- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

OP-ED:

The vice presidency is not what it once was. After Walter Mondale and Dick Cheney, like them or not, it is a much more important office than originally implied in the Constitution.

At the same time, politically, the vice presidential nomination remains as it has been, something which the media and politicos intensely speculate about, and once made, endlessly analyze. Voters, however, show a passing interest before and just after the choice is made, and then go on ignoring the choice and turning their focus on the presidential candidates.

This is probably as it should be. No matter how he (or eventually, she) comes to depend on their running mate, the coin of decision always lands on the president’s solitary desk in the Oval Office.

The vice presidential choice is a template on which the media can now discuss each campaign strategy. No sooner had Joe Biden been announced as Sen. Barack Obama’s choice, the media and pundits weighed in with elaborate explanations of how it happened and how it will play out. Mr. Biden is blue collar, carelessly loquacious, old (he’s 66), born in Pennsylvania, the resident Democratic expert on foreign policy in the Senate, and so on. The same will occur when we know Sen. John McCain’s choice imminently.



Of course, the choice each presidential nominee makes tells us something about their campaign strategy, and how they assess their strengths and weaknesses with voters so far, but probably more, the choice tells us about the nominee himself. I wrote almost three months ago that Mr. Biden was Mr. Obama’s best choice. I’m not changing my mind, but the reader should know that I made my suggestion based on who would be the best vice president if the nominee won, and not necessarily the best politician to help him get there.

Likewise, I suggested Tom Ridge for Mr. McCain. Mr. Ridge is not likely to be picked, probably solely for his record on abortion. But he was a finalist for the vice presidential choice of three Republican nominees (Bob Dole, President Bush and now Mr. McCain) in spite of his pro-choice views, so there must be something substantial there. As a past prosecutor, congressman, two-term governor and cabinet officer, he has almost a surplus of credentials.

Perhaps Mr. McCain is going to surprise us. Mitt Romney had been favored until recently, but there is a bounty of footage from the primary campaign of him strongly attacking Mr. McCain, and far more acidly than Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Obama. Gov. Tim Pawlenty remains near or at the the top on the speculative list, and it may indeed be him, but Mr. McCain could be safely daring by instead choosing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a conservative alternative who could turn everything upside down and sideways to boot - especially if liberal, moderate and independent women are still alienated after Denver. For that matter, a successful corporate woman CEO might also alter the chemistry of the Republican ticket.

I think there is little doubt about how important the next vice president of the United States will likely be. It is a very idiosyncratic election, with subliminal issues of youth and age, security and risk, changing the American agenda or completing the very unfinished agenda we now have. The vice president is almost certain to play a central role in the performance of the next administration, no matter who is elected president.

All that is nice to talk about, but I have to repeat myself - that the vice presidential nominees are not very likely to be decisive, or even that important, to most voters’ final decisions in the voting booth.

American voters might change their mind, at some point, about how to regard the vice presidential choice. In fact, as the significance of that office continues to grow, such change is inevitable. But for now, it appears to be political business as usual.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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