TCS Daily


McCain-Lieberman?

By Ben J. Wattenberg - February 25, 2008 12:00 AM

The sweepstakes for who John McCain's Vice-Presidential running mate will be are already booting up. It is an important choice.

The days are long gone since John Nance Garner (D-TX), one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Vice Presidents, said that "the Vice Presidency wasn't worth a bucket of warm piss."President Jimmy Carter gave V.P. Walter Mondale a vast swath of policy tasks to supervise. And the current incumbent, Dick Cheney, has been caricatured as "George Bush's brain." I am an admirer of both men; I think each is educated and wise. Even more than Mondale, Cheney has had unprecedented influence on his boss and policy.

But in addition to its new-found influence, the vice-presidency has something else to recommend it to public servants seeking to become President. It is a great stepping-stone to the highest office. Just recently, the cases of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush are instructive.

My choice for McCain's choice is Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). Now, surely, the Republican convention would reject out of hand a Democrat as McCain's choice. We don't do "unity governments" in America. But Lieberman is no longer a Senate Democrat although he caucuses with them. In 2006, he was beaten in a Connecticut Democratic primary by very liberal Democrat, Ned Lamont. But in the Nutmeg state, as in the rest of the country, very-liberal Democrats are not held in high regard. The radicalism of "The Sixties" has not worn off. And most mainstream Democratic politicians --- particularly those running for President --- will not denounce the very-liberals, yielding the impression that the Party is in their thrall. That is a major reason that, since Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory 1964, Democrats have won a majority of the popular vote only once, when Jimmy Carter amassed 50.1% in 1976.

Having been turned down by the Democrats, driven by their peace activists, Lieberman ran as an Independent. He won a solid victory.

I have known Joe since he was a teenager in Stamford Connecticut, and I was about ten years older. He was a political prodigy. I recall hearing him speak to Democrats at Cummins Park on Long Island Sound, and spell-binding a fairly sophisticated audience. The elderly Jews in the audience murmured to each other "one day that boy is going to be President."

It's not too late.

He is a moderate. That may annoy some conservatives. It should intrigue those who would actually like to capture the Presidency rather than score purity points. Lieberman has "cross-over appeal." Recall that he and Albert Gore Jr. won a plurality of the popular vote in 2000. The polls indicated that Lieberman ran particularly well among religious voters, Easterners, Jews, moderates and those concerned about national security. He is paticularly strong in Florida, a critical swing state.

That is help McCain could use. Moreover, Lieberman is not so off the beaten track of GOP ideology --- although I expect he might deny that.Recall: Ronald Reagan signed a California pro-choice bill. He was an environmentalist. Lieberman is particularly strong on the issue, but not an extreme green. Government spending soared in California and Washington during Reagan's watch, but taxation as a function of GDP has remained about constant.

Of course, Lieberman has said that he would not accept a Vice-Presidential nomination in a McCain presidency. He will, however, appear at the GOP convention. He is a man of his word. He is also a patriot. I believe that if believes the country is in danger in a time of war, he will accept the Vice-Presidential nomination if it is offered.
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