Every presidential nominee in choosing his or her vice presidential running mate follows either micro-politics or macro-politics. Practicing micro-politics would mean the 2008 Democratic nominee picks a popular governor or senator from a battleground home state, which could put that state in the party's column. Under macro-politics, the VP candidate might not personally deliver the electoral votes of a key state, but instead that selection could send a larger message about the presidential nominee.
Two macro examples, more than 40 years apart: In 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy advertised his own self-confidence by asking his principal challenger, the far more experienced Lyndon B. Johnson, to run with him. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush addressed his own obvious lack of foreign policy and national security experience by enlisting former Defense Secretary and White House Chief of Staff Dick Cheney.
This all came to mind at last Saturday night's New Hampshire Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner, where the main speaker - who understood that the crowd's interest was elsewhere - began by telling his audience he had no intention of becoming "one piece of road kill between a thousand fans and the Red Sox," who were facing elimination in that night's game.
Still, he repeatedly managed to bring the crowd to its feet with a populist summons to fight for "economic justice and social fairness in an era where far too much power and money has gravitated to the very top," when "the top 1 percent now takes in an astounding 21 percent in national income, up from 8 percent in 1980" and "where 1 percent of the people own more than half of our stocks."
Referring to his own "common-sense" effort to require "our troops to be able to spend as much time at home as they do in Iraq or Afghanistan," he spoke from a personal perspective very few in either party share: "As someone who knows what it's like to have a dad deploy, and what it's like to be deployed, and what it's like to have a son deployed ... all I can say is that the present policy is inexcusable."
Thus spoke first-term U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who would represent the ultimate "macro" vice presidential decision for a nominee brave and daring enough to persuade him to do it.
Let's look at the record. A 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Webb chose the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam, where he led a rifle platoon and was a company commander in the dangerous An Hoa Basin.
There, in combat, he earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. Seriously wounded, he left the Corps, went to law school, wrote six best-sellers, including the memorable war novel "Fields of Fire," was named Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy and became an Emmy award-winning journalist, a screenwriter and a movie producer. Renaissance Marine, anyone?
Nobody was more right about Iraq. On Sept. 4, 2002, six months before the war began, Webb wrote in The Washington Post: "The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well there is no exit strategy."
To those with visions of a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad, Webb noted: "In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets." Sept. 4, 2002!
A Jacksonian Democrat who, unlike so many in his party, does not hesitate to criticize and vote against Wall Street's agenda, Webb, in a year when "authenticity" is what voters reportedly crave, is real. He makes many colleagues uncomfortable by chronically speaking truth to power. Very much his own man, he probably does not have the right temperament or disposition to be the quintessential "team player" VP. But if Democrats want a leader, Webb could be the man.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.