Bill Keller writes newest, dumbest Biden-Clinton 2012 swap piece

Former New York Times editor combines hackneyed analysis with shopworn topic, with predictable results

Topics: 2012 Elections, Media, New York Times, Bill Keller, Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Media Criticism,

Bill Keller writes newest, dumbest Biden-Clinton 2012 swap pieceJoe Biden and Hillary Clinton (Credit: AP/Jason Reed)

Bill Keller, a bad opinion columnist, has written a bad opinion column. It is about how Barack Obama will replace Vice President Joe Biden on the 2012 ticket with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a thing that will not actually happen.

The former New York Times editor has lately been celebrating his return to writing by fearlessly tackling hacky column ideas already exhausted by everyone who was writing bad opinion columns during Keller’s tenure as a person with an actually important job. Having offered his own takes on classics like “The Huffington Post isn’t as good as a real newspaper” and “Twitter is dumb,” Keller today tries the old “running mate switcharoo” scenario.

John Heilemann made the case in August of 2010, but Bob Woodward really kicked it off by pretending a Biden-Clinton switch was “on the table” in October of 2010. That notion — supposedly — can be traced back to pollster grifter Mark Penn, which should have stopped anyone else from bringing it up ever again. But Jonathan Alter took another crack at it last October, and publishing speculation on the switch has become reliable Drudge-bait ever since.

Keller’s column frames the switch as something wished for, instead of predicting it based on the “chatter” of “insiders,” which helps make it merely stupid instead of inherently dishonest. But here are his arguments as to why it would be a good idea instead of a bizarre and desperate stunt:

One: it does more to guarantee Obama’s re-election than anything else the Democrats can do. Two: it improves the chances that, come next January, he will not be a lame duck with a gridlocked Congress but a rejuvenated president with a mandate and a Congress that may be a little less forbidding. Three: it makes Hillary the party’s heir apparent in 2016. If she sits out politics for the next four years, other Democrats (yes, Governor Cuomo, we see your hand up) will fill the void.

One: What? Prove it, maybe? Two: Haha what, again? Congress will get ungridlocked if the president switches vice presidents? To a Clinton? Three: OK, but what if Obama/Clinton loses? And if Obama wins again wouldn’t any Democrat be at a disadvantage in 2016 due to historical trends anyway, making it a “safer” bet to not be his running mate, assuming she actually wants to be president still, which is not at all a given?

But we’re not dealing with observable reality here, as the bit about Clinton’s magical power to un-gridlock Congress demonstrates. We’re in the world of vague assertions about “warmth” and “voltage.” How many electoral votes would running mate Hillary Clinton be worth? Keller never bothers to attempt to make a quantitative guess. This is the closest we get:

Moreover, even if Obama can win without Hillary, there’s a lot to be said for running up the score. If she can do in 2012 what Obama did in 2008 — animate that feeling of historic possibility — the pair can lift some House and Senate candidates along with them. One reason Republicans did so well in the 2010 Congressional elections is that they overcame the gender gap and carried women voters 51 to 49. Those voters will flock back to Hillary, the more so if the Republican ticket is locked into a culture-war agenda. So, by the way, will Hispanic voters, securing such endangered states as Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.

Ooh, actual data! The Republicans won women in a midterm election. Hillary Clinton is a woman. So in a presidential general election, women will “flock back to Hillary.” Those women may be Republicans, voting in a Republican wave election, but they are women and so they will vote for Barack Obama if he is next to a woman on the ballot. (Though what about those Hispanics? Shouldn’t Obama replace Biden with a Hispanic woman, in this case? Or isn’t he in fact best off retaining Joe Biden, who is, after all, a white man? From Scranton? White men will “flock back” to Obama once they see that he is friends with a white person.)

The column isn’t just bad analysis — it’s also oddly condescending to Secretary Clinton! It complains that she owes “us” a vice-presidential run after she “raised our expectations” by running for president last time. It calls Clinton “the dutiful Methodist schoolgirl.”

Here’s the line that is secretly the worst:

But the idea that she should replace Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate in 2012 is something else. It has been kicking around on the blogs for more than a year without getting any traction, mainly because it has been authoritatively, emphatically dismissed by Hillary, Biden and Team Obama.

Did you see that? “Kicking around on the blogs.” That’s Keller-speak for “not worth anyone’s time until a real journalist like New York Times opinion columnist Bill Keller brought it up.” The “bloggers” kicking this idea around, as I mentioned earlier, are New York magazine political writer John Heilemann, Washington Post living legend Bob Woodward, and former Newsweek senior editor and best-selling author Jonathan Alter. Those bloggers and their crazy notions!

As a blogger, I know that my silly opinion is not as carefully considered and well-informed as that of former New York Times editor Bill Keller, who is not at all simply talking out of his ass. But even if there were any hint at all that the switch was a possibility, which there isn’t, it would be a stupid idea. Hillary Clinton is already part of the president’s Cabinet, and she and her husband will already campaign for the president’s reelection. Running mates barely nudge the numbers in presidential elections, unless they’re historically awful, which Joe Biden isn’t. The Clintons are among the most divisive figures in American politics — Hillary Clinton’s recent high approval rating has come because she’s not running for anything — and relitigating every Clinton scandal would consume the national political press for weeks if she ended up on the ticket.

The running mate switch hasn’t been successful since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and the last time a president made a strategic switch to help win a tough reelection, it failed.

And I bet if Obama did make this stupid switch, Bill Keller would write some awful column about how desperate it made the president look. Unless he will have by then moved on to finally writing his “kids today sure are sexting each other a lot” piece.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>