5.30.2008

Obama's VP and the Left's nightmares

As conversations about McCain's and Obama's choices are picking-up, a certain number of people from both parties are worried that their nominee might select a running mate that is too far from the party's base. After all, a vice-president is not only a heartbeat away from the presidency, but he also becomes the favorite to become the party's next candidate. While the Right is worrying about McCain choosing Charlie Crist and Tom Ridge, the Left's worst-case scenario is even more nightmarish, since a Republican is commonly mentioned as a possible pick for Obama, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel.

While Hagel has repeatedly expressed admiration for Obama, he has not endorsed the Illinois Senator. But his comments have been increasingly critical of John McCain, despite the friendship that has long united the two men. Hagel was long mentioned as a possible candidate on a bipartisan ticket sponsored by Unity08 and rumors circulated for months that Hagel and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg were in talks about a possible ticket. Given that postpartisanship is at the center of Obama's message, speculation that an Obama-Hagel ticket is a possibility emerged as soon as Bloomberg nixed a presidential run of his own back in February.

In a sign that this is indeed a possibility, it was revealed yesterday that Hagel's wife Lilibet had donated to Obama's campaign. Hagel's aides were quick to point out that this was Lilibet's individual choice and that it did not speak for Hagel's choice, but it is certainly a powerful symbol.

While Hagel is as strong a critic of the Iraq War as Senate Republicans have to offer, he remains a very conservative politician; pro-life, strongly pro-free trade and skeptical of government programs (he voted against SCHIP's expansion in the fall). Former Nebraska congressman McCollister called him "except on Iraq, the most conservative member of the United States Senate."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is already awakening concern in some Democratic circles. After all, Webb is a former Republican who has only recently converted to the Democratic Party, mostly because of the Iraq War. Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, he was very critical of John Kerry in the 2004 election, hitting the former candidate over his opposition to the Vietnam War. A piece written by Kathy G. on the Atlantic's blog summarizes these worries that Webb is too fundamentally conservative to be given the second slot of a Democratic ticket, particularly in a year in which the party and progressive ideals have such an advantage:

What I worry about is the fact that Webb basically became a Democrat the day before yesterday, and he has a long history of holding some pretty wingnutty opinions and making some fairly outrageous and offensive statements. To quote a Rolling Stone profile of the man, just a few years ago he was saying that "Liberals were 'cultural Marxists,' and 'the upper crust of academia and the pampered salons of Hollywood' were a fifth column waging war on American traditions." In 2000, Webb opined that affirmative action was "state-sponsored racism"; that same year he endorsed the ultra-conservative Republican George Allen for the senate. ...

Troublingly, he gave this glowing endorsement to Mark Moyar's uber-wingnutty "revisionist" history of the Vietnam War, Triumph Forsaken, which was published in October 2006... As Rick Perlstein has demonstrated in a devastating review, the Moyar book is dreadful piece of far-right propaganda posing as history. What it basically is, is a book-length elaboration of the "stab-in-the-back" myth: i.e., Moyar argues that the Vietnam War was winnable, and that only the treachery of liberal elites in the media and the government prevented America from achieving "victory."

Kathy G. then goes into the most troubling aspect of Webb's record: Gender issues. As had been revealed in the 2006 Senate race, Webb had authored a scathing essay in the 1970s seeking to block women from military academies because they are not biologically suited for combat. His writing became a very influential document in the fight for gender equality within the army and many women testify that Webb made it very hard for them to advance their cause, including that of fighting sexual harassment. Kathy G. notes that Webb's poor record on gender issues extends to the 1980s and 1990s and a series of ill-phrased statements. Given that Obama might conceivably have to face some leftover resentment in some quarters that he defeated Clinton's bid to be the first female president, this would not be a good controversy to rehearse in the coming months.

Finally, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn is the last nightmare choice for those who are not fully sold on the benefits of postpartisanship. Like Hagel and Bloomberg, Nunn was one of the main names mentioned in association with Unity08's project and his national security credentials could strengthen Obama in the area in which attacks on his experience could hurt him the most. But Nunn is also remembered as one of the most moderate voices of the Democratic Party of the early 1990s, a Senator who engaged in fights with what he perceived as the Clinton Administration's excessive liberalism.

Most problematic is Nunn's record on gay rights, as he was one of the main opponents of Clinton's plan to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving within the military, often in very gay-baiting terms. As a critic within Clinton's party, he is one of those most responsible for derailing the original plans. While it is true that past Democratic candidates were not the most sympathetic to gay rights demand (see Kerry, John and the Missouri anti-gay marriage amendment), it could prove a distraction for Obama to have to repeatedly address gay rights, as he had to do already in the fall.

However, it is a curious fact -- and one that is appropriate to Obama -- that an anti-war stance is all three men's main progressive credential (and, in the case of Hagel and Webb, the very/only reason they looked towards the Democratic Party in the first place). In fact, it is Sam Nunn's vote against the Gulf War 18 years ago derailed his own presidential ambitions. Given the central role the Iraq War will play in the fall, it could be a powerful symbol for Obama to have as a running-mate a man with very strong anti-war and national security credentials, a combination all three of these men share (though it did not help John Kerry).

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