Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If not Webb, Warner? The search for the perfect attack dog...

Reading the article Anyone but Webb on Slate has gone a long way towards convincing me that while Webb (a former Reagan Republican with security and military credentials) would add quite a lot to Obama's presidential run, his 'extracurricular' activities might hurt Obama. These include Webb's temper - Obama can't fault McCain for his temper if his own VP has outbursts. Also, Webb has a history of specious statements about women. Right now, the Democratic party is experiencing more enthusiasm than it has in a decade. It's not smart to dampen it by raising Webb to VP where his statements could rekindle the identity politics of Clinton's campaign.

But an angry VP is a good idea. The VP is the hatchet-man for his candidate: he attacks while the candidate sits back and looks Presidential. Then the opposition has to respond and get down in the dirt, looking unPresidential. Cheney was a good hatchet-man. Romney has potential as well. Huckabee has said too many good things about Obama, and made too many jokes on the edge of racism to be an effective attacker for McCain.

But McCain's personality as his campaign crafts it allows him to take Obama on without needing a VP to do it for him. McCain is being presented as the man who speaks his mind; he will challenge the opposition when he feels they're wrong. Obama's campaign personality won't let him do that. He's all about reconciliation and nonpartisanship. He can't attack as ferociously. So what Obama needs is a VP who can and a means for that VP to do it that doesn't contradict Obama's main thrust.

Webb can't deliver that; his attacks would be either partisan or too ad hominem. This election, people don't want character assassination. I also doubt whether Bill Richardson could deliver this as VP. He's not confrontational enough.

But I know who could: Mark Warner, former Virginia governor. Yes, Warner couldn't attack McCain in the tried and true way of saying an idea was outright bad. Warner and Obama have built their images on reconciliation with the opposition; neither can afford to give that up this election. But Warner could do something else. He could attack McCain's positions as being centrist-in-name-only. If Warner expresses disappointment at McCain's failure to live up to a centrist and conciliatory image, if would help undercut McCain's broader appeal. Plus it fits in with Obama's move towards conciliatory politics beyond the usual. In addition, I think that disappointment from Warner would be more damaging to McCain than anger from Webb. Warner could attack McCain in a way that still goes with Obama's "Hope" message.

Of course, there are probably other ways to evaluate VPs but I personally think Obama needs someone to attack for him, otherwise McCain could portray him as a weak candidate. McCain should hope for a VP who won't or can't attack, since a toothless ticket would let him sell the security issue more easily - an area where Republicans usually win the fight but are in trouble this election.

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