Seeing as we're about to head into the thick of the 2012 political season, it's probably time to start engaging in one of the favorite activities of political junkies everywhere: looking ahead. In the military, there's a saying about "always fighting the last war." In politics, pundits and prognosticators are always preemptively fighting the next one. Which means-hey, it's never too early to start talking about 2016!
In the modern era, presidents tend to pick one of two types of vice presidents. One is the senior caretaker-type; think of it like football, where you have the young franchise quarterback and the seasoned backup, who steps up in case of injury. George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney (some might say it happened the other way around), John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson (much as it pained the both of them), and Barack Obama chose Joe Biden.
None of these picks were likely made with the idea of "passing on the mantle" to the next generation of leadership in the party. Continuing with the football metaphor, as 1970s-era Redskins coach George Allen used to say, "the future is now." Bush, Kennedy, and Obama picked their vice presidents as senior advisors, able to leaven their presidential decisions with experience-or sometimes, as in the case of Kennedy-Johnson, to have a potential challenger inside the tent, pissing out, rather than the other way around.
Nobody seriously thought of Dick Cheney succeeding George Bush as president, same as nobody seriously thinks of Joe Biden succeeding Obama (with the exception, perhaps, of Joe Biden). Hillary Clinton has already stated that she will not continue on in the Department of State should there be a second Obama term. Her supporters and many others see this as a sign that she will be girding herself to run in 2016.
This writer has dealt with both Clintons, in and out of government, and would be extremely surprised if Hillary Clinton decides to run one more time for the presidency. It has been clear ever since she ran for the Senate in New York that retail politics do not come naturally to her, as they do her husband, and the stupendous amount of fundraising required-the ugliest and most distasteful part of politics-in the post-Citizens United era is something I think she would want to avoid. There is still a sizable amount of Clinton hatred extant, and even in the political media, there is still a certain number of people who play by "the Clinton rules," whereby any scurrilous accusation can get an airing simply because the Clinton name is attached.
The second type of running mate is the young, up-and-coming future of the party-type, exemplified most recently by Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan, the young congressman from Wisconsin. Given Sarah Palin's post-2008 implosion, it is fair to say that, should Romney fall to Obama this November, Ryan will be the Republican Party standard-bearer going into the next presidential election, ready to take over the John McCain Endowed Chair Of Conservative Thought in the green room at NBC's Meet The Press.
But if no Biden and no Hillary, then who? Here in the Free State, we've been privy to watch the slow priming of a possible challenge to Ryan: Martin O'Malley.
It would be hard to find a clearer example of two competing viewpoints of American government as it stands in the second decade of the new millennium than these two: one, a disciple of Ayn Rand and a belief in the government that governs least, if at all; and the other, a child of the belief that government serves as a check on those who can't or won't play fair and by the rules, and who stands by to help those who can't in times of want and need.
Even the "optics" (as they say in campaigns) provide a clear contrast: while both had classic Catholic upbringings, Ryan inherited millions from his family's business (earned from the government stimulus that created the interstate highway system and Chicago's O'Hare Airport in the 1950s and '60s), while O'Malley's father was an attorney and his mother worked as a staffer for Sen. Mikulski, which gave him a Bethesda-Rockville upbringing solidly in the D.C. suburban middle-class tradition.
Sure, there are many other possible contenders four years down the line-Marco Rubio of Florida and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on the Republican side, and Andrew Cuomo of New York for the Democrats. But right now, O'Malley's high-profile chairing of the Democratic Governors Association and his spirited defense of the Obama administration is giving him valuable political chits for 2016. And Ryan, well, we'll be seeing a lot of him in the next few months.
Sure, we're in the middle of the 2012 election campaign. But the future is now.