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We Report... You Deride

Wednesday, July 07, 2004  
John Edwards: Manning or Leaf?

Thank God it's over. The vice-presidential selection process has become-- like the NFL and NBA Drafts--a process where the guy who's in charge has lost the right to make the choice.

It's an ugly process that begins when someone locks up the nomination. The media and the pundits start to speculate on who the best option would be. And unless there's a complete dearth of obvious candidates, they set up a feedback loop that ends with a fixation on one person.

The question shifts from "Who will be chosen?" to "Will (he/they) pick the right person?" And woe to the sap who presumes to buck the wisdom-- the "surprise choice" gets nitpicked to pieces and the guy who made the choice loses weeks of positive stories. And any time the choice has a problem, the media loses no chance to rehash the decision. (The blogosphere has only intensified this atmosphere.)

The Republic Party gets a pass, because they usually have scorched-earth primaries, where it's obvious that the loser (John McCain in 2000, Bob Dole in 1988) can't stand the winner, and there's no possibility of a "unity ticket." (When Reagan picked George Bush--who'd blasted his "voodoo economics", there were visible waves of shock.) Bill Clinton got to pick his own guy for the same reason-- after what had happened in the primary, no one could suggest pairing him up with Jerry Brown or Paul Tsongas with a straight face.

But Al Gore cost himself a solid bounce in the polls by shunning consensus pick Bill Bradley; at least some of the scrutiny Geraldine Ferraro got in 1984 was prompted by irritation that he' passed over Gary Hart or John Glenn.

I actually like Tom Vilsack, and I think Bob Graham--whose record on Iraq was impeccable-- could have spent the next four months tearing the neocons apart. But since everyone had decided that John Edwards was the only possible choice, he saved himself endless headaches.

Of course, if Edwards turns out to be a disaster, it'll be Kerry's fault for exercising such poor judgment. In 1998, everyone agreed that two college quarterbacks-- Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf-- stood way ahead of the pack. When San Diego, picking second, chose Leaf, not one pundit raised an objection. After Leaf busted out in historic proportion, the people who knew he was a horrendous choice came out of the woodwork.

Since Kerry only got the nomination because everyone decided that he was the candidate most likely to win, I suppose it's only fair of him to pick Edwards. Turnabout is fair play.

3:02 AM

Familiarity and Dick Gephardt

Another component of the modern presidential race-- nearly as pronounced as the "to the runner-up goes the vice-presidency" mindset-- is the "one and one" perception. Until about 1980, it was perfectly acceptable for a candidate to make a run for the presidency, lose either the nomination or the race, and then gear up for another shot.

The conventional wisdom started to turn in the 60's. There was some skepticism about Dick Nixon in 1968, but nobody thought it was odd that Hubert Humphrey ran again in 1972. But there was a lot of reluctance to believe (at first) that Ronald Reagan (who'd lost to Gerald Ford in 1976) was being stubborn and ill-mannered in 1980. And even though he'd barely lost the presidency in 1976, people actually suggested that it would be inappropriate for Ford to run again.

Does it make sense? Not really-- but you don't win elections by arguing against the mood of the voters and the pundits. The feeling is that if you've lost a race, you're damaged forever.

Dick Gephardt tried to win the nomination in 1988 and 2004. He got a good hearing and failed to connect with people both times. There's no reason to think third time would have been the charm. So, no, I wouldn't have picked Dick Gephardt. And I wouldn't have been happy if John Kerry had.

Another reason not to pick Gephardt: he's too known a commodity. One of the requirements of the VP's jobs is to agree with everything that the guy at the top of the ticket says--and to propose them so forcefully that nobody ever remembers that he held different positions.

Edwards was basically unknown before he got into the race. Also, his speaking style is so diffuse that you have difficulty remembering what he said two hours after he got you to rise to your feet to give him a standing ovation.

Can anyone imagine Dick Gephardt vocally endorsing free trade or the WTO? Supporting Kerry's position on Iraq? This would have been the worst mismatch since Dole/Kemp-- which came off as an uneasy confederation of nations united only by their dislike for a common enemy.

Gephradt is a good guy and it's easy to see him as a good secretary of Labor, HHS or Commerce. And if Kerry has the sense to send him out to get the constituencies he can get, he'll do more for the ticket off it than he would have on it.

3:02 AM

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