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Jewish World Review May 2, 2000 / 27 Nissan, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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A vice president for Bush? -- NOW THAT THE DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS have both chosen their presidential candidates, the speculation now is about who will be their vice presidential running mates.

The clear front-runner in the media for Governor George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate is Senator John McCain. However, being the media's favorite did not prove to be enough to win in the primaries and neither is it likely to be in November.

Political pundits keep saying that Senator McCain will bring in the Democrats and independents that Governor Bush needs to win a majority. But McCain's ability to bring in Democrats during the primary season does not translate into bringing in those same Democrats when the voting is for keeps in November, when they are far more likely to be supporting Al Gore -- as will the media.

The primaries not only demonstrated McCain's ability to bring out non-Republican voters in the Republican primary, but also his ability to bring out Republican voters -- to vote against him. A man who has made himself repugnant to major segments of the Republican voters -- whether by his wild attacks on religious conservatives or by his pandering to the media -- is not a man to energize his own party on election day, which is the bottom line. No one has done more to trash Governor Bush than Senator McCain. How credible would his support be now, even if he were to give it wholeheartedly as a vice presidential candidate?

Putting political calculations aside, is John McCain the kind of man you want a heartbeat away from the presidency? The way he went ballistic after losing the South Carolina primary is hardly a recommendation for holding an office where an ability to deal with a wide variety of people, at home and around the world, is crucial. It is certainly not a recommendation for being in a position to find himself president and be able to go ballistic literally.

The people who have dealt with Senator McCain for 17 years in Washington and in Arizona have largely supported Governor Bush. That should tell you something.

The Republicans have always had more people who would make good presidents than people who would make good presidential candidates. That is true at the vice presidential level as well.

A number of outstanding Republican governors and various other public figures, such as Bill Bennett or Steve Forbes, would undoubtedly be a big improvement over Al Gore as vice president. But the political question is: What will they add to the votes needed to elect George W. Bush to the presidency?

Governor Bush is politically vulnerable to the charge that he does not have foreign policy experience. Neither have any of the other governors who became president, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. But we are not talking about the reality. We are talking about the politics.

Probably the person who would do the most for Bush on election day would be General Colin Powell. Not only does he have the foreign policy experience, the appearance of one of the most admired black men in America on the ticket could be dramatic for this election -- and historic for the long run, by changing the Republicans' dismal showing among blacks and other minorities.

Would General Powell make the best vice president? No. Like John McCain, Colin Powell has bought into too many liberal ideas that have wreaked social havoc in this country. On racial issues, he seems to be trying to prove that he is still black -- and people who are trying to "prove something" -- on any issue -- are not the most reliable guides. Temperamentally, however, General Powell is a big improvement over Senator McCain, as many other people would be.

Colin Powell himself has said that he is not interested in running for president or vice president. But, if ever the country faced a situation where conscience should cause a man to reconsider, it is now. The next president's power to nominate several Supreme Court justices can shape the course of American law -- or of judicial lawlessness -- for the next generation. The dangerous decline in our military and the recklessness of our foreign policies need to be turned around urgently soon.

If Governor Bush stands a good chance of being elected without Colin Powell on the ticket, that would be better. But General Powell as vice president is a lot better than many other possibilities, including of course Al Gore as president. We are not nominating people for Mount Rushmore. We are choosing among the alternatives actually available.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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