Saturday, April 17, 2004

Kerry Needs to Step Up

The majority of Americans feel the courty is headed the wrong direction. Ask people about specific topics such as health care, the economy, social security, education, and others, and the majority who feel we're on the wrong track grows even further. By all rights Kerry should be opening up on Bush with full-throated criticism, and reaching people. But he's not. He's become bogged down in minutae of difference, expecially on foriegn policy.

It is not that kerry's values are not much different than those of Bush - they are. It is not that he doesn't coviferously disagree with almost every policy of this Administration - he does. John Kerry's problem and his inability to really excite most voters to this point is also his strength - as a Senator.

Senators seldom have a forceful public personna. They are positively discouraged from it by the institution, which stresses commity, compromise, and a collaborative working enviroment. Kerry may disagree with you, but his instinct after 20 years in the Senate is to say something vaugely complimentary about you and your ideas in public, and then cut you to ribbons in a committee hearing. He would sink your Bill so hard and so deep it would never return, but afterward he would hold a press conference and praise your groundbreaking legislation and say that it has some technical problems which caused it to fail in committee. That's the way most Senators work, and why so few of them become Presidents.

President's need a different skill set, not that of fixer, or insider, but of leader, communicator, lightning rod, bete noir, and the bull in the china shop. John Kerry is not such a person, though he may learn this mode of leadership.

Men who have Presidential leadership qualities, mixed with judgement, experience, and trustworthiness are few and far between. Those qualities are often mutually exclusive, and are fairly rare to find in a man. Bush, for instance, has many of them, but absent the judgement, experience, and trustworthiness needed by a President. That's why he has led Americans very effectively, straight to hell. Dean has these leadership characteristics very strongly, but with a lack of experience with national politics which ultimately proved his undoing.

It is vitally important that a VP balance a candidate's shortcomings. In Kerry's case there will be little policy areas that need shoring up, Kerry is a very well-rounded candidate. What will need shoring up is regional balance, racial balance, ideological balance, and tempermental balance.

Regional balance: Kerry is from MA, and the upper Eastern Seaboard is a lock for Democrats, as is the west coast except perhaps OR. Most people think that the best choice is either a Southerner or someone from the Mississippi basin. The South Kerry has already personally written off as a waste of Democratic resources. We should contest there, but he should not choose a VP from there. It won't help us win. The riverine Mid-west is rich with swing states. A choice from here is a wise electoral move if a VP candidate can be found to deliver a significant number of electoral votes. Sometimes overlooked is a Southwestern option. Choosing a VP from this region could capture need electoral votes in NM, AZ, NV, and even CO and OK.

Racial balance: It is time that the Democrats had a minority candidate on the national ticket. If no other reason than we don't want the Republicans to score propaganda points on us by being first using their tokenism program. There are plenty of qualified minorities out there, but we shouldn't dispose of all other critieria in order to make it happen.

Ideological balance: Often overlooked is the ability of a VP to balance the ideological profile of the Presidential candidate and to make the ticket as exciting as possible across the entire spectrum of the Party coalition. The parties are not homogenous, and there are many in both parties, not to mention independents who can be induced to donate, work, and vote for ticket that reflects their values, even if the Presidential candidate does not. This is why it is usually wise to dangle a few likely cabinet officers prior to the election, as well.

Tempermental balance: Often overlooked is the need to redress any shortcomings in the Presidential candidate's temperment for the job. In my opinion, Bush could not have won the Presidency without Cheney. It was Cheyney who supplied the experience, judgment, if not the trustworthiness that W so obviously lacked. People made jokes about it, but Cheney's presence on the ticket reassured people. He provided no regional balance, being from Texas (or Wyoming for legal purposes), no racial balance, no ideological balance, yet created a "winning" ticket that was able to capture the White House.

I propose that the choice was a wise one politically, even though Cheney has been a disaster as VP. lacking any of the standard indicia of a proper VP choice, Cheyney none-the-less helped to deliver the Presidency.

Why all this exposition to get to the simple point that the most important VP quality is tempermental balance? Because I have come to the conclusion that the most pragmatic choice for VP is a man who has Presidential leadership skills in abundance. A man who has again and again taken on special interests that others either party would not touch. A man deeply concerned about the effect of money in politics. A man completely unaffraid to speak his mind. A man whom both Democrats and Republicans respect and admire. A war hero. John McCain.

McCain is great campaigner. People like his candor. His record on some of the most important chanllenges facing our democracy, media concentration and campaign finance, is one of an innovative leader. Best of all a VP slot would catapault McCain into the de facto leadership of his party. McCain could help cleanse the Republican part of the infuence of the Christian Zionists while in office. A gentleman's agreement not to run for President and to appoint a Democract VP if he should become President could take care most people's major concerns.

The main problems is, of course, that he is a Republican. While it would make it easier to deal with Congress at the begining of a Kerry Administration, it might also legitimate their continued control of Congress. McCain is also pro-life, believing that abortion should only be available for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother.

McCain's abortion stance may not be insurmountable. If he can be brought to publically support sex education, and free access to contraception for everyone regardless of age it will go a long way toward a middle ground. If he then promises never to litmus test judges on abortion, may would just as soon leave his personal views to his own conscience.

Abortion is not the only area in which McCain's record and goals would conflict with Kerry's, but a VP implicitly aggrees to follow the President's policy lead. If McCain couldn't live with promoting Kerry's agenda, he would not accept the position. It is quite likely he wouldn't.

But if he did, ideological balance would give the Kerry-McCain ticket conservative Democrats, a great deal of independents, and a number of Republicans. Regional balance would certainly win AZ, where McCain is immensely popular, and likely win the region as well because of McCain's profile in national politics. Two war heroes trump a reserve pilot with a spotty attendance and a man with other priorities than serving his country; the military vote, especially give the abuse of the reserves in Iraq, would be Kerry-McCain's. Several key states such as NH and OH would almost certainly vote to rectify Bush's dirty pool in 2000. There is no racial balance in the ticket, admittedly, but it made up for by the great gain in tempermental balance. McCain would become the ultimate critique of Bush Policies and an unrestrained voice for change. Kerry could indulge his propesity for quieter, more policy-based criticism without losing the necessary element of loud and flamboyant criticism needed to galvanize voters.

My preferred choice would, of course, be Dean for VP, and Dean provides much of the same tempermental balance. Dean does not provide ideological, regional, or racial balance, however, and so from a purely pragmatic standpoint, McCain is the more powerful choice. Maybe Dean for health care czar or HHS?

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