Saturday, June 14, 2008

Free advice for vice presidential search teams

(Originally published 6/14/08)

John McCain and Barack Obama are turning their attention to what John Adams once called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived:” the vice presidency.

And the focus isn’t limited to potential VPs themselves. This week, even the search teams have drawn scrutiny.

McCain sniffed that Obama veepster Eric Holder “recommended the pardoning of Mr. [Marc] Rich.”

Rich is an international commodities trader/financier/man of mystery who was pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton shot back, “I’m rubber; you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you.”

Well, I paraphrased.

“We don’t need any lectures from a campaign that waited 15 months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a ‘perception problem,’” Burton said.

I’ve never advocated for a presidential pardon or engaged in any high-powered D.C. lobbying. (Actually, I’m not sure at this point whether that qualifies or disqualifies me.) But if I was advising our intrepid candidates, here’s what I would say:

  • You need someone who complements you. McCain, find someone who knows the economy. Obama, find someone with a strong foreign affairs background. Like Jerry McGuire, you need to be able to look at your VP and say, “You complete me.”
  • While you’re at it, find someone who is strong enough on his own to not just be a yes man. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, one of you will be the leader of the free world in seven months and a few days. Ask yourselves: When you’re faced with an international crisis, the potential for war, a sagging economy or any one of the dozens of difficult issues you’ll tackle over the next four and a half years, how useful is a bobblehead, really?
  • I know it’s tempting to consider someone from a swing state. But this person is going to be your partner in governing long after the polls have closed. He’s not just an A-I-S to bring you a few votes in November. (And while we’re on that subject, readers, if anyone out there has voted for president based on the his VP, please e-mail me. Otherwise, I’ll continue to regard that idea as ludicrous.)
  • Find someone you’re comfortable with, someone whose loyalty you don’t have to question. Look your potential choice in the eye, and ask yourselves: Can I trust this person? Can we work together?
  • To that point, steer clear of the big-name candidates currently topping the veep sweepstakes. You need a partner, not a competitor. Choosing someone who will settle for No. 2 just because he (or she) couldn’t be No. 1 is a recipe for disaster. Remember that arranged political marriages begin in estrangement, and go instead with tested — if little-known – spotlight — eschewing public servants.

Obviously, the foremost concern in choosing a vice president is being preparing for a potential moment’s-notice presidency: Your pick must be able to be president himself. Since 1901, presidents have lived under a thick blanket of Secret Service protection. But lest we forget that bright Dallas day in 1963, that blanket is no impenetrable shield. Above all else, give your country the assurance that if tragedy strikes, your successor will have the depth and breadth of experience to step in.

Finally, remember that although the next five months will be all about politics, four years of policy will follow. Be mindful that what appears to be a politically expedient choice in the short term could result in headaches in the long term.

Check out the blog this weekend.

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