Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rice For Running Mate Is Not A Good Idea

Today is the birthday of one of my oldest friends.

We've known each other since we were kids. We graduated from high school together. For a time, we were college students together. We lost touch for awhile, but we re-connected last year.

I'm really glad we did, because he's a good friend. Everyone should be fortunate enough to make a few friendships that last a lifetime, and I can honestly say that, if I haven't succeeded at everything I've tried to do, that is one thing I've been lucky enough to do.

Unfortunately, my friend and I grew apart in some of our political views. There was a time when we saw eye to eye on just about everything. There are some things on which we still agree, and in some ways we've evolved in the same direction.

But I'm going to take the occasion of my friend's birthday to say (briefly) why I disagree with him on the subject of John McCain's running mate.

Like many columnists I've been reading lately, my friend believes that McCain should pick Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Mary Ann Akers reports, in the Washington Post, that none other than Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, thinks Rice "'would be a great president.' "And, yes, a 'great vice president.'"

But I believe it would be a bad choice.

I think it would be a mistake for McCain to select anyone who is connected to the Bush administration, whether it's Rice or Colin Powell or anyone else. Bush's approval ratings have been hovering around 30% for a couple of years, and, unless Bush can deliver Osama bin Laden in chains to an international tribunal (or produce the weapons of mass destruction that no one has been able to find after 5 years of occupying Iraq), I see no reason to expect those numbers to go up between now and November.

McCain's strength in the primaries was his distance from the incumbent administration. It's an image he actively promoted since Bush beat him for the 2000 nomination and went on to win the disputed general election. It has paid off with the apparent GOP nomination in 2008, but McCain could undo all that he's accomplished by putting someone from Bush's team on the ticket.

In state after state, exit polls showed that the Republicans who didn't approve of Bush gave their support to McCain more frequently than to any other candidate. With Bush's disapproval ratings so high, McCain doesn't need someone on the ticket who detracts from his appeal to any voter -- Democrat, Republican or independent -- who disapproves of the incumbent.

Also, I don't see much of a plus in those areas where McCain needs a boost. It's true, Rice adds a more youthful touch to McCain's elderly countenance. And she might attract some female votes and some black votes if the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama battle isn't resolved amicably.

But, on issues, Rice only seems to reinforce McCain's support for the Iraq War.

McCain needs help on the domestic front. He admits to his weakness on economic issues, and that's at a time when the economy is bordering on recession, if it hasn't toppled over into that territory already. The running mate needs to be someone with experience in economics.

But, as far as I can see, Rice brings nothing on domestic issues to McCain's ticket. Even her foreign policy credentials could work against her. "Condi is too busy floating trial balloons about being John McCain’s running mate to bother about the fact that she was instrumental in two historic blunders: 9/11 and Iraq," says Maureen Dowd in today's New York Times.

And Dowd further points out, in her column about Tuesday's Senate hearings on Iraq, that "we’re spending $3 trillion as our own economy goes off a cliff so that Iran can have a dysfunctional little friend."

The times simply aren't favorable for supporters of Bush's foreign policy.

Rice might very well have a future on a Republican ticket. But I think she needs the benefit of some time and distance. Give history a chance to render its verdict on her tenure at the State Department.

The final verdict won't be delivered for a few decades. But the initial assessment wouldn't hold up well in a political campaign.

The Iraq experience is too fresh in the memory and it hasn't been satisfactorily resolved.

No comments: