Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lessons From President Bartlet: The Only Four Words That Matter About The Choice of Vice President

As I was watching Barack Obama's equally awe-inspiring and uplifting acceptance speech Thursday night, a particular line jumped out at me. It's not that John McCain doesn't care, Obama argued, it's that John McCain doesn't get it. I turned to my buddy Dave with whom I was watching the speech, and I said, he just turned into Andrew Shepherd. Shepherd, of course, was Aaron Sorkin's President in The American President, played perfectly by Michael Douglas. After enduring a movie-full of negative character attacks by his Republican opponent, in the climax of the movie, Shepherd, after trying to take the high road the entire film lashes out in the press briefing room, with an awe-inspiring and uplifting response to the attacks. One of the key lines?

I've known Bob Rumson for years. And I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy yelling into the rain is because he simply didn't get it. Well I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is he can't sell it.

And I laughed afterwards when both Brian Williams and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC noted the very same point about Sorkin's words. Well, there are more lessons to be learned from Aaron Sorkin, this time about John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his Vice President.

During the third season of The West Wing, as Martin Sheen's President Josiah a Bartlet was preparing to run for a second term, the question came up about whether he should replace his Vice President on the ticket. Texas, the state the Vice President carried in the election for Bartlet four years ago was no longer in play, and the two never got along and often clashed. So the whole episode, Bartlet's west wing team held closed door meetings, debating whom could replace the Vice President. But, at the end of the episode, President Bartlet put a stop the speculation and reaffirmed his commitment to his Vice President. Why? Because when it comes to selecting a Vice President, only four words really matter.

And what are those four words?
LEO: I think that issue is probably worth further discussion but we're done talking about the ticket. The President's made it very clear that he wants the Vice President to remain the Vice President and he wrote down his one and only reason.

[He pulls out the paper and hands it to Josh.]

JOSH: "Because I could die." Well, of course he's right, sir.

Because I Could Die. That's why you pick a Vice President, who while he or she may sure up your weaknesses, or help you electorally, at the end of the day, is somebody you are supremely confident could lead the country, and in many ways the world. It's a lesson Barack Obama took to heart. He could have chosen Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as his running mate. The two are very close personally, Obama trusts Kaine (in some ways perhaps more than the man he selected, Joe Biden), he may have helped Obama carry Virginia, and he re-enforced Obama's message of change. But, Kaine had serious questions about his experience (he's only been Governor of Virginia for one term and had little-to-no foreign policy experience) so Obama went in a different direction, and his choice of Biden (no offense to Kaine) was in the better interest of the country. John McCain didn't heed that lesson, and chose a Vice President who in no way would be qualified or ready to be President tomorrow.

Governor Palin may have a lot of positive attributes but she John McCain failed President Bartlet's and Aaron Sorkin's only test for the selection of the Vice President. "Because I Could Die." It's four words John McCain should have thought about before he named a Vice President he met just one time, and spoke with about the Vice Presidency, on the phone, just once. It's about putting the country first, instead of one's political or personal ambitions. And it's another example of why John McCain's judgment and temperament are not suited for the Oval Office.

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