Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Lieberman Will Be the GOP VP Nominee

I was a little surprised at the reaction Monday to my prediction that Joe Lieberman would be McCain's selection for VP. Let me explain why I think it is pretty much a done deal.

(1) Politically simpatico

Their positions on most issues, especially foreign policy, are very much in line. Often a VP has to spend time explaining how he now supports someone who differs from his own stated positions on x, y, and z, but in this case the two are very much in agreement on most issues.

Additionally, having left the Democratic party (when he lost the primary last time around, he formed his own party, Independent Democrats for Lieberman), he fancies himself the same sort of maverick fighting against the excesses of his party as McCain gets built up by the press.

(2) McCain's Problem

McCain has a problem in that a large segment of the base, the Christian Evangelical social conservative wing and the movement does not like him. He ran as a centrist in 2000 against Bush and made a lot of enemies among the party faithful. His "I'm a maverick" schtick, false as it is, has been clearly a case of running against social conservatives and these are true believers who see the world as black and white, us and them, good and evil, and McCain has been clear in saying I am them.

He needs to bring them in because of their numbers and get out the vote machinery, but he can't pander in the usual ways, such as choosing Huckabee as his running mate, because his entire appeal is based on being the great hero of the moderates who stands up against right wing with "straight talk" and that would fly in the face of the entire strategy.

McCain, like Lieberman, is convinced of the universal truth of the Clinton/Dick Morris model -- there is a third of the population who will vote Democratic no matter what, a third that will vote Republican come hell or high water (although many expect to be raptured away before the high water arrives), and a third who vote one way or the other. This group in the middle is crucial because whoever captures them wins. Never mind that this picture is false, but it is what guides their thinking.

McCain needs to win over this fictional third without alienating the sure GOP third. Lieberman is the key. Social conservatives LOVE him because he is an orthodox Jew who takes half their Bible as seriously as they do and he is a hawk on Israel. You cannot underestimate the power of the apocalyptic narrative that guides Christian conservatives in this country. Their Dominionist beliefs require a country called Israel to exist in order for Jesus to return and as such they have a virulently anti-Semitic, but unbelievably powerful Zionism woven into their theology. Politically conservative Israeli politicians spend more time with these folks than they do with American Jews who tend to be more liberal, because the right wingers give more money and support for military action. The idea of having Lieberman as veep is akin to having born again Bush a seat above. It solves McCain's religious conservative problem without alienating the centrists.

(3) The Power of a FoxNews Democrat

At a time when Republicans are weak because of the incompetence of Bush, McCain is going to have to attack Democratic proposals. At a time when voters really want change, how do you make them afraid of change? Having a FoxNews Democrat like Lieberman is the key. He can say, I was one of them until wackos like this with their far out ineffective policy proposals drove me out of the party. The voters will think, "Hey if a Democrat says that the Democrats plans won't work, he must be telling the truth." And there is nothing that Joe Lieberman loves to do more than bash Democrats. He would make the perfect hatchet man.

(4) The Making History Response

Whether it is Obama or (please, no) Clinton, McCain would be fighting the "a vote for the Democrats is a vote to change history" story line. By picking someone who is/was a Democrat would itself be making history with a supposed unity government in our winner take all system. The GOP could therefore counter-balance the narrative that they are opposing the forward tide of history.

(5) The Mainstream Media Would Fall Over Themselves

The mainstream media has a collective crush on John McCain. He can do no wrong, even when he does wrong. They love him almost as much as the love the imaginary "moderate" position they've created (which is really mainstream conservatism). Reporters have nothing but disdain for what they see as hayseeds on the right and those obnoxious do-gooders on the left. The David Broders of the world would do nothing but trumpet the glory of the NEW AMERICAN POLITIC here (never mind, again, that is is nothing but mainstream conservatism) and the death of progressivism. And if we've learned nothing else about how politics work, we have seen that Washington insiders live and die by the meaningless opinions of the tiny village of DC-based, cocktail party circuit, pundits. They would go bananas, and that would be a major factor.

So there's the case. Where am I wrong?