Today's question: How do Joe Biden and Sarah Palin fit in with the recent history of presidential campaigns? All week, historians Lee Edwards and Allan J. Lichtman debate vice presidential politics.
A shrewd gamble that could make history
Point: Lee Edwards
Well, Allan, I think you must admit that the 2008 campaign has been turned upside down. With their vice presidential picks, the Democratic Party looks like a status quo group playing it safe. Republicans, on the other hand, look like they're in a party of change eager to crack some ceilings.
In selecting Sen. Joe Biden, an old pro with an advanced degree in gravitas, Barack Obama imitated George W. Bush, who picked former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 2000 to balance his inexperience in foreign policy and national security. In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain brings to mind Democrat Walter Mondale, who in 1984 named Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, making her the first woman placed on the national ticket of a major party. In her first public appearance, Palin accentuated the gender significance of her selection with generous references to Ferraro and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As you know, Allan, the cardinal rule in the selection of a running mate is, "Do no harm." That is, don't pick someone who is going to upset the base of your party. Republicans and Democrats went that path in 2000 with the nomination of Cheney and Sen. Joe Lieberman. In that regard, both Biden and Palin are acceptable to hard-core Democrats and Republicans, respectively.
But there is another rule of vice presidential selection that demands consideration when the country is closely divided politically: Choose someone who is capable of delivering electorally. In 1960, John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon B. Johnson as his vice presidential choice because he knew the general election would be close and he needed Johnson to help him carry the South.
Bobby Kennedy, JFK's campaign manager and brother, despised LBJ and opposed having him join the ticket. Jack Kennedy overrode his brother's objections and picked a highly respected Southerner who did what he was supposed to do -- carry Texas and the election for Kennedy.
I think that the current state of political affairs in America is similar. The country is divided almost equally red and blue, and so far, all the polls point to a tight contest.
Displaying lawyerly caution, Obama selected a running mate with impressive policy credentials but who carries little electoral weight. Biden has Catholic blue-collar roots but is best known as a Washington insider. Allan, just how much of a difference can he make with the voters of key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio?
In contrast, the high-flying, risk-taking McCain picked a running mate little known nationally but with a world of personal experience as a wife, hockey mom, union member, mayor and governor of a state whose optimistic motto is "North to the Future."
It is irrelevant whether she delivers Alaska's three electoral votes. Palin will be busy seven days a week from now to election day, wooing the 18 million people who voted for Clinton -- and their mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts.
So, Allan, don't you agree that while Biden and his impressive resume fit in with the recent history of presidential campaigns, Palin represents something else -- a shrewd gamble she can make history for herself and the Republican ticket?
Lee Edwards is the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation and the author of nearly 20 books, including a forthcoming biography of William F. Buckley Jr.
McCain's bad judgment on display
Counterpoint: Allan J. Lichtman
You are right about one thing, Lee. In bypassing Hillary Clinton, Obama opened the door for McCain to shake up a losing race by choosing a woman as his running mate. But McCain chose the wrong woman. The slogan for McCain's campaign is "Country First." Yet as even your post implies, Lee, in choosing Palin, McCain followed the watchword "Politics First."
Not once in introducing Palin to the American people did McCain utter the magic words, "She is fully qualified to serve as president." Neither do you, Lee, in your post. Biden may not be the most dynamic campaigner, but there is little doubt that he is qualified for the presidency.
In choosing Palin -- after a one-day vetting process, according to the New York Times -- rather than a qualified woman such as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, McCain has called into question his judgment and decision-making. Palin's deficiencies, one analyst wrote, are "not just [in] foreign policy. Palin has no experience dealing with national domestic issues either." These are not the words of a liberal scourge, but of Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the conservative National Review magazine.
The American people have registered their doubts about Palin. According to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 39% of respondents believe that she is ready to serve as president; 33% say she was not. An earlier poll on Biden found that 57% believe he is ready to serve as president, and only 18% say he isn't. Women are even more skeptical of Palin than men, refuting the false and insulting assumption that women would back her candidacy regardless of her beliefs and qualifications.
The flawed judgment of McCain is also evident in revelations about Palin. McCain hyped Palin as a fellow maverick who joined him in opposing the "bridge to nowhere" pork-barrel project in Alaska. However, we now know that Palin backed the bridge as a candidate for governor. "We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge, and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative," she said in 2006, according to the Ketchikan Daily News. As mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she hired a lobbyist who helped the metropolis of about 9,000 people land millions of dollars in federal pork.
Palin is also under investigation for allegedly using the power of the governor's office to settle a private grievance against her former brother-in-law. She once dabbled in secessionist politics in Alaska.
The McCain campaign also touted Palin as an exemplar of traditional family values and the importance of abstinence-only education. Only later did we learn that her 17-year old daughter is five months pregnant -- a private matter made publicly relevant by the way the McCain camp sold Palin to the American people.
You're right, Lee: Palin may be more flashy than Biden. But I am confident that the American people will choose qualified over flashy every time.
Allan J. Lichtman is a history professor at American University in Washington. His most recent books are "The Keys to the White House" and "White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement."
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Op-eds and editorials on the most important topics of the day.