Initiating One Split to Repair Another

A follow-up on yesterday’s swipe at John McCain by House speaker (and, according to some assessments, the Constitutionally mandated President) Dennis Hastert. I don’t mean to claim agreement with McCain on all issues; hell, I probably disagree with him more than I agree (well, at least on the so-called “hot-button” issues). But the man’s smart, ethical, rational, and I can’t help thinking that this nation would be in one hell of a better position if he had been the Republican presidential nominee in 2000 — no matter which way the election had turned out.

Which is why I found an op-ed column in today’s Post so interesting. In it, David Ignatius makes a good case for how a Kerry/McCain ticket might be the best thing not just for the Kerry campaign, but for the nation as a whole. So much is being made of “energizing the base,” on both sides of the aisle. The thing is, both bases are pretty damn well energized. We need to think about what happens next.

Don’t get me wrong — the election is critical. Particularly after finding piles of additional evidence of abuses at Abu Ghraib, we’re well on our way to being perceived worldwide as the greatest threat to freedom and security instead of its greatest champion. It’s said that contrary to the right-wing spin, Europeans most emphatically do not hate Americans — they hate the Bush administration. But should we, as Americans, vote to demonstrate our support for the atmosphere of messianic, above-the-law lunacy that led directly to abuses like this, then they will no longer make such a distinction. Frankly, I won’t blame them.

But let’s assume, for the moment, that at least in the aggregate, America is able to wake up and make the right choice in November. What then? Do we continue down the road of partisan hatred (and let’s not pretend it’s anything less than that)? Where does that lead? As much as nobody wants to admit the possibility, I see a real chance for outright civil war. I’m not saying that’s the definite outcome, or even the most likely one, but that’s the end game for the situation as it’s developing.

I place the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of the extreme right wing of the Republican party, hijacking that party’s agenda to the point where moderation is no longer even considered. Where personal attacks like Hastert’s are considered not only acceptable, but completely appropriate. But blame isn’t going to do anything to solve the problem (okay, so it feels damned good sometimes, but that’s not nearly the same thing). Maybe I’m naive, but I like to entertain the possibility that there are still more moderate Republicans out there than extremist ones. It may be tougher to rouse them to get to the election booths, but maybe — just maybe — an overtly bipartisan gesture could do just that.

Yeah, I said bipartisan. Ignatius doesn’t go this far (he manages to avoid touching on the issue), but I think the real solution would be for John McCain to join the Kerry ticket without changing his party affiliation. That’s right — they run on a split ticket. It’s not unprecedented — hell, up until the twelfth amendment, the Constitution called for the losing presidential candate to assume the vice presidency. It’ll throw the party leaders — on both sides — into an uproar, true. The GOP may choose to forcibly remove McCain from its ranks (though exactly how they would do so, should McCain continue to profess his affiliation, strikes me as a bit murky). And Kerry would have one hell of a fight to get the Dems to agree to it. Hey, a nice swide benefit might be a serious undercutting of the unchecked power the parties play in the political arena — but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Is any of this likely to happen? No — particularly given McCain’s insistence that the issue’s not even open to consideration. Is it the best solution to healing the ever-widening partisan split? Who knows? But until I hear a better alternative, I’m pushing for this one.


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