advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Friday, March 14, 2008

On A Vice President, Or, A Fake Consultant Advises Obama

Your friendly fake consultant is an equal-opportunity consultative provider, and having recently been called upon to advise Hillary Clinton, I thought I might turn my attention today to helping out Barack Obama.

The thing is, should the gentleman be nominated, he’s going to need to choose a running mate…and it might not be as easy as it would seem.

For reasons we’ll discuss, the normal crop of candidates might be better left undisturbed…but what if we could bring to the table a running mate who offers an extraordinary understanding of the world’s interconnected economy, a close, personal relationship with many of the world’s leaders—and the kind of negotiating skills that humble even the United States Government?

And if all that wasn’t enough…a candidate for whom fundraising most assuredly won’t be a problem.

Follow along, then, and we shall see…

Now before we begin naming names, let’s take a moment to explain why a large pool of ordinarily available likely running mates might not be available in this cycle.

An effective strategy in the past has been to choose from the community of sitting Senators, and many of the names being considered for Vice Presidential contention today are, in fact, of that group--Jim Webb, Chris Dodd, and Hillary Clinton being three quick examples.

But employing that strategy in ‘08 might be a bad idea. At a time when Democrats are trying desperately to get 60 votes in the Senate; when at least one Democratic Senator is likely to be leaving for other elective office (and another is Joe Lieberman), we need to conserve whatever forces we have there for the legislative fights ahead.

Of course, that does leave Governors, ex-Governors, and distinguished former members of the military…which makes Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, Wes Clark—and maybe even Anthony Zinni—pretty good options.

But in the case of Governors, again, we hate to lose one who might currently hold office…and for reasons related to perceived foreign policy experience it would be even closer to an optimal condition if Obama could team up with someone who is on an intimate, first-name basis with many of the planet’s most influential leaders…and not just attending teas and MC’ing USO concerts while meeting them.

It would also be nice to have an individual who is passionately devoted to expanding educational opportunities to the downtrodden worldwide…and providing them health care to boot—two issues that will be huge in this electoral cycle.

A choice that is out-of-the-box—and at the same time deeply mainstream.

So who might this magical personage be?

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to consider…Vice President Bill Gates.

Go ahead. Let it sink in for a second.
It kind of works, doesn’t it?
Now let’s do a bit of why and why not:

What does it do for Obama?

Well, there is no doubt that Gates is vastly more familiar with all of our trading partners than almost anyone…blunting any attacks McCain might seek to launch regarding the Obama ticket’s “experience”.

McCain can probably tell you what the initials ECB stand for, but Gates knows from decades of experience what international trade hardball with the European Union is all about…and he has years of personal experience negotiating across a table with our Chinese and Middle Eastern friends as well.

Africa is a place of major importance to the world as we advance into this century, and Gates can fairly be described by this time as an “Old Africa Hand” who knows his way around the continent because of his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…in fact, I’m willing to bet that he, too, owns some Somali clothing.

Then there’s education. McCain supports the failed “No Child Left Behind” concept, while Gates has spent $2 billion of his own money funding experimental school programs in this country and abroad for years that are ready to be rolled out nationwide and have a measurable track record of raising educational achievement…creating a record of accomplishment, a virtual Rolodex, and a depth of understanding regarding educational issues that neither McCain nor any other likely VP candidate--for either party--can touch.

And he can say the same things about healthcare—billions of his own money spent on increasing access to care, a second virtual Rolodex, and a record I suspect even John Edwards respects in helping those less fortunate live healthier lives.

Frankly, the “family bench” is so deep here that the two spouses could be Cabinet members in an Obama Administration; then come back in 2016 and run on their own ticket, with a good chance of winning—Michelle Obama is today a medical administrator who is well respected in her field…and Melinda Gates?

The record shows she moved from a senior management position with the world’s largest software firm to a senior management position at one of the world’s largest philanthropic institutions—suggesting that if the two of them were running this cycle they’d have a reasonable shot at beating any likely Republican ticket themselves.

And what about funding? There’s the possibility that McCain might choose Romney for a running mate—and that a Romney nomination might cause the Republican duo to consider using some of the Romney fortune to advance their campaign (think unusual loan arrangements here…).

In what might be the greatest understatement ever, I posit that it is unlikely Romney would have access to more self-funding resources than Gates…which more than obviates any potential advantage such a move might create on the GOP side.

Another understatement? Gates running as Obama’s VP should “lock in” the all-important geek, nerd, and dork vote (as if we weren’t voting Obama anyway…). Even Steve Jobs might be inclined to vote for Gates.

One more? Name recognition…probably not a huge problem.

What would possibly motivate Gates to accept such a…well, a demotion?

For an answer, take the time to watch Gates’ March 12th testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee at their 50th anniversary event. As the most extremist Republicans tried and tried again to vilify him, it seemed to this observer that his responses suggested he was enjoying the skewering he gave Members such as Dana Rohrabacher and the overtly racist Phil Gingery in his replies.

There’s also precedent for such a move: The Gates Foundation has “lent” their own CEO to the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Directors for “corporate housekeeping” purposes.

There’s also the fact that his mother gave years of public service though her presence as a University of Washington Regent—and what son doesn’t want to make his Mom proud? (If you’re listening, Bill…this would make quite a Mother’s Day gift.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, Gates is transitioning away from a hands-on role at Microsoft…and might well be interested in an entirely new kind of challenge.

So if I were the Obama team, I might offer Gates the “science / education / technology” portfolio…and also a chance to be the behind the scenes “dragonslayer” in Congress—a sort of lobbyist-in-chief for the “nerd community” with a goal of improving education…which is the essential first step in resolving the “Two Americas” problem…who also has the ability to move the healthcare debate—here and worldwide.

I might also use the allure of giving him the chance to more directly oversee the spending of the $5 billion in checks Gates reports he has personally written over the years in income tax payments to the US Government—an idea that, based on the look on his face as he was referencing the payments, he might find very appealing.

And guess what? Gates is an immigration advocate—his company (and virtually all US tech companies) wants to expand the opportunities for H-1B visas…and it’s hard to find a better argument for immigration than pointing to jobs that Gates himself has seen created (as he says) “around” the top engineers and scientists that the visa program has brought to the US economy.

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, it’s not always sunny in Bill’s Philadelphia

The very same antitrust cases that gave him experience staring down government negotiators will not be great for his image now—but this can be mitigated by pointing out that today he’s older and wiser; when combined with the relative obscurity of the subject matter (“antitrust…smantitrust” will be the likely “average voter” reaction) there should be no insurmountable issues…and besides, what are the odds that John McCain (a Keating Five survivor, just for starters) wins a battle of business ethics with any capitalist left of JP Morgan?

There are also those who view the H-1B program as a detriment to the ability to keep US programmers working…and just as with the NAFTA debate, those who see the benefit in open markets will have to effectively defend their point of view to the public at large.

The fact that Obama’s and Gates’ public statements suggest they might see the issue from different points of view could be considered a plus (if you support the idea that a President should have access to multiple viewpoints and robust debate when making decisions), or a minus (based on the idea that there would be constant infighting, rather than progress on issues).

So there we are: today’s advice is that grabbing a VP candidate from the pool of individuals commonly chosen might not be the best option this time…but if we reach way outside the system there’s a potential candidate that’s amazingly conversant with the very same foreign policy and national security issues upon which Obama will be challenged by McCain; a candidate for whom a commitment to improving education and healthcare is a demonstrable effort upon which he has personally spent billions of his own dollars…and a VP partner that is guaranteed to have access to more self-funding dollars than not just Romney, but possibly the entire state of Utah.

Go get him, Barack…and then let the battle be joined.


jmb said...

Oh I like this too.

fake consultant said...

it would truly leave the republicans dazed and confused...and we'd be a better run government as well.

the virtuous circle rolls on...