Normally the vice-presidential choice is tangential to the top of the ticket. But that may not be the case this year as this election — a two-year-long odyssey — has broken a number of rules.
Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, was seen as better in many ways than lead man Michael Dukakis. He couldn’t save Dukakis. Dan Quayle had the presence of a ventriloquist dummy. But he didn’t sink the senior George Bush. Under Richard Nixon, former Maryland governor Spiro Agnew was elected with scandals rattling in the closet. He became the first vice president to resign from office, but his troubles never directly touched Nixon. That president was to have bigger problems of his own.
Al Gore’s selection in 1992 with Bill Clinton set a new pattern representing a generational team rather than a geographic or political balancing act. Dick Cheney wields power no other vice president has ever dreamed of. Though consistent with President Bush’s direction, he is an independent force no one wants to cross.
Thus far, Joe Biden is fitting the traditional mode for Barack Obama, like it or not. He’s so dull it was said a Google search turned up nothing on him. I doubt that, but he’s hardly setting the world on fire.
In most of our history, the bottom of the ticket has done well to be a supportive cheerleader and eager attack dog, avoiding outshining or embarrassing the boss.
Then there’s Sarah Palin.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, she may be the first vice-presidential candidate, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson for JFK, to lift the presidential nominee over the bar. She is like a made-for-television movie: an obscure officeholder from an obscure state plucked from invisibility to the national spotlight. In politics personality counts — and that she has in abundance. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, her life stories grace her like a beautiful pendant. She has that political narrative as a fighter of corruption in Alaska, taking on her own party, accomplishing much in little time as governor. Experience as a small-town mayor reminds us America is full of small-town mayors dealing with big-time problems. She has her personal story interweaving a family saga with a passion for the great outdoors.
But the McCain campaign had better pay attention to what she says without a prompter or she’ll become just another ordinary number two, one that doesn’t lift the ticket and doesn’t boost him to the brass ring on election day.