Opinion: Biden should make Obama his running mate

Joe Lapointe

If Joe Biden wants to win Michigan in November and oust President Donald Trump, he should make Barack Obama his running mate.

No, the former president should not run for vice president. Instead, Biden should promise the voters he will nominate Obama to fill the first vacancy on the Supreme Court after Jan. 20.

Such a move would spur — in Michigan and elsewhere — a large turnout of voters who are Democratic, liberal and progressive.

This could help shift the balance of the U.S. Senate from Republican to Democratic and away from Sen. Mitch McConnell, the cynical Kentucky manipulator who stole a court seat from Obama in 2016.

Perhaps a blue wave in November would sweep McConnell, too, from both his office and his majority leadership of the Senate, where SCOTUS nominations either live or die.

Biden should promise the voters he will nominate Obama to fill the first vacancy on the Supreme Court after Jan. 20, Lapointe writes.

Obama — a 58-year-old constitutional scholar — could help to repair the legal and moral carnage of the Trump era. He could serve for decades and provide judicial backup for the New Deal-style reforms necessary to fix the social safety net.

The flaws have become obvious during this Trump-worsened COVID-19 plague and this Trump-worsened economic recession.

Certainly, there is precedent to name a former president to the Supreme Court. 

Almost a century ago, President Warren Harding chose former President William Howard Taft, whose nine years (1921-30) as chief justice were better than his four years (1909-13) as chief executive.

Both, by the way, were Republicans.

There also is a predicate for speculation regarding Obama to the court. Biden strongly hinted late last year that he would nominate him.

“If he’d take it, yes,” Biden told CNN.

Assuming Obama would accept, the next question becomes: Would it be proper for Obama to actively campaign for both Biden and, by extension, himself?

Traditional norms would say no, because such behavior might be beneath the “dignity” of the High Court and unbecoming for a former president.

But Trump has trashed traditional norms and demeaned the presidency. And norms change. In the 19th century, presidential candidates didn’t actively campaign. Now, they do.

Critics might say an Obama “candidacy” for the court would be unprecedented. They would be correct. It would be just as unprecedented as the seat denied to Merrick Garland by McConnell when Obama was president.

Furthermore, the pandemic creates an unprecedented atmosphere for a presidential campaign. This one won’t have the train station whistlestops of the Taft era or the airport rallies of the Trump era.

Due to social distancing, much of the action will be virtual, over television. That medium plays to Obama’s strengths while Trump’s live performances display his intellectual, temperamental and moral flaws. People housebound by the virus are watching more TV.

Should Biden put him on the court, Obama will have won a unique Triple Crown: Senate, White House and Supreme Court.

Speaking of good things coming in threes, a third Democrat to vex Trump this summer will be Biden’s vice presidential candidate — perhaps a woman or an African-American or both.

Such a person could appeal to two major Democratic voting blocs while making Trump more spiteful than he already is.

In that Trump is notoriously contemptuous of women and minorities, a candidate who is one or both could bait Trump into Twitter tantrums and public hissy fits.

These will reveal Trump’s mean streak that oozes through the TV screen like leaks of toxic waste.

In recent weeks, it has been good to see and hear Obama’s eloquence again in televised commencement addresses and blunt opinions on conference calls that are “accidentally” leaked to the media.

Overall, Obama might help Biden overcome Trump’s Michigan victory margin of 10,704 in 2016. Those 16 electoral votes helped boost his Electoral College win over Hillary Clinton to 304-227.

Should Biden choose a less-ambitious route, he could merely hint about Obama’s future and save an announcement for after the election.

But why do that? It would squander much of Obama’s electoral value to a national Democratic ticket that needs a wave election to bring about the necessary major changes.

So at the very least, Mr. Biden, why not make a campaign promise you can easily keep and reap the reward?

Even if Obama chooses to stay above the campaign fray — and, alas, he probably would — the prospect of his return to influence would add a positive spark to the race.

In recent days, with fictional “Obamagate” charges, Trump has tried to turn the spotlight on his predecessor and make him a campaign issue.

Why not call Trump’s bluff?

Joe Lapointe is a former reporter for the New York Times and Detroit Free Press.