Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Enough With the McCain Talk, Already
It's time for another round of speculation about John Kerry's running mate, which means it's time for yet another bit of breathless talk about the Kerry/McCain dream ticket. And that means it's time for me to pipe up again and say, "Fuggedaboudit."

Yes, I know that a Kerry/McCain ticket beats Bush/Cheney nationally 53-39, and Kerry/Anybody Else is much closer. Yes, I know that picking McCain would be a powerful statement of unity against Bush. But McCain opposes Kerry on many issues, including abortion--and as was reported during the 2000 campaign, McCain's senatorial voting record at the time was similar to that of then-North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. Winning an election is one thing; governing after it's over is another. Presidents spend enough of their time putting out fires within their administrations, and that's when everybody belongs to the same party. With Vice President McCain, the fires would be that much hotter. And besides, McCain said today--for the third or fourth time--that he doesn't want the gig. So stop it.

The fact that the Kerry people have talked to McCain is encouraging, though, because it says something about the campaign's willingness to think outside the box. However, I'm afraid that when the time comes, the campaign will lose its nerve and blow the choice. The first article linked above lists some current possibilities, so here's my stab at handicapping them.

Disasters: Governors Tom Vilsack of Iowa or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas are fine geographic ticket-balancers but disastrous otherwise. In another era, geographic balance might have been enough (and I do worry that Kerry still doesn't quite get how different this election is from all the others in our lifetimes). Now, though, Al Gore and Dick Cheney have transformed the vice-presidency into a higher profile office since Dan Quayle killed time between rounds of golf. The stature gap between either Vilsack or Sebelius and Cheney (or Guiliani, or James Baker, or whoever the Repugs run out there if the stink on Cheney becomes too great to wash off) on the debate stage would be worth a lot of votes to the Bush ticket. Another pretty bad choice would be Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, who was nearly named to Bush's cabinet, led the negotiations on the 2001 tax cut, and was thought to be a leading candidate to switch parties that year after Jim Jeffords left the Republicans. 'Nuff said.

Better, but still not great: Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who's pure DLC and little threat to stand for much that's progressive; Dick Gephardt, who could hold his own in stature terms with Cheney (although he's too gentlemanly for the street fight this campaign is going to be), but whose utter lack of charisma would bring the ticket's charisma average down to near zero; Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, whose credentials as ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee would help, but who is only slightly more colorful than Gephardt; and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who has the advantage of coming from that most critical of swing states, but who also has the disadvantage of not being Bob Graham.

The A-List: Bob Graham, the Florida senator and former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who would be a fine choice given the intelligence failures of Bush; John Edwards, who seemed to start grasping the stakes of the election about the time the primaries began and who is the choice of most Democrats in a recent poll, although the same poll shows he would give no boost to the ticket.

My choice: Wesley Clark. Despite his lack of political experience, in an election likely to be decided on issues of war and peace, having a general on the ticket, and one who's actually won a war at that, would be positive, and stature wouldn't be a problem. (Imagine how he could exploit Cheney's dubious record as an armchair general.)

If you'd like to find out which prospective running mate fits your personal criteria, try the Washington Post's Veep-O-Matic. When I ran my major criteria through it, it made Clark my top choice (which I already knew). It also gave me Gephardt and Nelson, plus former senators Max Cleland (who would be my second choice behind Clark) and Bob Kerrey. The Veep-O-Matic also gave me Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle (!), even though none of my criteria included "doesn't have a chance in Hell of being selected."

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