Monday, May 26, 2008

Is a Romney/McCain ticket the Republicans' best bet?

"The vice president really only has two duties. One is to cast a tie-breaking vote in the case of a tied vote in the Senate. And the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president."
– Senator John McCain

The Framers of the United States Constitution thought so little of the office of vice president that the document spends no more than one line describing its function. Certainly, there is some discussion as to how the vice president gets elected or impeached, or what is to be done if the poor forgotten fellow fails to show up for work, but it has been left to history to define the role.

Since John Adams became the first vice president in 1789, holders of the office have often found it to be a tedious waiting room to history. For voters, the candidates for vice president have rarely affected their party choices. That is, until this year.

With the Republicans set to nominate a man who would be the oldest first-term president America has ever seen (Senator John McCain), and the Democrats fixing to put forward the most inexperienced, unknown candidate since at least the 19th century (Senator Barack Obama), the office of the vice president will carry uncommon weight. To achieve electoral success, and for the good of the nation, both McCain and Obama must choose their running mates wisely.

Conventional wisdom holds that 1960 was the last election year in which a nominee for vice president made the difference, when Lyndon Johnson handed Texas, and the presidency, to John F. Kennedy. In 2008, McCain and Obama must consider candidates who may not only bring them a vote-rich state, but who will also offset their shortcomings.

Pundits have paired McCain with any number of potential running mates, from Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The most compelling candidate, however, is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

While it is unlikely that Romney could convince Massachusetts to vote Republican in the presidential election, he may help to sway another important state. George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was governor of Michigan and ran for president himself in 1968. The Romney brand remains strong in that state, evinced by Mitt’s convincing win there during the Republican primaries. Considering that Michigan has been inching toward voting Republican for the last couple of presidential cycles, Mitt could make the difference.

Founder of Bain Capital, saviour of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and a self-made gazillionaire, Romney also brings economic bona fides to the ticket. Moreover, as a former Governor, Romney adds executive experience to McCain’s lifetime as a legislator.

Even if he wins the general election, McCain may end up as a vulnerable, 76-year-old incumbent in 2012. Romney will be 65 in 2012 and, as runner-up to McCain in the 2008 Republican primaries, would be considered a favourite for the GOP nomination next time. By putting Romney on the ticket this year, Republicans would install a media-savvy, electable heir apparent, in case McCain falters in the next four years.

Obama, meanwhile, has his own bevy of suitors, from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to his unyielding opponent for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. As in the 2004 presidential election, however, the road to the White House runs through Ohio.

Polls show a consistent but narrow lead for McCain over Obama in this pivotal state. If Obama were to add 66-year-old Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (pictured below) to his team, however, this deficit could quickly be erased. A former Methodist minister, psychologist and six-term Member of Congress, Strickland answers every persistent question voters have about Obama — from his lack of experience to his ecumenical connections.

An Obama-Strickland ticket is something for which the Republicans may have no answer. McCain-Romney, meanwhile, may just be the GOP’s best bet in what looks to be a Democratic year. In either case, voters will be looking past the top of the ticket.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Senator Obama, you're no Jack Kennedy

“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Lloyd Bentsen hurled these words at Dan Quayle in 1988, en route to winning the vice presidential debate but losing the November election. Today, the very same words are entirely applicable to the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama. From foreign policy to tax reform to experience, Obama cannot hold a candle to the president with whom his followers often compare him, John F. Kennedy.

Take Cuba, for example. While Kennedy took a hard line against the Castro regime, understanding that despotism must be opposed, particularly in our own hemisphere, Obama has famously promised to negotiate eye-to-eye with that very same dictatorship.

This dichotomy between the two men can be extrapolated right round the globe. In his inaugural address, JFK pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden” to advance the cause of liberty. Obama, meanwhile, plans to pull American troops out of foreign commitments, regardless of the consequences, and promises to meet with enemy regimes and terror sponsors from Venezuela to Syria.

In defense of this position, Obama cites Kennedy’s 1961 meeting with Soviet Premier Krushchev in Vienna. That Obama believes this example strengthens his case evinces a lack of judgment and misunderstanding of history. By JFK’s own admission, the Vienna meeting was a disaster, leading to the construction of the Berlin Wall in the months that followed and the Cuban Missile Crisis the next year.

On the domestic front, Obama and Kennedy are worlds apart. A firm believer in free markets and international trade, JFK’s tax cuts were larger than those of any of his successors— including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Obama, meanwhile, has pledged massive tax hikes, threatens to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA and reflexively opposes even the most benign free trade pacts.

In fact, a voter favouring low taxes, minimal government intervention and robust, responsible foreign policy would have been quite comfortable voting for Kennedy in 1960, rather than his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon (recall that, as president, it was Nixon, not JFK, who instituted wage and price controls, and created the Environmental Protection Agency). A voter with the same values today would have little in common with Obama.

The most convenient comparison between Obama and Kennedy is their relative youth, but even this is misleading. At 43, JFK was the youngest man ever elected president, and Obama will be 47 on Election Day. But the accomplishments of each man in their first four decades are wildly divergent. Before seeking the White House, JFK was a war hero, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and had served fourteen years in the Congress, having been twice elected to the Senate after three terms in the House. Obama, meanwhile, can boast three undistinguished years in the Senate, preceded by eight years in the Illinois State Legislature.

John F. Kennedy was a president who understood his country’s economic needs, as well as America’s unique responsibility to defend freedom around the world. Indeed, nearly a quarter-century before Reagan came to the Brandenburg Gate and called for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” JFK stood on the same ground and pronounced his solidarity with oppressed people in immortal words: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Given his reluctance to employ America’s power in defense of liberty, or even to call tyranny by its name, could the world expect anything similar from a President Obama? And what of those who believe, in Lawrence Kudlow’s parlance, that a free market economy is the best path to prosperity? Does Obama’s high-tax, low-trade philosophy do any justice to Kennedy’s legacy?

Convenient as it may seem to equate Barack Obama with America’s 35th president, the fact remains that he is no Jack Kennedy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vladimir Putin is still the boss

Dmitry Medvedev was sworn in as Russia's new president this past week, in a stately event at the Kremlin that should make no one feel at ease. Medvedev, 42, is the hand-picked successor of former president (and former KGB colonel) Vladimir Putin.

Since assuming office from Boris Yeltsin at the dawn of this decade, Putin has presided over what the Financial Times quaintly calls, "a closely managed democracy." Put another way, Putin has crushed dissent, jailed businessmen and journalists and, prior to Medvedev's installation, altered the Russian political system such that he will retain power even as he shifts to the role of prime minister. When Putin's domestic heavy-handedness is combined with Russia's increasing international agitation -- including forays into North American airspace -- there is little reason to believe that danger died with the Soviet Union.

"The Russian Bear is back." So said General Rick Hillier, Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, to a gathering of North American business leaders earlier this year. Hillier advised that Canada has had to increase patrols of its northern region as Russia routinely transgresses territorial boundaries, both in the air and beneath the seas. In February, Russian bombers were intercepted by U. S. fighter jets after violating Japanese airspace and buzzing an American aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Such Russian flights over the Pacific have been routine since at least 2007. In 2005, Russia and China conducted their first-ever joint military exercises, activating thousands of troops on land, air and sea, presumably for the edification of Western powers.

American leaders have diverged in their opinions of Putin's Russia. President George W. Bush, early in his administration, famously claimed that he looked into Putin's eyes and saw a man with a good heart. One could argue, however, that for all their long looks, Bush has taken a hard line with Putin, negotiating to expand missile defence and NATO in eastern Europe, right up until this year. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, meanwhile, has taken a harsher public stand on Putin: "I looked into his eyes and I saw three letters-- K-G-B."

At home, Putin has shown no hesitation to imprison people who oppose or criticize him, from Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky to chess champion Garry Kasparov, who was arrested in November, 2007, and denied access to lawyers and visitors. Arrests and crackdowns have been accompanied by a heavy dose of re-centralization. Before reverting to the role of prime minister, Putin arranged for the governors of Russia's 85 regions to report to him personally, rather than the Kremlin. It would seem that, through Medvedev, Putin's personal and punitive reign will go on.

It must be terrifically tempting, in such a society, to keep one's head down to stay out of trouble. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed in his seminal chronicle of the Soviet Terror, The Gulag Archipelago: "Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself."

One of the graces of Russia's new repression is that many of its excesses remain public, for those who care to look. Among Solzhenistyn's laments as the Terror progressed was that, after a few well-known and public trials, the courts and tribunals became closed-door operations, while society trudged along in tragic ignorance. That is, until their turn came.

It is doubtful that Putin and Medvedev will lead Russia back down the sorry road of Soviet communism. But tyranny goes by many names and aggression advances under flags of convenience. As always, it is the duty of free people to keep a watchful eye.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Theo Caldwell: Israel's real friends are on the right

As the world watched former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, embrace terrorists from Hamas and lay a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat recently, it is worth considering which side of the ideological divide includes Israel's real friends.

For more than a generation, even before Republican president Richard Nixon prevented the Soviets from entering the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel's allies and defenders have most commonly been found on the right, among the ranks of conservatives and Christians.

On the left, meanwhile, it is received wisdom that Israel is an oppressor, and the country is often likened to the worst regimes in history.

Consider the title of Carter's recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and its implicit equivalence between Israel and segregated South Africa. It speaks volumes that the most frequent foreign visitor to Democrat Bill Clinton's White House was, in fact, Arafat. Whatever his other foreign policy shortcomings, Republican President George W. Bush declined to host or meet with the PLO terrorist even once.

The affinity of folks on the right for Israel ranges from religious to political to purely practical.

For Christian communities, Israel and the Jewish people are revered as a nation favoured by God, and out of which came the Messiah, Jesus. For conservatives, Israel stands as an isolated democratic state, surrounded by hostile regimes in a vital region, and its defence makes strategic sense. Finally, if none of these rationales appeals to a would-be Republican leader, the very fact that Israel's cause matters deeply to his voting base should be sufficient to secure his support.

In 2003, expanding upon Bush's treatment of Arafat, David Frum observed, "Why did Bush take the stance he did? Not -- as the European press insinuated -- because of the 'Jewish lobby' ... He would not need Jewish votes in 2004, and he certainly would not need Jewish political donations ... If Bush had a political worry, it was his own political base: conservatives, both religious and secular."

Of course, Bush and other conservatives have for years advocated the creation of a Palestinian state. This position is perfectly consistent with a staunch defence of Israel, and serves to advocate a practical, humane step toward peace in the Middle East. Corralled and contained by Israelis and fellow Arabs, the Palestinian people live in poverty and fall prey to indoctrination. A state of their own, founded and maintained on the condition of Israel's right to exist, would give these unfortunate folks a shot at a proper life and, one hopes, dispel much of the hatred and misinformation that spurs their young people to terrorism.

But the will and the means to make this happen has come more from conservatives and Republicans than from Democrats, international intellectuals or even the Palestinians' own leadership. While his people languished in poverty, Arafat presided over a personal fortune in the billions of dollars, the residue of which provides his widow, Suha, a lavish life to this day.

This is the same Suha Arafat who, during a panel discussion in Gaza in 1999, accused Israeli forces of daily and extensive use of poison gas against Palestinian women and children. Sharing the platform with Ms. Arafat when she made these remarks was then-first lady and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton's reaction was to embrace and kiss Ms. Arafat right there on the stage.

Even when Israel takes upon itself hard tasks to the benefit of other free nations, such as destroying Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 or eliminating the Syrian-North Korean nuclear project this past September, elite opinion invariably lines up against the Jewish state. Jay Nordlinger of National Review aptly notes that when Mohamed El-Baradei, Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, blasted Israel for the September strikes, he neglected to utter any criticism of Syria or North Korea.

Israel, like any nation, is imperfect, and its allies are not altruists above reproach. But 60 years in the most dangerous part of a dangerous world have shown Israel who its true friends are.

National Post: May 05, 2008, 12:13 PM by Marni Soupcoff