Jewish World Review April 15, 2004/ 25 Nissan 5764


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Vice Squad | Pop quiz: Name one politician in the past 30 years who's besotted the mainstream media with more fervor than John McCain? I can't either, which is why the Arizona senator is constantly in the news today, eager as always for attention as he bats down rumors that Sen. John Kerry will tap him for the Democratic veep slot in Boston this summer.

Last week, I was at Camden Yards watching the Red Sox's Curt Schilling shut down the Birds with a buddy of mine who works at a Washington-based newsweekly. He's fairly conservative and supports President George W. Bush, but he echoed a sentiment popular in Beltway circles that if McCain's on the Democratic ticket this fall Kerry will win in a walk. I don't agree with that assessment, since the policy disparities between the two friends and Vietnam vets are too numerous to escape attention once the front-page headlines have petered out, but this appears to be a minority view, at least among journalists.

The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, that paper's enormously overrated op-ed columnist, is typical in his panting for a Kerry-McCain match. He concluded a March 28 column — a toss-off about the desire for good news — with a paragraph that could've been written by at least 50 of his colleagues. Friedman: "Most of all, I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked John McCain to be his vice president, because if Mr. Kerry wins he intends not to waste his four years avoiding America's hardest problems — health care, deficits, energy, education — but to tackle them, and that can only be done with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team."

The McCain speculation, of course, won't end until Kerry, in my opinion, opts for a fellow Democrat, probably a governor such as Virginia's Mark Warner. There are numerous reasons why Teddy Kennedy's shadow will disappoint all those reporters who schmoozed with McCain on his "Straight Talk Express" GOP primary campaign in 2000. McCain, during endless political talk show appearances, has praised Kerry and the Democratic Party, but after letting the host drool at the tantalizing possibility of abandoning his endorsement of Bush always says that he and the Massachusetts senator are incompatible because he's a pro-life, free-trading military hawk. That supposedly ends the discussion until he chats up Tim Russert or Chris Matthews two days later.

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Those differences could be finessed, I believe, if McCain was serious about running for vice president. Kerry, after all, has altered his semi-protectionist mewlings that were necessary in his nomination fight, and McCain's abortion views would be rationalized by the Democratic base that so passionately wants to defeat Bush. And Kerry, although to date he hasn't issued a definitive statement about what exactly he'd do about the current chaos in Iraq — a blown opportunity, considering that Bush hasn't adequately explained to Americans his own plans — can be a hawk as well, despite his nonsense about successfully engaging France and Germany in the conflict.

More significantly, there are two deal-breakers that will soon end all this speculation. First, Kerry is a vain man — not exactly a rarity among lifelong politicians — and he simply won't countenance a running mate who will outshine him both in the media and at campaign rallies. That's why he can't choose Hillary Clinton or Sen. John Edwards, the former trial lawyer who, compared to Kerry, has the charisma of John or Bobby Kennedy.

Second, if McCain did succumb to this temptation, he'd sacrifice a large measure of his reputation as the rare legislator whose integrity is unimpeachable. Even the Times, which would seemingly eschew Pulitzer Prizes for 10 years in exchange for Bush's defeat, might be forced to editorialize that the Kerry campaign is defying the soft-money ban that McCain, along with Sen. Russell Feingold, finally got passed in 2002. Kerry's campaign maintains the fiction that the Media Fund, led by Bill Clinton's dirty worker Harold Ickes, and financier George Soros' group — both of which have raised millions of dollars, in the form of organizations called "527s," to run anti-Bush advertising — haven't the slightest coordination with the Democratic campaign. Feingold, who truly is a paragon of virtue in the Senate and would've offered voters a far better alternative to Bush than the mushy Kerry, could be counted upon to criticize his partner in the campaign reform legislation.

Also, McCain's simply having too much fun as the shining gadfly of the Republican Party, openly disagreeing with Bush on any number of issues, including the deficit, tax cuts, and, to a lesser extent, foreign policy. I doubt he'd trade in this celebrity to become Kerry's second banana.

At this point of Kerry's vice-presidential search, it's all about stroking the egos of men and women he wants to vigorously campaign for the entire Democratic ticket in the fall, but when he eventually has to make a decision the betting here is that the winner of the veep sweepstakes will be a loyal party member who can help Kerry win votes in the Midwest.

Yet for the next two months, expect to see lead sentences like this one from Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, which ran on April 12. Kurtz asks, "Is there a snowball's chance, a fleeting prayer, a remotely plausible possibility that John Kerry will pick John McCain as his running mate?"

Kurtz goes on to repeat McCain's denial of interest, but the mere fact that he's regurgitating the frenzied speculation shows what his preference is.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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