The story included a stock denial by Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, who said, “No conversations are happening about any positions in a potential Sanders administration.”
If that’s true, it shouldn’t be. Not only should Sanders be talking with advisers about possible running mates, but we ought to demand that he also make those names public before the voting starts in a few weeks.
And by the way, he’s not the only one.
We’ve never really thought too hard about vice presidential picks before a nominee was crowned, and we haven’t really had much reason to. It’s been more than 50 years — before a lot of us were born — since a president died in office.
Most recent presidents have been young and hale enough to render the prospect of, say, a President Dan Quayle relatively low-risk. And for the most part, there’s been a general consensus that vice presidents should at least be minimally qualified and within the mainstream of their parties.
Things have changed, now that the boomers have decided they should continue to occupy the presidency until they can be cryogenically frozen and restored to power at regular intervals. Sanders, who’s surging in state polls, would be 79 when he took the oath of office. He’s not quite four months removed from a heart attack that we still know basically nothing about.
I really can’t explain why my colleagues moderating all these debates haven’t asked about this issue more forcefully — or at all. I was a young reporter covering Bill Bradley in 1999 when his history of heart arrhythmia became public; Bradley was 56 and a former pro athlete, and from the response of the media, you would have thought he had 12 minutes to live.
Hillary Clinton fainted once in 2016, and we nearly held a funeral.
Sanders, meanwhile, has a full-on heart attack that he keeps to himself for three days, then conveniently forgets about a promise to release his medical records, and somehow it’s impolite to raise the subject.
Well, okay, but you don’t have to be a cardiologist to surmise that Sanders’s chances of surviving the presidency would be lower, statistically, than those of any of his recent predecessors.
All of which might be less of a concern if we could be confident that Sanders would choose a broadly acceptable understudy. But just as we’ve never seen a field this old, we’ve also never seen Democratic front-runners as ideologically uncompromising as Sanders and Warren.
Would Sanders fire up his socialist base by choosing someone like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (sorry, it can’t actually be her, she’s too young), who avows that the United States has no left-of-center party, because no left-of-center party would tolerate Joe Biden? That’s not a place from which anyone can actually govern.
And if you think establishment Democrats are going to rise up and tear apart a convention on national TV because they object to a perilous and inexperienced vice presidential pick, then I’ve got two words for you: Sarah Palin.
Modern conventions are like the post office. You wait in line forever, and then they rubber-stamp whatever’s in front of them and send you on your way.
Sanders isn’t the only candidate who ought to at least release a short list of possible running mates now. Biden (age 77) and Warren (age 70) should, too. If 75 is the new 60, and elections now are going to be about ginning up turnout rather than convincing anyone of anything, then we need to know who stands to inherit that office before we go around casting votes.
But this applies mostly to Sanders, because he’s rolling right now, and because he has already been evasive about his health, and because he’s supposed to be Mr. Up Front and Authentic. It’s about us and not him, remember?
And so the next time Sanders steps onto a debate stage, on Feb. 7, someone should ask him this: “In light of your age and very recent heart attack, would you please name for us three potential vice presidents you will consider should you become the nominee?”
And if the answer is, “I haven’t thought about any of that yet,” then maybe Sanders isn’t thinking about us after all.