Why John McCain needs a Bob Dole

July 20, 2008

If McCain is unwilling to engage Obama on the issues he needs someone (or some people) to do it for him.

As someone who has made money by betting on politics I am usually extremely sceptical of the conventional wisdom. However, John McCain’s campaign has been a wreck, both on an organisational and a strategic level. McCain has recently tried to fix this by putting the Bush veteran Steve Schmidt in charge to help with organisation and ground operations. However, this does not solve the fact that, in an inversion of the famous quote from the film Little Caesar, McCain is clearly able to take it but not to dish it out. Indeed, in the face of Obama’s slightly ‘refined’ stance on Iraq, McCain’s team actually congratulated the Democratic candidate for, ‘for accepting John McCain’s principled stand on this critical national security issue’, instead of questioning why Obama consistently voted several times in the Senate to, either de-fund the war, or to set timetables for withdrawal.

Although it is undoubtedly positive that even Obama seems to be recognizing that his previous views were untenable, though he seems now to have backtracked once more to a conventional antiwar position, one has to question the sincerity of his conversion given that only a few months ago he was calling the idea that America should treat a nuclear attack on Israel in the same as a similar attack on the United States, ‘cowboy diplomacy’. It should also be noted that Obama’s position hasn’t actually changed that much, he has just pledged to consult the generals on the ground on the timing of any withdrawal. Likewise his other newfound positions on faith, guns and other issues one can see similar caveats that would enable him to fall back to his previous positions. Unfortunately, one has to conclude that, if elected, Obama is more likely to travel to the road to Damascus to engage in unconditional negotiations with Syria and Iran than to experience a real change of heart on foreign policy.

So where does Bob Dole come in to all of this? Indeed, putting ‘Bob Dole’ and ‘John McCain’ in the same sentence bring back memories for students of American politics of the inept, and lifeless, campaign run by the then 73 year old Senator from Kansas against Bill Clinton in 1996. However, the model that McCain might want to think of following is of Bob Dole’s first campaign in 1976. In that campaign he was the running mate of President Ford. Because Ford’s advisors told him that the best thing he could do was to stay away from the campaign trail and hope that the ghost of Richard Nixon would stop haunting him (in much the same way that George W Bush’s ghost haunts McCain) Dole was forced to play the role of the attack dog, a role he played with aplomb.

In much the same way McCain needs someone, either as a running mate or at least a major surrogate, who is willing to hit the campaign trail and attack Obama. This person must be respected by the centre and the left of centre, which eliminates Romney and his ilk, he must have prominence on national security issues, which obviously Huckabee does not, and he must be someone who will hit Obama hard, but will not hit below the belt, or start racist dogwhistling about ’hardworking White people’. To my mind there are only three people who can do this; Condi Rice, Rudolph Giuliani and Joe Lieberman. Although Obama’s candidacy is groundbreaking, Condoleezza Rice’s story is equally compelling. Combined with her years of experience in foreign policy affairs there is no way Obama, or any of his surrogates, could somehow insinuate that any criticism of him from her was out of bounds. Similarly, given that Giuliani took on the mafia, corrupt cops and made New York’s inner cities liveable again, all of which benefited the poor, any criticism of Giuliani’s motives would backfire.

However, I believe that the best running mate for McCain would be Joe Lieberman. As a someone with a left of centre record Lieberman is a visible symbol of the lost conscience of the Democratic party. He also has the ability to get the left of the Democratic Party, whom Obama has been trying to disassociate himself from, into a fury. Lieberman’s days in the Democratic caucus are numbered, while he is almost certain to face a serious challenge from both sides in four years time if he remains in the Senate. Of course he is deeply uncharismatic, but it is far easier for the Democrats to fend of the attacks of a rabble-rouser rather than a calm and softly spoken indictment. Although the Obama supporters have already tried to falsely accuse Lieberman of stoking the internet smears about Obama, it is going to be very hard to convince the public that someone who risked his life taking part in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s has some underhand motivation.

So I believe that if McCain really isn’t going to attack Obama on national security and foreign policy issues in the next few weeks, although he should do so, the least he can do is to ask Rice, Giuliani or Lieberman to get out on the campaign trail (and to put one of them on the ticket). During the remainder of the campaign; in-between the press conferences, photo opportunities and rubber chicken fundraisers, they must clearly hold Obama to account for his positions over his political career. Because America is clearly willing to vote for someone with a Clintonesque willingness to move to the centre, they must make it clear that Obama was telling the truth about his positions previously and is pandering now, rather than the other way around. Personally, I believe that Senator McCain would make the better President, and I still view him as the favourite to win the election, but if he lets Obama move to the centre it could be a lot closer than is necessary. In any case, whatever one thinks about American foreign policy, America needs an honest and open debate on Iraq rather than the candidates trying to pretend that there are no differences between them.


One comment

  1. Haha! Yes, let’s talk about Bob Dole as much as we can this election!

    Here’s a start: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hqnmXSXtDkQ

    (Bob Dole was a spokesman for Viagra, you know.)

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