22 August 2008

The Price of Vice-Presidency

The news channel are all aflutter over the imminence of Senator Obama's announcement of his choice for a running mate, while speculation builds as to when Senator McCain will name his choice. With the race tightening, these choices now appear critical and dangerous.

In the office, Mr. Peepers was parroting the line of some pundits who say that Senator Clinton is now Obama's only hope for victory. Mr. Right was skeptical, and if anything I was more so. I told them that, if anything, choosing Clinton would guarantee Obama's defeat. When Mr. Peepers asked why I thought so, I said that it made Obama look like a puppet President. After he caved to Clintonite pressure and allowed the senator's name to be placed in nomination for president, and a roll call vote to be taken, accepting her as his running mate would look like a complete capitulation to her and Bill. That's what some Democrats long for, convinced that only the Clintons are capable of "fighting" in the manner necessary to beat a Republican. The Clintons themselves want vindication of Bill's administration as a golden age. They want power as well, of course. Obama might well take the senator on if he could relegate her to the ceremonial oblivion customary for running mates, but considering his apparent need for a fighting running mate and his own falling popularity, he may have to promise specific powers and portfolios to any potential running mate. In Clinton's case, to win over her die-hard acolytes he may have to promise on the convention floor that she would once more the co-president she seemed to be in her husband's regime. That may win over the Clintonites at last, but it will alienate nearly everyone else and undercut Obama's own identity.

On the Republican side, Mr. Right worried that McCain would commit political suicide if he followed his alleged inclinations and nominated Senator Lieberman as his running mate. My gut feeling agrees with Mr. Right, but McCain is a gambler. He might calculate that anyone from the party "base" who abandons him due to Lieberman will be replaced by an independent or disgruntled Democrat impressed by the appearance of a bipartisan or nonpartisan campaign. Never mind that a McCain-Lieberman ticket could only be labeled the War Party; some people are so disgusted with the Bipolarchy that they'd actually perceive this wedding of two pillars of it as some sort of demolition operation.

"If I had to bet money on it," Mr. Right added, "I'd say McCain will pick Mitt Romney, but I'd want to make sure I had alternate arrangements for paying my bills afterward." Romney is problematic because evangelicals have said they can't accept him on the ticket for various reasons. But some faction of the party establishment has always wanted Romney, for no better reason that I can tell than that he'd be a self-financing candidate. Evangelicals themselves are split. Mike Huckabee's candidacy exposed a rift between leaders who were willing to accept Romney and rank-&-file who didn't trust him. Huckabee himself isn't often mentioned as a McCain running mate because the fiscal conservatives don't like his record as governor of Arkansas. Added to this confusion, McCain has spooked Republicans by signalling that he'd be willing to choose a pro-choice partner. Perhaps it's escaped his notice (some things do) that the delegates at the convention get to vote on the vice-presidential nominee, and that quite a few, to make an appropriately conservative estimate, will never vote for a known pro-choicer. Frankly, there's almost no one he could name that would not get negative votes on the convention floor. If his main objective is a harmonious convention -- and it isn't clear that it is -- he's got to look past the first tier of familiar names and pick someone who hasn't alienated some large faction of the party. He also faces the same predicament Obama does: anyone he names, recognizing McCain's weaknesses, will demand specific powers and portfolios before coming on board.

The way things are shaping up, neither candidate might get a "bounce" coming out of the convention. That thought just amuses the hell out of me, but I had better wait and see.

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