My two cents’ worth on Kerry-McCain.

The battle lines are drawn: The liberal hawks (Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias) like the idea of Kerry/McCain, and Atrios, speaking for the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” hates it, as does Max Sawicky (see the comments to Matt’s post).

At one level, there’s no surprise there. McCain on the ticket would be an unequivocal endorsement of the idea that a militarily strong United States is A Good Thing.

But on another level, the hostility of the doves takes some explaining. They feel, at least as fervently as we do, that the current administration is driving the country into a ditch, and that its capacity and willingness to use its power to entrench the ascendency of the Right amounts almost to a Constitutional crisis. They know that the Vice-Presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. (Note: John Nance Garner didn’t actually say “spit” — that was a newspaper bowdlerization — but let it stand.)

And they further know that, no matter how optimistic we feel, (and, yes, the new Zogby numbers look pretty good) the odds are still on Bush. (Tradesports has him at 56% to be re-elected; that’s his life-of-contract low, but it’s still better than even money. The Iowa market projects about a 3.5 percentage point margin for Bush.)

A Kerry-McCain ticket almost certainly wins, and wins big. Nader picks up some votes from Kerry’s left, but McCain brings over lots of votes from Bush’s left. And the Nader voters will still be voting mostly for Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, as will a bunch of the Republican and Independent Kerry/McCain voters. We might take back both houses, a prospect otherwise largely imaginary.

Those seem to me like powerful reasons to give Kerry/McCain serious consideration.

Make a Right-to-Lifer Vice-President? Why not? Vice-Presidents don’t appoint Justices. Ditto for his other conservative positions. As VP, he’d have influence in foreign and military policy, and that would be about it. He’d too old to run as Kerry’s successor. So where (other than Kerry’s mortality risk) is the downside?

The messages would be “National unity to face a dangerous world” and “Healing partisan division.”

There’s precedent, of course: Lincoln/Johnson in 1864. That didn’t work out so well in the long run, of course (if McCain were Vice-President, I’d vote for a big increase in the Secret Service budget), but it was still better than electing McClellan.

Now against all of that, I’m a big unfan of McCain, on both ideological and personal grounds. He happens to have said some extraordinarily silly things about drug policy (a six-month lifetime cap on methadone maintenance, for example) which I admit looms larger for me than it should for you, but I find it hard to get it out of my head.

Still, the small probability of McCain’s actually becoming President seems to me a reasonable price to pay for the prospect not only of a big win, but potentially of a re-aligning election in which the grown-up, non-imperialist, non-religious-fanatic wing of the Republican party peels away and leaves Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, and Jerry Falwell to play in their own little corner.

And that prospect ought to appeal even more to the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” than it does to me.

Now there’s one big problem with Kerry-McCain; McCain probably won’t do it, unless the wheels really look like they’re coming off the Bush Administration.

But whatever Kerry does about the Vice-Presidency, it shouldn’t be predictable. I’d much rather see John Edwards as President than Richard Gephardt, but either one would be a boring, unispired choice, and I don’t think Kerry can afford that. He needs a choice that will do for him what the choice of Lieberman did for Gore: make people sit up and say, “Hey! The sonovagun has some guts!”

Most of all, Kerry needs to pick someone of gravitas, without worrying about being upstaged. “First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.”

I continue to think that it ought to be someone who represents military strength, someone who can credibly attack Bush as a poor steward of the national security, which suggests Clark or Graham from among the current mentionees, but might equally well suggest someone like Zinni or Shinseki.

But please, nothing obvious. This isn’t the moment for obvious.

Update I should have noted above that I wasn’t happy with Gore’s choice of Lieberman. I thought at the time that putting a Jew on the ticket was suicidal (and still think that Gore lost some rural Protestant votes as a result), but that, if religion wasn’t a bar, the obvious choice was Rubin, who symbolized prosperity. Lieberman’s performance as a candidate I thought lackluster, self-serving, and disloyal: which more or less matched what I’d heard about him before. My point was merely that Gore did something bold, and looked bigger for it. Kerry needs to do the same.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

2 thoughts on “Kerry/McCain?”

  1. Kerry: 1st rate or 2nd rate?

    In discussing the prospects of McCain as the V.P. choice, Mark Kleiman outs a worry that sits inside all of us Kerry supporters: Most of all, Kerry needs to pick someone of gravitas, without worrying about being upstaged. "First-rate people…

  2. Kerry: 1st rate or 2nd rate?

    In discussing the prospects of McCain as the V.P. choice, Mark Kleiman outs a worry that sits inside all of us Kerry supporters: Most of all, Kerry needs to pick someone of gravitas, without worrying about being upstaged. “First-rate people…

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