All kidding aside, and even if I can’t swallow all of it, there is something serious supporting Jonah Goldberg’s argument about McCain choosing a Dem for his VP nominee. It is this: Perhaps we have to save the Democrats from themselves before we can a.) save the country from the consequences of the direction of today’s Dem. party and b.) save the Republicans from self-imposed oblivion.
Let’s look at some of the facts before we move on. As you look at the field of possible contenders, Jonah is right to argue that none of them really brings a solid plus without also bringing aboard some complicating baggage. Jindal, though an excellent choice for many of the reasons we’ve articulated here before, does run the risk of looking like a gimmick and also of ruining his own career. And it’s very likely that Jindal will not want to do it and I cannot blame him for it. Romney will only please a very select group of conservatives and turn off a very large segment of the undecided voting public. I promise you, if he is selected, it’s over. We lose. He makes it almost impossible (fairly or not) to beat Obama with the elitist stick that will win this election for McCain if properly employed. It’s also true that if we get a Republican squish for the Veep nominee, we lose. This will send the conservatives into a howling fit from which McCain is not likely to recover (though I do suspect that McCain does not really believe this and, for that reason I fret over him . . . he should, under no circumstances, tempt the fates with any more deliberate insults levied at conservatives).
McCain’s objective if he means to achieve victory is to maintain the conservative base and attract sensible voters from the middle. There’s more to doing that than choosing a Vice Presidential candidate--to be sure--but this choice will be one of the yardsticks by which the tone of his campaign will be set and measured. So how can I entertain the possibility of a Democrat as VP?
Instinctively, I’m inclined to dismiss Jonah’s idea and say, of course, he should choose a REPUBLICAN above all else. I may still hold that opinion even after I seriously entertain the idea of choosing a Dem. But perhaps there is some utility in thinking through the possible reasons for McCain choosing a Dem, even if we reject it in the end. I’m going to dismiss Sam Nunn for my purposes and consider, instead, Lieberman. I choose him only because he is more well-known today (esp. among younger voters), well-liked by all sorts, and he carries with him the irresistible aura of a wronged man. Choosing him would first be an admission from McCain that he is not going to (and cannot) re-christen the Republican party in his image. After the initial anger Lieberman’s nomination would cause, McCain could use it to reassure conservatives that he isn’t trying to re-invent the conservative movement or re-shape the Republican party. Rather, he’s trying to be practical and do a specific job: win the war. This could give conservatives the hope of living to fight another day on the turf of their choosing rather than that of John McCain. I, for one, prefer this to having to carry water for McCain. If this alliance between McCain and Lieberman could be painted as something like a war-time coalition government or a task force of the parties. Apart from the good it would do for the parties--as it is sometimes good to break up a fight even if you know it will later resume--it would be good for the country to unite around this issue of ending the war in Iraq with honor. It allows John McCain to fight on the warrior ground upon which he is most comfortable and most capable. It forces Obama to enter into an area in which he’s quite uncomfortable and, we’ve seen, incompetent. It highlights McCain’s strengths and Obama’s weaknesses. It is courageous to take on this fight and people will respect that. I have always liked the idea of attacking the question of the war head-on. He might as well. If he tries to skirt it, he will lose as people notice he’s not defending his position and his claim of courage loses credibility. He can only win as a war president. I think he knows this.
I don’t know if it would be wise to state up-front that McCain will only seek one term. Jonah’s right that this would cheer conservatives . . . but then McCain would be a lame duck from the get-go. Further, it is asking too much of his pride to suggest it. On the other hand, if he is clever, he may get the same benefit Jonah speculates about if he just lets that idea float and keeps people guessing. Besides, things could change. Something terrible could happen to the country and we may not want to change horses in mid-stream. I almost always think it’s a terrible idea not to leave open the possibility of re-election in a republic.
More good things that could come from this choice: It would be good for the Democrats to see the more extreme wing of their party suffer a serious defeat. If Lieberman is the choice and wins along with McCain, Lieberman would be vindicated. He may not be (exactly) a Scoop Jackson Democrat. But he’s a damn sight better than anything else they’ve got going right now. He’s a person of some integrity and backbone and he’s got a common-sensical love for the country that appeals to everyone. He connects with the people we need in order to prevail in the struggle we’re in with the radical elements of Islam. It is better to have those people planted firmly on our side (even if temporarily) and to give them a stake in the fight than to have them loosely tied and trailing behind the radical elements among the Democrats where they can’t do anything but wring their hands and get used, occasionally, to attack the wisdom of Republicans. With the Dems they can do no good and affect nothing. With us, they can help their country and rise to a position of prominence--perhaps one day strong enough to regain control of their own party and defeat us. But such a defeat would be honorable and I am willing to risk it. I would rather suffer that than defeat at the hands of the likes of Obama & Co. and watch my country do great damage to herself and others.
Some may object that there is also a danger that admitting these folks in among our ranks may work against us and allow them to take over our party. I concede that. But I am not afraid of that challenge. I do not think they could transform the Republican party as easily as those who fear this imagine. I think it’s more likely that the Democrats would find themselves in need of copying us in an attempt to bring these folks home to them. Then we’d have a genuine and worthy fight for the center. I would be happier to do combat on these friendly terms with a loyal opposition than to have to continue in these pointless squabbles with an opponent who does not even come to the table with the same understanding of the terms. We could make real inroads with some of these voters, I think, and the GOP could build itself a strong center.
Do we have to save the Democrat party from itself before we can work on saving the Republicans? I’m still very tentative about this but I begin to suspect that we do.