Veepstakes

webb.jpg

Noah Millman and Reihan discuss. On the question of the wisdom of McCain picking Huckabee as his running mate (versus, say, Pawlenty, as Reihan suggests), I'm of two minds; it all depends (as Noah notes, while making the pro-Huckabee case) on the extent to which Huck self-immolates in the process of losing the primary fight, and the extent to which his large-and-growing enemies list within the party makes him look like a liability, rather than an asset, when it comes to rallying the base. On the possibility of Obama-Webb, though, I agree completely with Noah, that in picking a running mate, Obama should worry more about balancing his cultural liabilities and foreign-policy liabilities than his lack-of-DC-experience liabilities:

What Obama needs to do is reassure people who are nervous about voting for a black man, nervous about voting for a Harvard man, nervous about voting for a man who grew up in Hawaii and came up in politics from Chicago’s South Side ... Moreover, Obama – who has run his primary campaign as if he intends to draw a contrast on foreign policy in the general election – needs to reassure voters that he is ready to be Commander in Chief. He’s had no relevant experience whatsoever in that particular area.

This calculus leads almost inexorably to Webb:

Webb covers both bases, without overshadowing the nominee. Webb is a guy who wrote a book about his pride in his Scots-Irish heritage. He campaigned – and won – in Virginia on a platform of economic populism and protectionism (whereas Obama is a free-trader who seems basically comfortable with the globalist consensus on economic matters). Webb would substantially respond to any antipathy by certain voters to voting for a man who could simultaneously represent the lumpen and the uber of our social order.

Moreover, Webb is a former Reagan Secretary of the Navy who left the GOP for two reasons: because he thinks the GOP’s economic policy is detrimental to working people, and because he was disgusted by the Iraq War. He has far more credibility as a spokesman for a change in foreign policy than a John Kerry or even a Wesley Clark. Inasmuch as he and Obama see eye-to-eye – and they don’t, precisely, though I think they do more than they don’t; Webb, as a former Navy man, is no Buchananite neo-isolationist – Webb’s presence on the ticket substantially bolster’s Obama’s critique of the direction of our foreign policy. This becomes especially important if he’s up against McCain, but it would also be extremely useful against Romney or Giuliani.

The best case against the Webb-for-Veep meme (expressed here in vlog form by Matt) is that idiosyncratic, cocksure figures - particularly ones who aren't career politicians - make lousy second bananas. I can easily imagine a Vice President Webb being a headache for an Obama Administration, and I can imagine Webb going crazy spending four-to-eight years in the Veep straitjacket, and regretting ever signing up for the job. But that's a danger that you worry about after you win an election: I don't think it changes the calculus that makes Webb a natural fit for an Obama campaign gearing up to spend six months duking it out with the GOP.

Photo by Flickr user Marcn used under a Creative Commons license.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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