Could There BE a Worse Way to Choose a Vice President?

In choosing a President, standard-bearers for each of the major parties bubble up to the top through an extended process of caucuses and primaries over a period of months. The contenders then essentially campaign in 50 separate state elections, vying for a majority of Electoral College votes that are apportioned according to state population. Checks and balances everywhere you look.

What about choosing the Vice President? You know, the person who’s a heartbeat away from the most powerful office on earth? Oh, one person makes that decision unilaterally.

The VP is not elected or confirmed in any meaningful way — theoretically the party convention could reject a VP candidate, but it won’t happen, and even if it did, that’s not a choice, that’s a veto. The VP nominally is elected along with the President — but it’s a package deal, the votes really are being cast for the top of the ticket.

One person’s unilateral decision. Even an Assistant Secretary of the Interior has a more rigorous vetting process — the Senate has to confirm the choice.

Originally, whoever came in second was named the Vice President. So when John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson became VP. Then Jefferson ran against his boss four years later and ousted him. Bizarre as it sounds, I almost think that’s a better system than what we have now. The Secret Service might have to protect the President FROM the Vice President… but if the VP moves up, at least the incoming President would have been a strong vote-getter in a national election.

Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin

As a socially liberal McCain supporter living in one of the bluest towns in a blue state, I’ve learned how to reconcile myself to various aspects of his candidacy. The most glaring example is abortion rights, where I think McCain is on the wrong side of the issue. But for me the issues that trump all others are the Iraq war and the war against Islamic extremism. Obama has many appealing qualities, but of the two, McCain is the candidate I want as Commander-in-Chief, and everything else is secondary for me.

I paid very little attention to the pre-announcement VP discussions in either party. When Biden was named, I thought it undercut Obama’s change message, but that he’s a safe choice and I could imagine him as President. Then came the Palin announcement.

Stage 1: Confusion

Hm… First-term governor of a sparsely populated state — doesn’t that undercut the most potent argument against Obama? I saw the first Palin headlines just before I got on the treadmill, and this stage lasted throughout my half-hour workout.

Stage 2: Rationalization

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

  • Social conservatives are my least favorite part of the Republican coalition, and I also have little patience for people who attribute Hillary Clinton’s loss to sexism rather than to her own baggage and the appeal of her rival. But while placating these groups is a low priority for me, their votes count as much as mine do, and my candidate needs every vote he can get.
  • Inexperienced though she is, Palin has electoral appeal (80% approval rating in Alaska) and some steel in her spine. She ousted a sitting governor, then took on the corrupt senior officeholders of her own party. I’d vote for her for governor of Alaska in a heartbeat.

Stage 3: Annoyance

I woke up in this stage this morning. Why couldn’t he just have picked Romney? I don’t particularly like Romney, but the guy came in second — the positives and negatives about him are already well known. It would have been a safe choice, certainly by comparison, and the VP contest would have become irrelevant, as it normally is.

Stage 4: Gloom

I slipped into this stage later in the morning while talking with my Obama-supporting wife. Nina and I share common values and we would never mock each other, even by proxy. She respects my reasons for supporting McCain, but she’s going to pull the other lever in November. She was very gentle when she said, after I watched video of Palin’s remarks, “I’m sorry, honey, but it doesn’t look good for your team.”

I agree, it doesn’t. Maybe things will look brighter after the convention, where we’ll get to know Palin better and hear more about why McCain picked her. But right now I see her as a net drag on the ticket. She’ll gain votes among social convervatives and maybe among some Hillary fans, but she saps the life out of the experience issue. Even some social conservatives have qualms about tokenism — Ramesh Ponnuru said “Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”

Stage 5: Reconsidering My Vote

I haven’t quite reached this stage yet. Maybe I won’t. I think McCain made a bad choice, but anybody can make a bad choice. Obama has made bad choices. The top of the ticket still matters most, and I still prefer McCain over Obama. But I’ve never been an Obama hater, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that he would be a disastrous president. Issues aside, I would be proud to have a black president, as long as it’s Obama and not Jesse Jackson.

A vice president only really matters if the president dies. I hope McCain lives another thirty years or more, but he turned 72 yesterday. Sarah Palin seems like a decent and courageous woman, and she might do a great job as president. But the heartbeat-away factor — the most relevant question for a vice president — clearly favors Biden. I’m talking here not about issues, just about readiness to step in and do the job.

The fact that I’m even thinking along these lines doesn’t bode well for McCain’s ability to pick up voters like me, who if not for the war would be inclined to vote for Democrats.

Senator Biden’s Odd Notions of Right and Wrong

Joe Biden’s acceptance speech last night was well-delivered and powerful. The only part that raised my hackles was the Iraq section, with the thrice repeated “John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.” At the time I thought it bothered me simply because I continue to support the decision to overthrow Saddam. But on inspecting the transcript today, I believe Biden’s argument also was intellectually dishonest.

The obvious problem with arguing that Obama’s judgment is better than McCain’s is the “surge.” McCain was a champion of the concept of a surge, long before the Bush Administration put it into action. even described the surge as “McCain’s idea” — that’s a bit hyperbolic, but a nice compliment nonetheless. Obama consistently opposed the surge, and as recently as a month ago he was still trying to explain away the apparent success (thus far) of the change in tactics. Last night Biden took his party’s best remaining option with regard to the surge, which was to ignore it.

But that’s not even what I mean by intellectually dishonest. Here’s the dishonesty:

Now, let me ask you: Whose judgment should we trust? Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he said only three years ago, “Afghanistan — we don’t read about it anymore because it’s succeeded? Or should we trust Barack Obama, who more than a year ago called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan?

It’s hard to catch when listening to him say it, but I’ve added emphasis to the switcheroo that he hoped we all would miss. Three years ago there was, in fact, very little in the news about Afghanistan, because the Taliban was quiet. Two years later, under very different circumstances, Obama seized on a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan as protective cover to avoid being seen as a doctrinaire pacifist, while continuing to argue that America should promptly surrender in Iraq. (P.S.: McCain also favors sending additional troops to Afghanistan.)

The other sleight-of-hand in Biden’s speech was his statement that “Now, after six long years, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government are on the verge of setting a date to bring our troops home.” This is offered as evidence that Obama was right in supporting a timeline for withdrawal and McCain was wrong in opposing it.

“On the verge” may be an overstatement, but more to the point, the timeline being discussed is the end of 2011. The argument over a “timeline” began back when we were arguably losing the war, and Obama and others talked about a timeline of months, not years, regardless of the situation on the ground. On principle I think a timeline is still a bad idea, but if the current leaders of Iraq and the U.S. want to set a timeline for three-plus years down the road, so be it. There will be plenty of time to reconsider if necessary before any significant troop draw-down begins.

Biden also didn’t mention the original decision to authorize war in Iraq, which he… um… supported. Obama opposed the authorization, from his seat in the Illinois state senate, not quite six years ago.

Michelle: "This Is Why I Love This Country"

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones (see, I read lefties, too) describes NRO’s The Corner as “a peek into the conservative id,” which is a great description. I don’t agree with everything I read in The Corner, but it’s the first place I turn for a (usually) thoughtful conservative perspective on breaking news.

Despite a few sniping comments here and there, the consensus in The Corner is that Michelle Obama gave a great speech last night — and in this case I do agree. She’s become somewhat controversial because of her angry class-struggle partisanship on the stump, and for a tone-deaf comment that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” (Note to self: don’t go into national politics unless you want to be remembered for the handful of stupidest things you’ve ever said.)

THAT Michelle Obama is not the one who appeared on stage last night. Last night’s model gave an unabashed paean to the American Dream. “Michelle and the girls were a homerun for Dems tonight. It’s no small thing when both sides can talk American exceptionalism. It’s a start,” said Kathryn Jean Lopez.

As Lisa Schiffren put it:

To her credit, Michelle Obama did exactly what needed to be done tonight. … Whatever cynics like me might think, there were many wet eyes in that room. And there were more African American faces looking with deep pride at this impressive woman, giving a wonderful speech, looking like [a] very serious political player herself, and a world class political wife. Does she really love her country? Standing at that podium, with the nation’s eyes upon her, how could it be otherwise. Brava!

Local Boys Rescued from Grand Canyon

Six Boy Scouts from Maplewood NJ (my hometown — should I disclose that on my blog? Well, whatever) were rescued from the Grand Canyon Sunday. When I was a Boy Scout growing up in Albuquerque, I twice hiked to the bottom of the canyon and back with Troop 166, on the Bright Angel trail (elevation change: 4,420 feet in each direction).

We did our practice hiking on La Luz Trail, which rises 3,775 feet to Sandia Crest, elevation 10,678 feet (dang I love Wikipedia). I wonder if the Maplewood Scouts did their practice hikes in the South “Mountain” Reservation (elevation 521 feet). I’m snarking here not at the Scouts, but at New Jersey’s hills masquerading as mountains. Sounds like the Scouts acquitted themselves well. (Thanks to my brother-in-law Chris for emailing me the Maplewood link.)

Real Clear Politics Election Map Favors McCain

Real Clear Politics takes an interesting approach with its Electoral Vote map by creating a “no-tossups” version — giving every state to one of the candidates regardless of how excruciatingly close the polls may be. So RCP calls Virginia for McCain (on the no-tossup map, giving him 274 electoral votes and the presidency), while Virginia is the only “tie” reported on the map (which has tightened since Monday, dropping Obama below the all-important 270 level by switching Indiana from blue to red). The fine print on RCP shows that they calculate McCain’s lead in Virginia as only 0.6%, which certainly makes it a tossup in my mind.

RCP also has a more realistic (but less fun) “RealClear Electoral Count” map, which shows Obama leading McCain by 228 to 178 — with “Toss Up” coming in third at 132. Looks like anything less than about a 5-point margin is rated as a tossup.

Just for giggles I looked up the margin of victory in Florida in 2000 (and then I double-checked Wikipedia’s math against the official FEC results, to forestall any tedious “you can’t trust Wikipedia” arguments.) Bush’s official margin of victory was 0.009%. That’s not just close, that’s bizarrely, freakishly close. It’s too small a margin to be measured accurately by a system based on dimpled chads. In contrast, Bush’s 2004 margin over Kerry in Ohio — where Kerry admirably resisted calls by some supporters to seek a recount — was a comparatively massive 2.11%. Ohio was the closest state that could have swung the election, but only the fifth-closest state overall.

Indecision 2008 (With Apologies to Jon Stewart)

As I continue my schizophrenic efforts to determine what this blog is about, let’s revert for a moment to the Presidential race. I’m introducing a new widget in the right-hand column showing the latest Electoral College tallies as calculated by a computer-science professor at (The widget is dynamic, the image with this post is static.)

My main takeaway is that it looks like a close election. Certainly Obama is the frontrunner, but some of the recent national polls are showing a dead heat:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows Barack Obama attracting 44% of the vote while John McCain earns 42%…. The margin of sampling error—for the full sample of 3,000 Likely Voters–is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

As we learned in 2000, the national popular vote is not decisive, which is why I like OK, actually I like them because they have a fun widget, I have no idea whether their map is more or less accurate than other tracking maps, such as USA Today’s, which shows significantly different results for many states. But bizarrely, USA Today doesn’t bother to total the electoral votes.

Using Social Media for a Small Business

In the category of, “Best Use of a Blog for Marketing a Small Business,” the winner is… [sound of envelope being ripped open]… the Lincoln Sign Company. The blog is a fantastic example of using social media concepts like transparency in support of a small business. (Hat tip: John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing.)

JD Iles operates the sign-making company with a handful of employees out of a shop attached to a house in Lincoln, New Hampshire (pop. 1271).

JD makes a habit of blogging about every major project the company takes on. He blogs throughout the duration of the project, so the customer can track the progress and understand the reason for any delay.

Customers end up not just with a sign, but also with a behind-the-scenes description of how it was built and the artistic considerations in creating it. My favorite example is the story behind the sign they created for Sandpiper Cottage, a vacation rental home.

Why does the online story make the signs they create more valuable? Well, let JD tell it:

I think the value is mainly in the “possible opportunities for conversation” that it presents to the customer. Many times, our customers (after we have installed a sign) have commented to us that they have gotten great feedback on their new sign. For people who genuinely are interested, the proud owner of a new sign could e-mail them a link to the “Sign Story” of the sign being built.

True, this is great advertising for us, but it is also terrific for the business with the new sign. Any time you can get a potential customer to take time out of their busy day and spend some time looking at your logo or “brand”, you increase the likelihood that they will then go out and tell your story to others.

It has been said that the best marketing one can have is for a customer to want to tell your story to someone else. We want to provide a tool to help people tell a story about your business…

The line from that passage that jumps out at me more than any other is “possible opportunities for conversation.” I try to learn something – or relearn something – every day. Today a rural signmaker from New Hampshire has reminded me that markets are conversations.

(Cross-posted from Social Media Today.)

Link Love (Be Still My Heart)

Taranto likes me! He really likes me!

Moi is thanked today by James Taranto in the acknowledgements for today’s Best of the Web Today column. He spells my name right and everything. I (along with no doubt others) alerted him to the breaking news that Taranto’s least-favorite Republican, outgoing Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, is declining to endorse either candidate for president.

This kind of recognition is what makes blogging worthwhile. Well OK, I wasn’t actually blogging, I was commenting on Taranto’s blog. But I’m just saying.