McCain-Lieberman Could Be Just the Ticket

Third, Lieberman might just put Connecticut in play. In a recent Rasmussen poll Obama led McCain by a scant three points. Adding Lieberman to the ticket could give McCain a shot at the state's seven electoral votes, a small but perhaps valuable find in a close election year. At the very least, Obama might have to spend some resources to hold down a traditionally blue state.

Fourth, Lieberman boasts a soothing, calm, and reassuring persona, which is both critical for someone who might ascend to the Oval Office and suggests, however subtly, that concerns about McCain's temperament are misplaced or exaggerated. After all, if Lieberman, the picture of civility and calm, is willing to climb on board with McCain, then the implication would be that voters shouldn't be too concerned that McCain might be a hot-head ready to blow.

All this is well and good, but there are some real problems here.

First and foremost there is the succession issue. Vice presidents are the hedge against a future catastrophe and the prospect that Republicans would in essence forfeit an election win is deeply troubling, understandably so, to McCain's party.

Then there are some fundamental policy issues. Lieberman is pro-choice and voted against Sam Alito for the Supreme Court. His selection might have the potential to send the conservative base into orbit, wrecking the fragile truce which McCain has crafted with social conservatives. They are already warning McCain not to try it. Richard Land, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, was recently quoted as saying: "If he picks a pro-choice candidate, it will suppress the base. ... [McCain] can't win without evangelical support.''

McCain himself has said that it would be hard to select a pro-choice running mate. And the fact that Lieberman agrees with McCain on campaign finance reform and global warming would only serve to fuel the "he likes Democrats more than us" sentiment on the Right.

There nevertheless might be ways to mitigate these problems. For example, Lieberman might pledge that if he ever succeeded during McCain's term he would not run for a subsequent term as an incumbent. In other words, he would simply complete McCain's term, but not hand over the power and influence of an incumbency to McCain's rival party. It would not be entirely satisfactory to Republicans, although it might lessen the blow.

Second, on the issue of abortion, it is possible for Lieberman to reach an understanding with McCain and voters that, as Rudy Giuliani did, he would adhere to certain positions if he succeeded which would not substantively change pro-life statutory arrangements (e.g., leave in place the Mexico City policy and the Hyde Amendment). Still, it is not clear whether Lieberman would accept such positions or, more importantly, whether it would smack of gamesmanship, ruining the very qualities (e.g., integrity) which made Lieberman attractive in the first place.

And as for the Supreme Court, this is trickier still. Would Lieberman and McCain agree to a list of acceptable choices? Again this seems too clever by half and destined to raise more questions than it answers. (What if people on the list die or become unavailable? Wouldn't the list have to be revealed to actually satisfy Republicans?) Moreover, this does not solve the issue of potentially 200 lower court judicial appointments.

In short, a Lieberman vice presidency is enticing on many levels, especially for national security conservatives, but in the end may well be unworkable. The steps needed to circumscribe his normal presidential discretion that would be required to calm the Republican base would likely prove unwieldy. Moreover, the deal-making over critical issues like the Supreme Court would raise even more concerns about McCain's fidelity to conservative positions.

That said, the fact that a lifelong Democrat, albeit a now independent one, in national office would not just vote for McCain but campaign vigorously for him is remarkable. And McCain might be wise to make a more concrete pledge to put him in a McCain cabinet, powerful evidence that he will reach across party lines to end the era of partisan bickering.

That in itself would be no small thing.