Michelle Obama Shouldn’t Be Vice President

Especially for Joe Biden.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has pledged to choose a woman as his running mate. Many are hoping he chooses the popular former First Lady.

POLITICO‘s Mark Caputo (“Democrats dream of Biden’s perfect running mate: An Obama“):

With the Democratic primary settled, the Rev. Al Sharpton says he now includes a political consideration in his daily prayers: God, please let Michelle Obama be Joe Biden’s running mate.

Sharpton’s decision to implore a higher power is perhaps unique among Democrats, but the strong sentiment is commonplace among party leaders, operatives, rank-and-file voters — and it’s led many to hold out hope she’ll be Biden’s vice presidential pick.

“When former Vice President Biden said he would choose a woman, she’s considered by most Americans of all races and all economic backgrounds to be the ultimate woman,” Sharpton told POLITICO. “Look at her book sales. It’s the first time I’ve seen someone write a book that can fill arenas. She has packed more arenas than Donald Trump.”

Of the roughly dozen or so names Biden is seriously considering, Obama isn’t one of them. She has made clear that she would rather focus on her work to register and turn out voters through her new organization “When We All Vote.”

“”I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever,” she wrote in her best-selling memoir, “Becoming,” released in 2018.
Her refusals haven’t stopped Democrats from asking her to reconsider.

[…]

Still, none of that hasn’t gotten in the way of Democrats dreaming of a restoration of sorts. While discussing Biden’s potential veep picks, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes recently told a reporter she didn’t want to name a preference. But when asked about Michelle Obama, she stopped for a beat.

“Oh my God,” she said, almost gasping. “That would be amazing.”
The idea of an Biden-Obama ticket is as much rooted in warm fuzzy nostalgia for the last Democratic administration as it is a product of the cold, hard data of polling.

In terms of popularity, no one else in the party is in the league of Michelle Obama, who last year overtook actress and philanthropist Angelina Jolie for the mantle of “most admired woman” in a global survey conducted by YouGov. Barack Obama was the world’s second-most admired man behind Bill Gates.

With so much star power and party goodwill behind the Obama brand, it’s little wonder there’s so much longing for the return of an Obama in a Democratic Party still reeling from Donald Trump’s 2016 victory and searching for the perfect candidate.

Valerie Jarrett, a friend and adviser to both Obamas, acknowledged the buzz around the former first lady but said running for and holding political office — whether it’s for vice president of president — isn’t her style.

“She really kind of transcends politics,” Jarrett said. “Obviously, she supports Vice President Biden but doesn’t see herself as a political figure.”

Her aversion to politicking and office-seeking are so strong, Jarrett said, that she might not even formally endorse Biden, though she will support him and campaign to defeat Trump.

“It’s about more than winning the election. You have to govern. And if your heart isn’t in what it takes to do the work of being the vice president, then you shouldn’t do it. You shouldn’t do it just to win,” Jarrett said. “She could potentially help a lot more people using her current platform rather than joining a political office.”

For his part, Biden is saying the right things.

Pittsburgh’s KDKA (“‘I’d Take Her In A Heartbeat’: Joe Biden Says He Would Pick Michelle Obama To Be His Vice President“):

Joe Biden says he would take Michelle Obama to be his running mate for the 2020 presidential election.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told KDKA’s Jon Delano that the former first lady would be a strong addition as VP if he thought she would accept the nomination.

“I’d take her in a heartbeat,” Biden said on Monday. “She’s brilliant. She knows the way around. She is a really fine woman. The Obamas are great friends.”

“I don’t think she has any desire to live near the White House again,” Biden added.

Biden did say it is still early in the process of selecting a vice president.

“In terms of who to pick, we’re just beginning the process,” Biden told KDKA. “We’ll shortly name the committee to review this and begin to look through the backgrounds of the various potential nominees. And that’s just getting underway.”

Michelle Obama is popular. She’s likable. By all accounts, she’s a smart lady. But, no, she shouldn’t be Biden’s running mate.

Jarrett is right that the role requires someone enthusiastic about running and Obama does not have the proverbial “fire in the belly.” But, frankly, that’s the least of my concerns.

Michelle Obama is simply not qualified to be President of the United States.

Aside from the largely ceremonial role as President of the Senate, the Vice President’s main function is to be ready to go if the President dies in office or otherwise becomes incapable of serving. That has happened a shocking number of times in American history, although not in a serious way since John Kennedy was murdered in 1963.

But Joe Biden will turn 78 a couple of weeks after Election Day. He’s had serious health issues. He needs a VP who’s ready on day one.

Michelle Obama is not such a person. She has no political experience or executive experience to speak of. Yes, she had a bird’s eye view of the presidency as First Lady. But that’s not the same thing, by a long shot, as having had to make those decisions and bear the consequences of them herself.

To be sure, she is every bit as qualified as Donald Trump was when he took office. And she’s likely to throw herself into learning about public policy and to surround herself with and listen to people with real expertise.

But there are too many qualified officeholders out there for Biden to choose from. There are plenty of Democratic women who have run states or large cities. And, certainly, there are some qualified Democratic women in the Senate.

My preference at this juncture would be Amy Klobuchar or Kamala Harris. Neither pick would generate anything like the enthusiasm that Michelle Obama would. But either would be capable of assuming the presidency. That should always be the first consideration. That’s doubly true when the campaign is going to be a contrast with Donald Trump. And triply true when the ticket is headed up by a man who will be in his 80s before his first term ends.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Presidency, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I agree. A Michelle Obama VP nomination is just a stunt. And stunts don’t last very long. What I like about Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris is that they both laugh. A small thing perhaps but a positive indicator of humanity. Huge contrast with Trump and Pence.

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  2. drj says:

    Has anyone even asked Michelle Obama what she wants?

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  3. SC_Birdflyte says:

    While it might be worth it to see heads explode in the right-wing commentariat (Limbaugh, Hannity, Carlson), it would be a poor choice, if only because US politics has gone much too far in the direction of dynasticism. We need to curtail that trend.

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  4. CSK says:

    @drj:
    She made it clear in her memoir that she did not want any political office.

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  5. drj says:

    @CSK:

    Yeah, I know. But now we are having a discussion about the qualifications of a prospective candidate who doesn’t even want the job.

    It seems kinda… pointless.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    I am shocked(!) that a Republican strategist has bad advice for a Democratic presidential candidate.

    Beyond that WTF is it with people’s obsessions with political dynasties? For the country that was supposedly founded in part on abandoning hereditary rulers, we sure keep trying to get back there.

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  7. Jen says:

    We’re entering the Silly Season early, I guess.

    Michelle Obama has made it crystal clear she has no interest in running for office, or, as Biden points out, even being anywhere near the White House. Aside from having something to spill digital ink on, stories like these aren’t worth anyone’s time. Goodness.

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  8. steve says:

    Totally agree she should not be VP for reasons you outline. However, dynasties are popular. I think that there is about a 70% chance that the GOP chooses Ivanka in 2024 if Trump wins the next election.

    Steve

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  9. CSK says:

    @mattbernius:
    Sometimes I think that hereditary rule, along with feudalism, is the normal human condition, and that anything else is just a temporary aberration.

    It’s a depressing thought, I know, but…

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  10. Lounsbury says:

    @mattbernius: Humans are humans. Dynastic rulership has risen and fallen a number of times. Deeply ingrained in human (that is to say primate) behaviour to follow ‘bloodlines’. But also to overthrow them.

    Overclocked chimps is what we are with sometimes laughable pretensions to being more than that.

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  11. Teve says:

    @mattbernius: I have a John Quincy Adams on line 2 for you sir.

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  12. Teve says:

    From Kevin Drum’s Overclocked Chimps essay:

    To summarize, then, I have no idea who won. But I do know this: the fact that we’re so obsessed with this is just a bit of fresh evidence that H. sapiens as a species is little more than a modestly souped up version of P. troglodytes. For chimps, knowing precisely who won and who surrendered in every encounter—and therefore who outranks you—is vitally important and has been bred into the species by millions of years of evolution. A few hundred thousands generations later, it still controls human society. The only difference between chimps and humans is that they do it with screeching and feces flinging, while we do it with Twitter and cable news. I think their way is probably more dignified.

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  13. @James:

    To be sure, she is every bit as qualified as Donald Trump was when he took office.

    I actually think Michelle Obama is more qualified than Trump was. I think eight years as First Lady counts as experience in the federal government and there is zero doubt in my mind that she left the White House understanding the presidency more than Trump did in 2016 (and perhaps more than Trump does now).

    Having said that, I concur with your position.

    I also agree with those who raised the dynastic issue above.

    I will add: as much as Biden needs the Obamas’ support, it would create really weird dynamic for Michelle to be on the ticket and then for Barack to be the husband of the veep. Why create those dynamics for yourself?

    I concur, also, with Harris of Klobuchar as high on my list.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    I agree that Michelle would not be a good candidate, but only because she’d stoke negative partisanship, motivating GOP base voters who otherwise must be feeling a bit dispirited these days. While she’d spark D enthusiasm, Trump is handling that nicely. Most of us would already crawl across infected broken glass in a hazmat suit to vote against him.

    But as a general proposition, why not? We’ve already set the precedent that an unqualified celebrity can be prez. Trump aside, remember when the GOPs were ready to amend the Constitution to clear a path for President Ahnold? Or Sarah Palin, who wasn’t much of a celebrity when she started, but ended up with celebrity and nothing else going for her? Why advantage the GOPS by allowing only them the soft bigotry of low expectations? The important thing is to get the power, not to faithfully execute. I say Oprah 2024.

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  15. @James:

    To be sure, she is every bit as qualified as Donald Trump was when he took office.

    I actually think Michelle Obama is more qualified than Trump was. I think eight years as First Lady counts as experience in the federal government and there is zero doubt in my mind that she left the White House understanding the presidency more than Trump did in 2016 (and perhaps more than Trump does now).

    Having said that, I concur with your position.

    I also agree with those who raised the dynastic issue above.

    I will add: as much as Biden needs the Obamas’ support, it would create a really weird dynamic for Michelle to be on the ticket and then for Barack to be the husband of the veep. Why create those dynamics for yourself?

    I concur, also, with Harris of Klobuchar as high on my list.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Come on, Dr. T. Michelle understood the role of president better when she was twelve than Trump does now.

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  17. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: Oprah’s Long History with Junk Science. Oprah is a very successful entertainer, who has peddled dangerous bullshit throughout the years.

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  18. Teve says:

    Michelle Obama is vastly more qualified in temperament and intellectual ability than Donald Trump. But speculation about her as Veep is silliness.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Simply put, any randomly chosen person has a probability of around 95% of being more qualified than Trump to be president.

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  20. Kingdaddy says:

    @mattbernius:

    Exactly the reason why I was never enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, any time that she was running. Dynasties are corrosive to democracy. Plus, she was a lightning rod for people who just plain hated her.

    But the elites are pretty inbred already, so a certain amount of dynasticism (neologism of the morning!) is very American, despite our mythology of opportunity for all. Take the cultural elites, for example. Some of the sons and daughters of previous generations of actors, directors, authors, etc. rise to the occasion. Max Brooks, for example, seems like a very bright fellow (though not being a zombie fan, I haven’t read World War Z). Others don’t. I’m still somewhat baffled why Anderson Cooper earns millions of dollars, other than he’s the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. Inbreeding in Hollywood certainly hasn’t made movies better, and arguably, they’re worse.

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  21. Blue Galangal says:

    @Kathy:

    Simply put, any randomly chosen person has a probability of around 95% of being more qualified than Trump to be president.

    95%? You’d put it that low? Bold choice, Cotton.

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  22. Kathy says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    Well, people who think highly of him are unqualified right away.

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  23. CSK says:

    @Kingdaddy:
    We had a similar discussion recently over a poorly written article by Molly Jong-Fast. If I’d composed the identical thing, Vogue wouldn’t have glanced at the submission. But I’m not the spawn of two famous writers. As Noah Berlatsky has pointed out, when it comes to writing, talent is nothing and celebrity is everything. Vogue was paying for the names, not the content.

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  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve:

    Oprah is a very successful entertainer, who has peddled dangerous bullshit throughout the years.

    Indeed. But we’ve established that that’s not a bar to becoming president. Think like a Republican. If her popularity can get her into the White House we can worry about what she’d do with the power later.

    I see my earlier comment @gVOR08: got three downvotes so far, instead of my nearly automatic one or two. I think I should have appended a /s. Well, to the end. I’m quite serious that Michelle would hurt the ticket by triggering Trumps base. Come to think about it, I’m serious about the last part. If electoral politics has turned into reality TV Dems are going to have to learn to play the game by those rules.

  25. Kathy says:

    I suppose it varies by region, culture, and era, but in the Roman Empire dynasties seldom lasted long. The first, the Julio-Claudian dynasty, produced Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, and that was one of the longest.

    Arguably the best was the Antonine dynasty, which consisted of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pious, Lucius Verus-Marcus Aurelius, and finally Commodus. This is known also as the era of the Five Good emperors. if you notice, there are seven names on the list, not five.

    Lucius Verus was dead weight and incompetent, but had the good sense to stay in the background and left the important stuff to Marcus Aurelius.

    Commodus was Marcus Aurelius’ son, and many scholars date the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire to his pretty awful reign.

    And that leaves five good emperors.

    The thing is, these five were not blood relatives. Nerva lasted a few years, and he adopted Trajan to be his successor. A lack of male heirs continued, forcing each man in turn to pick a worthy successor. This ended with Commodus, and I think there’s a lesson here about dynasties.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    @steve:

    a 70% chance that the GOP chooses Ivanka in 2024 if Trump wins the next election

    I realize this was a throw away comment but its worth playing it out. The GOP starts talking up Ivanka and Trump Daddy is all in favor. Then the media starts talking about the ways in which she would be better than him and Trump will start to tear her down. It’s his nature, and he could not stop himself.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Dynasties are corrosive to democracy

    I honestly don’t get this. Traditional dynasties, i.e. a child assumes office by right of birth, can’t exist in a Democracy. That leaves us with… children going into the family business. And that business is a highly competitive one, where you actually regularly have to stand for election and can lose it all in a night.

    I don’t hear anyone saying Cal Ripken Jr shouldn’t have become a baseball player because in America we don’t believe in dynasties. That Norah Jones shouldn’t have sung professionally. That Michael Douglas shouldn’t have taken up acting.

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  28. 95 South says:

    @Kathy: I don’t think any of the first dynasty were related either. Adoption was a way of designating a successor.

  29. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    For most family businesses, a child going into it isn’t a big deal, but politics is different. The child of a successful politician isn’t simply running on his/her own merit, but has inherited the organization of the parent and has advantages that even other successful politicians don’t have.

    Presently in Massachusetts, a Kennedy decided to run against the incumbent, Democratic US Senator, who, while not a star, is generally well regarded. Out of the woodwork for Kennedy came dozens of high profile political operatives and piles of money. Joe Kennedy III himself, I’ll borrow a line from Lloyd Benson, he’s no Jack Kennedy.

    Somehow I don’t think that if a Miguel Santiago or Malica Washington were to mount a campaign against Ed Markey, they would barely register a footnote in a Wikipedia entry.

    1
  30. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I find that business with Kennedy irksome. It’s as if he said to Markey, “Okay, you’re a nice guy, but I’m a Kennedy and you need to bow out so I can assume my rightful place.”

    3
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I will simply note that of the people I know who would want Michelle Obama, they also thought that Hillary was the absolute bestest and only reasonable choice to succeed Obama on the Democratic side, so I find no particular reason to trust their judgement this time either.

    1
  32. Jax says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Hey, man, don’t you go talkin no crap about my second favorite red-headed eye candy. 😉 (My first is Sam Heughan on Outlander, I pretty much live for the shirtless scenes.)

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The child of a successful politician isn’t simply running on his/her own merit, but has inherited the organization of the parent and has advantages that even other successful politicians don’t have.

    /But this is true of almost anyone going into the family business. Michael Douglas benefited from having Kirk Douglas as a father, both in having someone who showed him what it meant to live a life as an actor and by having every producer in Hollywood willing to give him a look. Nick Cage tried to go a different route by changing his name but still grew up in a family full of role models, not the least of which was Frances Ford Coppola himself. Cal Ripken Jr got a lifetime of coaching from his Dad and I’m sure every scout was willing to make the trip to see him play in high school if only to say they had seen the great man’s kid.

    This is true of every dentist and every banker and every plumber that decides to go into the family business. If you are the child of a successful member of any profession you get experience and connections not available to someone just starting out.

    That’s just the way life works.

  34. @MarkedMan: But when it comes to democratic governance (as opposed to, say, acting) it creates some level of aristocracy (power via bloodline) instead of power via merit and persuasion. It is bad for democracy, even if it may not be bad for some other endeavor in the same way.

    1
  35. gVOR08 says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Humans are humans. Dynastic rulership has risen and fallen a number of times. Deeply ingrained in human (that is to say primate) behaviour to follow ‘bloodlines’. But also to overthrow them.

    I don’t recall anything one way or another that becoming alpha primate is hereditary. Is there evidence it is?

    Is it that people have some innate tendency to respect a bloodline, or only that the guy at the top will try to keep the power in the family?

  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think we will just have to disagree. In the end, they have to convince voters to pull the lever for them. Just as in any other profession requiring positive validation to succeed, having a famous parent might get up you in the door, but in the end the voters decide.

  37. @MarkedMan:

    but in the end the voters decide.

    Sure. But are you really going to say that democratic quality was served by George W. Bush getting a substantial leg up in being elected governor and president because of his name? Would his resume have otherwise been sufficient?

    And can you look at the current occupant of the White House and say that it is good for democracy that celebrity can help one win office? (and coming from a famous family is a kind of celebrity).

    Was the quality of US democracy served by Hillary Clinton having a leg up in the 206 nomination process because her husband was president (and hence helping clear the field)?

    I am not saying that these weren’t democratic choices (although you can *EC both 2000 and 2016). The issue is whether democratic choice is enhanced or diminished when the shorthand of dynasty (and celebrity) come into play.

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  38. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t understand why you’re using Trump as an example?

  39. Gustopher says:

    Biden was asked a dumb question. Biden gave a safe, flattering answer. He knows she doesn’t want to be in politics. There’s no reason for him to say she doesn’t have the experience, just praise her in a slightly too effusive, grandfatherly way.

    What’s the problem?

    If Michelle Obama was a Senator or Governor, he would have answered differently.

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  40. @MarkedMan: I am making a point about celebrity and how dynastic effects mirror celebrity: people using a name they know as a shorthand. This is not, I would argue, an especially good way to give a candidate a boost for office.

    Setting aside celebrity, how can it be healthy for democracy for bloodline to be a boost for public office? It is antithetical to the idea of democracy, which as a governing form is an inherent rejection of aristocracy.