Sunday, December 14, 2003

A Very Short List It's early to be thinking about VP possibiities, but it's worth taking a minute to sort through a dilemma that Howard Dean will face if he's the nominee.

The problem boils down to this:

Dean will be eager to pick a running mate with foreign policy expertise. But he'll also be eager--for the sake of ideological consistency, if nothing else--to pick someone who agrees with him on Iraq. After all, if the Iraq issue is the crucial test of judgment that Dean has presented it as, how can he credibly champion a running mate who, in his thinking, failed that test?

So the sensible thing for Dean to do, it seems, would be to choose a Democrat with strong credentials on international issues who opposed the war.

Problem is, there aren't exactly tons of these people floating around.

Need a review? Here's a list of Democrats in the senate who opposed the Iraq war resolution that has, rightly or wrongly, come to be seen as a proxy vote for or against the war itself:

Akaka, Hawaii; Bingaman, N.M.; Boxer, Calif; Byrd, W.Va.; Conrad, N.D.; Corzine, N.J.; Dayton, Minn.; Durbin, Ill.; Feingold, Wis; Graham, Fla.; Inouye, Hawaii; Kennedy, Mass.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Mikulski, Md.; Murray, Wash.; Reed, R.I.; Sarbanes, Md.; Stabenow, Mich.; Wellstone, Minn.; Wyden, Ore.

Now, Dean could choose someone in the House. But there aren't too many House members out there with foreign policy gravitas. (Can you name any?)

He could also choose someone outside of government completely. But after spending a couple hours brainstorming, the only realistic options I come up with are George Mitchell and Wesley Clark. (Madeleine Albright and Samuel Berger, to me, seem flat-out implausible.) And each of these men has his own drawbacks. George Mitchell is a northeasterner who opposed the 1991 war resolution. And Clark...well he and Dean have already traded their share of nasty barbs.

So that brings us back to the Senate.

Out of the 21 senators, 1 is dead (Wellstone), 4 are recent arrivals (Corzine, Dayton, Reed and Stabenow), 4 are disqualified because of their lefty reputations (Boxer, Kennedy, Leahy and Feingold), 3 are unlikely for geographic reasons (Akaka, Inouye and Conrad), and 5 have no foreign policy expertise to speak of (Bingaman, Durbin, Mikulski, Murray, Wyden). So that takes us down to 4. And Robert Byrd is Robert Byrd, so we're left with 3:

Bob Graham, Florida
Carl Levin, Michigan
Paul Sarbanes, Maryland

The good news is that these are three serious, thoughtful public servants. But none of them has any star power; Graham gave off a kooky vibe during his aborted presidential campaign; Levin is a bit wonkish; and Sarbanes is geographically unhelpful.

Still, it looks like Dean's campaign strategy leaves him stuck with one of them (or Mitchell, or Clark).

Of course, Dean could still go ahead and pick a war-supporter like Joe Biden or, my flavor of the week, Bob Kerrey. But if he goes that route, he's going to have an awful lot of explaining to do.

UPDATE A friend adds Gary Hart to the list of plausible Dean VPs, and then makes a more explosive suggestion, one that seems to have landed in my blindspot: What about Al Gore? ("It seems this guy is destined to be a career VP," the friend writes, "and, the truth is, he's pretty damn good at it.")

The idea of Gore even considering another stab at VP sounds downright nutty at first blush. But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes: Clearly, this is a man with unfinished business; he's almost-visibly itching to get back in the game; and he's in a great position to demand a sizable portfolio of issues from Dean.

If nothing else, it's a tantalizing possibility, and one I'm surprised, frankly, the celebrity-obsessed, Hillary-touting mainstream press hasn't yet explored.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.