OPED: Clinton VP pick a governing partner

Tribune News Service

Like most presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton said that, in contemplating her choice of a running mate, she was looking for the most qualified person to take over the presidency if necessary. In picking Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, she followed through on that objective.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., arrive at a rally at Florida International University Panther Arena in Miami, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Clinton has chosen Kaine to be her running mate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

No one, of course, can be certain that any chosen vice-presidential candidate will work out that way if destiny so dictates. But Kaine is a former mayor, governor and national party chairman, and he is currently a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. He has the broad and varied policy and political background to be a governing partner to Clinton if they are elected in November.

In Kaine, she has chosen a running mate who follows the pattern of the most effective and serviceable vice presidents over that last 40 years in both parties — Democrats Walter Mondale, Al Gore and Joe Biden, and Republican Dick Cheney.

The senior George Bush might arguably also be included, if only because he was subsequently elected president for what was widely touted as a third Ronald Reagan term, although it hardly worked out that way.

Hillary Clinton as President Obama's first-term secretary of state had a front-row seat from which to witness the conspicuously productive partnership in government between Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. They melded as a personal and political team over the last nearly eight years, during which Biden impressively carried out a wide array of domestic and foreign-policy assignments.

At home, Biden was overseer of the Obama economic stimulus initiative and close liaison with the nation's governors of both parties. He also was a workhorse in dealing with Congress after his own 36 years in the Senate and Judiciary and Foreign Relations committee chairmanships.

As Obama's emissary to foreign leaders, both friend and foe, Biden gave his president a reliable and credible entree to them, as well as a private counselor in Obama's highest level foreign-policy deliberations.

In choosing and employing Biden, Obama followed a model for service initiated 40 years earlier when President Jimmy Carter picked Mondale, then an experienced U.S. senator from Minnesota. Carter brought him physically into the White House and gave him full access to the Oval Office and all major decision-making.

What came to be known as the Mondale model subsequently was followed by Presidents Bill Clinton with Gore, to some degree by Reagan with Vice President Bush, and by the junior George Bush with Cheney.

The model was conspicuously abandoned, shockingly, in 1988 when the senior Bush chose the pedestrian Sen. Dan Quayle as his running mate. In 2000, the junior Bush turned to Cheney to find his running mate, who in essence chose himself for the job.

But Hillary Clinton's choice of Tim Kaine, on paper at least, marks after Biden's two VP terms a continuation of the model of seeking out and selecting a running mate with the credentials promising a quality governing partner if they are elected this fall.

To some degree, the same can be said tentatively of Donald Trump's choice of an experienced politician in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a former congressman, as his running mate. But how much Pence might be allowed to function as a governing partner by a man known for running his own show as a business tycoon is uncertain at best.

In any event, the choice of Kaine confirms that Hillary Clinton — in bypassing such alternatives as Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a Latino, and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, an African-American — decided against making a selection in pursuit of specific minority voters.

Kaine in one sense is a political twofer, in that he is a fluent Spanish speaker who once served as a missionary in Honduras and later made a speech in Spanish on the Senate floor. While he has described himself as "boring," he introduced himself to the public Saturday with a rousing bilingual speech. Also, he has been a close personal friend of the presidential nominee, a key qualification in the sort of relationship that has been central to the current governing partnership of the incumbents.

— Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books.