Tuesday, August 19, 2008

August 19, 2008

     "Speculation reaches fever pitch," one headline says.  "Could be Wednesday," a story proclaims.  Well, picking the VP nominee can be fun.  I remember in 1968 at the convention, I think, Richard Nixon announcing his choice and a startled Mike Wallace responding, "Spiro who?"  Well, it was a fair question.  Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland, but he was a pretty obscure governor and only David Broder had him on his list of possibles.  Broder's reputation for political smarts, already high, soared higher.
     Then in 1980 Walter Cronkite got the idea that Ronald Reagan wouldn't really have a VP, but instead a co-presidency shared with Gerald Ford.  I was on the podium that year and excellent sources kept telling me this hadn't happened. "Well," Walter said, "I guess you're just trying to keep some drama in it." Suddenly there was Lesley Stahl on the convention floor saying, "It's Bush;  they're all saying it's Bush."  They were, of course, all right.

     In '88 we all wondered who Bush would pick.  It's someone from Indiana, the rumor was.  Oh good, we all thought, Senator Richard Lugar.  What a smart choice. No, we learned later, the other senator, Dan Quayle.  Common press corps reaction:  you've got to be kidding.  But Bush, of course, wasn't kidding.
     Does it matter?  No, not until you need a VP.  But then--oh wow.  Think back to when Franklin Roosevelt died and a little-known Missouri senator, Harry Truman,  took over.  He had to decide whether to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, supervise the surrenders that ended World War II, help in founding NATO, worry about war crimes trials, develop the containment policy for the Soviet Union.  It's hard to imagine a president who had more big decisions to make.  And looking back he seems to have gotten most of them right.
    So it can matter.  I have a sentimental favorite this time, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden.  It has nothing to do with his qualifications.  It goes back to a hearing on some long-forgotten topic I was covering maybe twenty years ago.  Senators, as they often do, were taking ten-minute turns asking questions.  Biden was maybe seven or eight minutes into his ten, no question yet, dependent clauses cluttering up the room, when he suddenly paused for a moment and then said thoughtfully, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."  The hearing room filled with laughter.  But hey, candor in the Veep's office may be just what we need.   Go, Joe! 

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