March 10, 2008

Nestled in the second-to-last paragraph of Bill Kristol’s morning op-ed in the Times is a rather fascinating series of suggestions:

“€Perhaps the most obvious way McCain could upend the normal dynamics of this year’s election would be a bold vice presidential choice. He could pick a hawkish and principled Democrat like Joe Lieberman. He could reach beyond the usual bevy of elected officials by tapping either David Petraeus or Raymond Odierno “€” the two generals who together, in an amazing demonstration of leadership and competence, turned the war in Iraq around last year. He could persuade the most impressive conservative in American public life, Clarence Thomas, to join the ticket. There are other unorthodox possibilities.”€

The term “€œfloating”€ usually refers to a politician’s leak to the press or passing mention of an idea as a “€œnot committed”€ way of gaging press reaction or pushing an idea inside the party”€”Hillary’s speculations about a Clinton/Obama ticket being an excellent example.     

More recently, the floating dynamic has been reversed as prominent neoconservative journalists have dropped innocent little “€œperhaps you might want to”€ suggestions that, if not quite amounting to marching orders, were meant to be taken very seriously by the powers that be. In the Harriet Miers fiasco, the White House followed Charles Krauthammer’s directions to a T in seeking a graceful exit for Ms. Miers. 

Kristol has a long history with McCain, and there’s no doubt the McCain camp is arguing over which one of Bill’s suggestions would be best.  

Clarence Thomas for VP is rather interesting, and I can”€™t say that I”€™ve heard it before. Even if Thomas has been rather unassuming on the bench, echoing Scalia when he speaks at all, Kristol is right that Thomas is rock solid on ever major conservative issue (although his foreign policy is unknown). But I suspect more shallow motives are at play”€”in Thomas the GOP could have a black politician who’s not Condoleezza Rice. The current Secretary of State is reportedly far too much of a “€œrealist”€ for Kristol to tolerate. 

Petraeus and Odierno would stand as symbols of heroism and, whether Kristol likes it or not, diminish the power of the vice president’s office back to that of its pre-Cheney days.  

Then there’s Liebermann, the “€œprincipled”€ Democrat, which basically means that’s he’s avidly pro-war. I”€™ve written a lot about the tenuous relationship between the conservative movement, talk-radio “€œbase”€ and the GOP, and how for the first time in eight years, if not longer, the ties that bind were coming undone“€”before the two factions became re-hitched when a traditional easy-to-hate enemy resurfaced. A Liebermann nomination would break it all up again, as the base would recognize at some level that with a McCain-Lieberman partnership, they could bid farewell to all that limited government stuff they often like to talk about. They”€™d also see a lot of “€œComprehensive”€ immigration reform in their future.

A McCain-Lieberman would completely alienate the “€œtalk-radio”€ base”€”and for what? Who besides Kristol and his inside-the-beltway friends would possibly be attracted to this conglomeration?     

It’s also interesting to step back and look at Kristol’s suggestions within the context of the essay as a whole. Kristol’s piece is basically about how it’s gonna be tough being a Republican in “€™08, and yet with Lieberman, Kristol wants to emphasize”€”emphasize above everything else”€”that certain government program most responsible for Bush’s below-freezing approval ratings.

Good luck with that, Bill.       


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