First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Who Should Really Be Bush's Running Mate This Year?
When George W. Bush asked Dick Cheney to head up his search for a Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2000, neither man expected Cheney himself to end up as Bush's running mate.
After all, Cheney was too old and his health too shaky to be considered. His last elected office was far in the past. Where was his constituency? What state's electoral votes could he deliver?
In a way, it was Bush's first statesmanlike act, to nominate Cheney. A man who brought almost nothing to the table except experience -- an asset, but one with ambiguous value -- Cheney could only have been chosen because, of all the vice-presidential possibilities, he was the one best suited to step in as President in an emergency.
Since then, he has been both a strong influence in government and a slight drag, as he serves as both the point man and whipping boy of the administration.
President Bush chose him for the former role -- for which he is well-suited, and which he is already carrying out, pointing out Kerry's negatives while the President himself remains above the fray (the normal division of labor in an incumbent team running for reelection).
The Left has chosen him for the latter role, using his association with American business during his years out of office as an excuse for finding nefarious commercial motives in every administration action.
George W. Bush is a loyal guy. Dick Cheney has served him well and continues to do so. There is no way Bush can, should, or will jettison Cheney from the ticket in 2004.
Which is why Cheney should seize the moment and prove his true worth to his party by finishing the job search he headed in 2000.
In 2004, there is an unprecedented political opportunity for the Republican Party, and a change to the right vice-presidential candidate could help bring mainstream, traditional American values back into control of government for a generation to come.
In the 2000 election, what frightened Democrats most about George W. Bush was the fact that he was a genuine moderate who succeeded in winning a significant percentage of the African-American and Hispanic vote.
If black voters did not remain solidly Democratic, Gore was doomed. So black communities were told that the election of George W. Bush would mean the return of Jim Crow, the loss of all their gains since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.
It almost worked. Once. But John Kerry better not be counting on American Blacks being slow learners.
Bush has been in control of the White House for three years, and the Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress for a year. African-Americans know that none of the threatened disasters has come to pass.
Instead, Bush appointed Colin Powell and Condaleezza Rice, not to token positions like those that Democrats usually reserved for Blacks, but to the State Department and National Security Agency.
For the first time in American history, when the President of the United States gathers with his most important advisors to discuss matters absolutely vital to the national security of the United States, there are two African-Americans at the table, and they are listened to.
The African-American community has also changed since Lyndon Johnson won their loyalty for the Democratic Party in the 1960s. Most are now firmly within the middle class, and while they still care about the woes of fellow Blacks still trapped in ghettoes, a significant number of black voters no longer think of welfare as one of the most important issues in an election.
Like all Americans, they have security concerns -- and they are, as a community, far from being lined up with the PC Left against the war.
Even more important, African-Americans are in some ways one of the more conservative parts of the American body politic. Blacks tend to be more religious, on average, than Whites, and way more religious than the agenda of the Democratic Party.
And while Blacks have suffered most from our disastrous national experiment with the destruction of marriage, they show signs of being one of the first communities to learn from that pain and reembrace the ideal of marriage and family as being the most important part of life, worthy of public and private support.
In other words, the black community is ripe to become a two-party ethnic group.
What, then, would happen if, instead of Dick Cheney, the Republican candidate for the vice-presidency were an African-American who clearly deserved the spot?
Bush is a strong incumbent candidate in a growing economy. If Dick Cheney stepped down, Bush could choose almost anybody. It would say a lot if he reached out to the African-American community.
That's because historically, the vice-presidency is the catbird seat for reaching the Presidency. Of the past 10 presidents, five of them -- Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Bush -- served as Vice-president before becoming President. Another, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was his party's vice-presidential candidate prior to becoming President.
If you add in three other Vice-presidents who became their party's nominee for President, but lost -- Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore -- and then toss in one-time v.p. candidate Dole, who later won his party's nomination for President (but lost), you begin to get the picture.
If Bush is reelected, which is the way to bet, whoever has the Vice-presidency is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee for President. And a candidate who has been Vice-President has a decent chance of winning, eventually if not immediately (and without necessarily succeeding to the Presidency because of the President's death or resignation).
This will probably not help Cheney -- his age and health virtually eliminate him from consideration for the 2008 nomination.
But if Bush chose a younger and healthier but equally qualified African-American running mate, he would be giving that person the best possible chance to be President of the United States.
Now, all of this would be moot if there were no African-Americans qualified for the job and politically able to exploit it. Geraldine Ferraro was never presidential material; her nomination was tokenism. Tokenism can work for a while, but ultimately it fails. Bush should not nominate a Black just to win a share of the black vote, because an unqualified candidate would backfire and have a negative affect.
But it happens that the Republican Party has at least three prominent African-Americans who would do great credit to the office of Vice-President.
Colin Powell is the obvious one to look at first. He has already been talked about as a possible President, and nobody hates him.
Of course, there are the normal assortment of black leaders who resentfully accuse him of being a racial turncoat, but this epithet ("Uncle Tom," as I recall) will be applied by the Left to any Black running for national office as a Republican. However, this is the kind of personal attack that always backfires. Nobody, not even a Black, has either a right or a reason to attack another Black for not being black enough, just because he has unconventional political opinions.
Besides, George W. Bush's running mate will be coupled with the man who dumped Trent Lott as Republican Senate leader. Bush is not a Republican who will hang albatrosses around a black candidate's neck.
Powell's real problem is that his positions on certain key issues -- most notably abortion -- are such that even if he were Vice-president, he would certainly be challenged for the nomination in 2008 by candidates further to the right within the Republican Party. And justified as his arguments were, his insistence on delaying the Iraqi campaign seriously damaged him in the very portion of the American public that would most have supported him as a former military man.
Condaleezza Rice was not as prominent, but has a better chance of holding onto the Republican nomination in 2008. She has the difficulty of never having run for public office, but she's also a smashingly articulate and attractive candidate -- at least as attractive as John Edwards. Without a political base of her own, she would be dependent on the whole-hearted support of the Republican establishment -- but I think that in four years in the Vice-Presidency, she could earn that.
A third choice, though less well-known nationally, is former Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., of Oklahoma. Another dynamic candidate, he has run for office in a predominantly white district and won repeatedly. He has a devoted following within the Republican Party, and even though he spent his years in Congress as a pariah among the Black Congressional Caucus, that was to be expected for any Republican.
He has been prominent in the Republican Party organization. He is the African-American candidate most likely to be able to hold onto the presidential nomination at the end of Bush's second term and unify the Republican Party behind him.
As a candidate, Watts is every bit as articulate as, and a great deal more passionate, experienced, and intelligent than, John Edwards. (One need hardly compare any candidate's attractiveness with John Kerry -- if Bush is reelected President, Kerry won't be a player in 2008.) Against Edwards or Hillary Clinton, I think Watts, as incumbent Vice-president, would win the presidency walking away.
Three viable African-American vice-presidential possibilities make a respectable list, when you consider that there are probably no more than twenty people of any race, in either party, who could be regarded as credible nominees for the Vice-presidency this year.
I know, this is all pie-in-the-sky speculation. Cheney doesn't want to leave his post. It would take a politician of extraordinary selflessness to realize that the only thing keeping the Republican Party from taking advantage of an extraordinary moment in American politics is himself.
And even if it doesn't happen, I hope that African-American voters will stop voting automatically for a party that treats them like property. Take a long, hard look at the presidential candidates this year and ask yourselves, Which of these men will help America be the kind of country I want my kids and grandkids to grow up in?
A good solid number of African-American votes for the Republican candidate might just be the wakeup call the Democratic Party needs. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, instead of one party taking black voters for granted and the other simply ignoring them, both parties were desperate to please African-American voters?
African-Americans would be better off, of course. So would both major political parties. And that would make America a better place for everybody.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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