Ever since the race between my law school colleague Barack Obama and my former boss’ wife Hillary Clinton got nasty (I did advance work for the Clinton White House), many have speculated about the Obama-Clinton relationship and their negotiations leading up to and during this week’s convention.
Would Obama really give her serious consideration as a VP choice? Would Clinton wholeheartedly endorse Obama and aggressively campaign for him? What about former President Clinton’s role at the convention and in the fall? Would those over 17 million who voted for Clinton switch their votes to Obama?
And, of course, the question for tonight, will former President Clinton come out full force for Obama?
Most of these questions seem to have been largely answered by Hillary Clinton’s convention speech last night, in which she passionately urged her supporters to back Obama.
And I will strongly predict a similar wholehearted endorsement speech from President Clinton tonight. How can I be so sure?
It’s critical in all negotiations to evaluate and prioritize the parties’ shared interests – why the parties take the positions they take – and Obama’s and both Clintons’ fundamental short and long-term substantive and political interests are now almost totally shared and in perfect alignment.
Here’s my analysis of their shared interests, in priority order, some of which Hillary Clinton articulated last night:
1. Substantive shared interests: Both share interests in implementing a wide variety of Democratic solutions to challenges facing our country today, including on the economy, the Iraq war, health care, energy, education reform, terrorism, and the list goes on.
Many commentators have noted the very few significant policy differences between Obama and Clinton – and this is one big reason why Clinton came out so strong for Obama last night. And while there are certainly differences between them and the rhetoric got heated in the midst of their primary battle, their substantive shared interests overwhelmingly dominate their differences.
2. Political shared interests: Both Obama and Clinton share an interest in her working hard to elect a Democratic President. “Why,” you might say, “does Clinton want this politically?” Because if she is seen as a spoiler and Obama loses, her chance of getting the Democratic nomination for President in 2012 is significantly weakened. Clinton also would hurt her interest in a possible U.S. Supreme Court selection or other major role (in the Senate and otherwise) during an Obama Administration if she was perceived to be the spoiler.
Note, however, there is some divergence here between their interests regarding the appearance of her working hard and it actually occurring. Clinton cares more about the appearance of it as this sends the signal to future Democratic Party voters and delegates. But Obama needs her to both appear to do it and, to a lesser degree, actually do it. The appearance is critical to him as this will – more than her actual phone calls and live events – send the signal to the millions who voted for her.
3. Former President Bill Clinton’s shared interests: What shared interests does former President Bill Clinton have with Obama? His substantive interests are the same as his wife’s, but the most significant personal and political interests he has rest in satisfying Hillary’s interests. While his personal interests may diverge from Obama’s (a potentially transformative new President could overshadow his very substantial legacy), I would be extremely surprised if he did not do all he could to help Hillary achieve her goals.
Of course, all this seems very logical and rational. And we all know that negotiations don’t always proceed in this light. Ego also plays a big role. That may be the X factor here. Bill Clinton’s ego and feelings took hits in the primaries due to a variety of factors, some caused by the Obama camp. He probably wants some payback.
I’m predicting, however, that he will stick that ego and his personal feelings in his pocket tonight. If not, I suspect he will have an interesting “negotiation” with his wife later.