The Case For Bob Kerrey For Vice President (Guest Voice)

This Guest Voice is by Lou Zickar, Editor of the Ripon Forum, a Republican journal of thought and opinion. He has a suggestion on who GOP presumptive Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain should pick for Vice President. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinion of TMV or its writers.

The Case for Kerrey

by Lou Zickar

When picking a vice president, conventional wisdom holds that the best running mate is one who shores up a perceived weakness in the candidate at the top of the ticket.

Johnson shored up Kennedy’s perceived weakness among Southern conservatives. Bush shored up Reagan’s weakness among moderates. Cheney shored up George W. Bush by providing him with the one thing many people said he lacked – gravitas.

In recent years, only Bill Clinton has bucked this trend. By selecting Al Gore as his running mate in 1992, he was selecting someone who essentially mirrored him in terms of geography, ideology and age. In doing so, he was not trying to shore up his greatest weakness. Rather, he was trying to reinforce his greatest strengths – his southern roots, his centrist credentials, and his youthfulness, vigor, and vitality.

Speculation is now at fever pitch as to who John McCain and Barack Obama will pick as their running mates and what model each will follow as they make their respective selections. By most accounts, both campaigns are favoring the more traditional model followed by Kennedy, Reagan and Bush. For Obama, this is understandable. He is the change candidate, after all – the one who many Americans view as a risk. As such, he needs to make a safe pick like Sam Nunn, whose aura of bland competence would be something of a balm for those worried about the new guy at the top.

John McCain faces a different set of challenges as he chooses a running mate. He clearly has a number of perceived weaknesses that need shoring up. Lately, it seems like the biggest two – his age and his self-professed lack of knowledge about the economy – have been fueling much of the speculation about his possible number two pick. Consequently, names like 37 year old wunderkind Governor Bobby Jindal and successful businessman-turned politician Mitt Romney have been heading up everyone’s short list. And yet McCain would be making a mistake if he listened to the conventional wisdom and followed the traditional approach.

Rather than choosing a running mate who will help him shore up his principal weaknesses, John McCain should select someone who reinforces his greatest strengths – mainly, the fact that he is a straight shooter who, as a member of the military, was tested in a way few people are ever tested, and who, as a member of the Senate, has developed a reputation as someone who is unafraid to reach across the aisle to get things done.

These are the qualities that fueled McCain’s candidacy in 2000 and have brought him on the verge of securing the Republican nomination in 2008. They are also the qualities he should look for in a running mate today. Over the past 20 years, only one individual in Washington or around the country has come close to matching John McCain in his capacity for straight talk, in his record of service and sacrifice to the country, and in his willingness to put politics aside and buck the party line.

That individual is Bob Kerrey.

Like McCain, Kerrey served and was tested in Vietnam. McCain was tested in captivity. Kerrey was tested in combat, where he lost a leg and won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Like McCain, he is known as someone who is not afraid to speak his mind.

He called Bill Clinton an “unusually good liar” during the early years of the Clinton Administration, and said the President’s involvement in the Monica Lewinsky scandal a few years later had the potential to “damage the moral fiber of our Nation.”

Like McCain, he is also known as someone who will break with his party on certain issues. McCain broke with Republicans on the issue of campaign finance reform, while Kerrey diverged from his own party on the issue of Social Security and his support for partially privatizing individual accounts.

Of course, the stumbling block in all of this is party – McCain is a Republican, Kerrey is a Democrat. But if McCain wants to shake up the dynamics of this race, selecting Bob Kerrey as his running mate would do just that. It would be a game changer – something that would immediately shift the momentum of the campaign back into John McCain’s favor by calling attention to what has gotten him this far, instead of what may yet hold him back.

The question is, would McCain do it and, if asked, would Kerrey accept?

By all accounts, they respect each other. In 1999, during McCain’s first run for the White House, Kerrey, who was still in the Senate and had endorsed Bill Bradley for President, was quoted in Salon as saying that “Americans can sleep well at night if McCain is elected President.”

More recently, Kerrey, in his capacity as President of the New School, invited McCain to speak at the school’s 2006 commencement ceremony, where he introduced him as “one of the most important political leaders in the world today.” Over the years, McCain has also had kind words for Kerrey. When the Nebraska Senator was criticized in 2001 for revealing his unit may have committed atrocities during the Vietnam War, McCain penned an op-ed in support of his fellow veteran and Senate colleague, calling him “my friend and hero.”

More critical than words are positions on the issues. And on a host of them, McCain and Kerrey are similar if not like-minded. Take the issue of Iraq.

Both were members of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in 2002. In May of 2007, Kerrey wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he declared that “Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11,” and that unilaterally withdrawing from that country “would hand Osama bin Laden a substantial psychological victory.”

On other issues, both favor free trade, lower taxes, and limiting the size of government. Kerrey served on the 9/11 commission that looked into the 2001 attacks. He co-chairs a health care reform commission with Newt Gingrich today. He is also an entrepreneur, having been a successful small businessman prior to his entering politics.

In short, he’s the kind of Democrat John McCain could work with — and the kind GOP voters could support. But it’s not just many Republicans who could support Bob Kerrey for Vice President. Choosing Kerrey as his running mate would also serve to cement John McCain’s credibility with political centrists and independents, two voting blocs who put a premium on bipartisanship and who will be critical in the election.

At a time when Barack Obama is on the verge of making history by becoming the first African American to head up a major party’s ticket, choosing Bob Kerrey as his running mate would give John McCain the opportunity to make history as well.

It would be the first time a Republican and Democrat have run together on the same ticket. It would truly be historic. More critically for McCain, it would also be a bold stroke and something that, given his strengths, could help propel him to victory in November.

Lou Zickar is the Editor of the Ripon Forum, a Republican journal of thought and opinion that has been in print for over 40 years and can be found online at www.riponsociety.org.