The Abu Ghraib prison scandal threatens to become another Watergate. George W. Bush’s approval ratings are nosediving. A huge majority thinks America is on the “wrong track,” and an almost equal number think the war’s being mismanaged.

But John Kerry continues to elicit about as much excitement as a Snickers bar in the diabetes ward.

That’s all about to change, we’re told, as soon as Kerry selects a veep. This past weekend, Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa had a suggestion for Kerry on this matter: Choose Dick Gephardt. “He can carry a state,” said Hoffa.

Now, Jimmy’s kind of a friend of mine and it’s never pleasant to disagree with a Hoffa but . . . He can carry a state? That’s it? Is it to this sorry level of entropy that Democratic politics have retreated? That’s all we want nowadays from a VP? That he can take Missouri?

Maybe Democrats should aspire to something more ambitious. Like choosing a VP who can lock down the election in November. And do you know a single person who believes that if, by some happenstance, John McCain became Kerry’s running mate they wouldn’t win? Why aren’t Democrats in the streets clamoring for this formula? Why aren’t there petition drives under way to persuade Kerry and McCain to join together?

One answer comes from Donna Brazile. You remember her. She was the mouthy genius who ran the unforgettable Al Gore campaign four years ago. “McCain has not been pro-choice. He’s not been out front on affirmative action. He’s not been out front on core issues that have defined the Democratic Party,” Brazile says in pooh-poohing McCain. It’s an odd statement coming from a strategist who fronted for Holy Joe Lieberman. Indeed, who are you more comfortable with? Lieberman or McCain?

I can see no compelling reason for Democrats not to go with McCain. They chose Kerry only because he was the Electable Anybody But Bush. Why not go all the way down that road? McCain, unlike Kerry, is really electable. Some prominent Democrats like senators Joe Biden and Bill Nelson have already come to this conclusion. Biden says as a second best McCain could be secretary of defense. But that’s not good enough.

Wait, McCain is a Republican, you say. He is pro-life, yes. He’s a hawk, that’s true. But he also has two things that both Kerry and (increasingly) Bush sorely lack: popularity and integrity. Vice presidents don’t appoint judges and don’t decree executive orders. So who cares what McCain’s ideological sins might be?

On the other hand, McCain teamed up with Kerry to defuse and debunk the POW-MIA myth, he worked with anti-war protesters to normalize relations with Vietnam, he led the fight along with liberal Russ Feingold to ban soft-money contributions, he’s standing up to defend Arizona’s beleaguered Clean Money elections system, he’s fought the NRA on gun control, and he’s rather doggedly pushing the Abu Ghraib investigation up the command ladder. (McCain also detests George W. Bush, never forgiving him for the pile of manure that got dumped on him in the 2000 primaries.)


Instead of wringing their hands over what a McCain selection would mean for their own party (they didn’t seem to care when right-winger Lieberman was selected), Democrats ought to think what that choice would mean for Republicans. It could unleash a long-needed political realignment, one that could give Democrats a new majority and that could severely shake up and divide the GOP. Moderate, suburban, secular, rational Republicans would be given a solid alternative to voting for a party increasingly dominated by its ultra-ideological Jacobin faction.

The results could be much more far-reaching than November. McCain’s presence in the executive, what in other countries is called a “national unity” government, might mean a real shot to pass some key legislation through a Congress more than likely still to be dominated by Republicans (or at best a combination of the GOP and conservative Democrats). Under current circumstances, indeed, it matters little what the details of Kerry’s legislative plan might be — because it ain’t gonna pass anyway.

But with McCain as VP, cobbling together a congressional coalition that might pass some sort of health-care program, some sort of immigration reform, more political reform and, yes, even some rollback of the Bush tax cuts doesn’t seem so impossible.

There are, of course, at least two glitches in this sunny scenario. McCain might actually mean it as he insists this week that there’s no way he would serve as VP. And then there’s Kerry, who might not want to get upstaged by an immensely more attractive John McCain. Even if he could help carry a whole lot more than Missouri.

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