During the 1980 campaign, legend (or at least cartoonist Bill Griffith, who cites wire-service accounts) has it, Ronald Reagan was presented with a gold-plated hardhat by a group of construction workers, and replied: “Gee, thanks fellas, but I can’t wear this….I’m a pinhead!” (In 1988 Reagan, after being given a farmer’s cap in the White House at a meeting of Farm Bureau heads, adjusted the strap, explaining that microcephaly obliged him to do so. By that time Griffith’s Zippy The Pinhead, which sometimes referenced the 1980 quote, was a regular feature of the Washington Post’s comics page, but it is unclear whether this is what moved Reagan to reprise the line.)
What seems to naturally bring this to mind is Sen. Barack Obama’s answer to a little girl who asked him at a rally in Elkhart, Indiana, the other day, why he was running for the presidency: “Because I hit my head, and when I woke up….” While Reagan’s quips elicited good cheer and merriment, Democratic superdelegates, as indicated by Frank Gannon’s entry below, are bound to be less inclined to laugh. Would Sen. Hillary Clinton say something like this? (Actually, if she’d been in Elkhart, and in one of her Judy Canova or Minnie Pearl moods so often displayed last May, she might well have done so.)
And so with each day the pressure increases on Obama to pull another rabbit from the hat – in other words, a running-mate that will get the buzz moving away from “suppose the superdelegates sit it out on the first ballot?” to “OMG, it’s the ultimate masterstroke.” At the moment, the big demographic on the minds of the Illinois senator’s handlers seems to be “centrist, blue-collar-to-middle-class Catholic.” This is what drives talk of Gov. Tim Kaine or Sen. Evan Bayh being selected.
How can Sen. John McCain best take advantage of this talk?
More and more, I’m thinking that perhaps the wisest move would be to select Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. She has a reputation as a solid administrator. She’s in her forties and could reach younger voters. And best of all, her decision to have a child despite a fetal diagnosis of Down’s syndrome would stir enormous support from the Catholic establishment….and from a lot of Catholic voters who are not necessarily militant pro-lifers (though, it should be noted, Palin is not a Catholic, but a Protestant – which means added support from Evangelicals).
This would put pressure on Obama not only to select a woman, but to select a Catholic woman. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius? She’s Catholic, but so thoroughly pro-choice that she’s been put on notice by her bishop in Kansas that she’s got no guarantees about receiving Communion.
So if not Sebelius, who does that leave?
When Obama named his vice-presidential selection troika of Caroline Kennedy, Eric Holder and Jim Johnson (the Fannie Mae CEO who soon had to quit the trio) in June, a few waspish souls here and there pointed out the precedent of 2000, when Dick Cheney was selected to head Gov. George W. Bush’s vice-presidential selection process, and ended up the running-mate, and wondered if history could be repeated. Well, the weeks have gone by, and, especially this month, dozens, then hundreds of blogs have begun to passionately argue that only the subject of Neil Diamond’s most popular tune can guarantee the Democrats the White House in November.
The blog entry linked to above, indeed, reasons that only Caroline can recapture all those PUMAs (as in Party Unity My Ass), the lately much-talked-of masses of middle-aged female voters whom Obama is in danger of losing unless something drastic is done. There might be something to this notion. I well remember that the week after JFK Jr’s burial at sea, Newsweek, the very citadel of Hillary worship, put Caroline on the cover, with a long article within more or less stating that the very future of the republic depended on her finally entering the political fray. There’s something of the tone of that story in the blogposts accumulating now. And that sort of mood, I suspect, could easily be transferred to the highest Democratic circles. Among politicos above the age of 45, Kennedy fever is still easy to catch – and if contracted, it may run just high enough to obliterate the realization that Caroline, as a debater, is closer to Bobby (who fared poorly in argument against Reagan in ’68) or Ted than her father and that she is far less qualified for high office than Obama. (This, incidentally, is one of the arguments in the blogs for the choice: “Next to her, he looks experienced.”)
But let’s move on to a more serious candidate. In recent weeks, Rep. Eric Cantor, who has made an enormous impact in his comparatively few years in the House – he’s now chief deputy minority whip – has been increasingly mentioned as a McCain running-mate. He is the only Jewish Republican Congressman, and the fact that one of his cousins was murdered in a restaurant bombing in Tel Aviv by Islamic Jihad in 2006 is bound to make a lot of people from the streetcorner suicide bomber in Baghdad to the President of Iran quite nervous if McCain selects him. He also has great appeal to Evangelicals.
To conclude, here are two useful surveys of the potential running-mates: the AP’s careful assessment of the credentials of the Democratic ones (from the Miami Herald online) and, from the Wall Street Journal’s blog, an examination of the appeal, in the religion area, of various Democratic and Republican contenders.