I try to surround myself with people who are about getting the job done, and who are not about ego, self—aggrandizement, getting their names in the press, but our focus on what’s best for the American people.

I think people will see that I’m not afraid to have folks around me who complement my strengths and who are independent. I’m not a believer in a government of yes—men. I think one of the failures of the early Bush Administration was being surrounded by people who were unwilling to deliver bad news, or who were prone to simply feed the president information that confirmed his own preconceptions.

So let’s do some deconstruction, read some tea leaves, and try to figure out who Obama is–and isn’t–talking about:


I try to surround myself with people who are about getting the job done, and who are not about ego, self—aggrandizement, getting their names in the press…

Okay, so the first qualification he mentions is someone who won’t be all that interested in getting his or her name in the media. That would seem a high bar for the famously voluble Joe Biden to clear.

I think people will see that I’m not afraid to have folks around me who complement my strengths…

Obama is both gifted and precise in the way he uses language. Here, interestingly, the word he chooses is “complement,” not “supplement” or “augment.” This would suggest that this choice will be someone who has experience or expertise that Obama himself lacks, rather than a pick–such as Bill Clinton’s of Al Gore in 1992–that reinforces his message. My guess here is that is not good news for either Governor Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine. Though both have executive experience that he doesn’t, their chief political assets are much the same as Obama’s, in that they bring an ability to blur party lines.

I’m not a believer in a government of yes—men. I think one of the failures of the early Bush Administration was being surrounded by people who were unwilling to deliver bad news, or who were prone to simply feed the president information that confirmed his own preconceptions.

This may well be the most telling part of his answer. It sounds as though he is offering a rationale for picking someone who has disagreed with him in the past on something big, and the Iraq War immediately leaps to mind.

All that put together, if I were to guess who it would be based strictly on what Obama himself has said, I would say the pick is either Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana (low profile, both executive and foreign policy experience, but a supporter of the Iraq War), or a surprise whose name has not been circulating on the pundits’ short lists.

And of course, we’ll know the answer soon.

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