VP Choice: Another Meaningful '08 Moment

Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor

Well, the two major party candidates are about to make the one of the most important decisions they will make in their political lives…and possibly their lives in total.   Who will Obama and McCain pick for their vice-presidential nominee and why did they pick them and what does this tell us about Obama and McCain?

Many analysts and pundits have focused and will focus on the questions of what does the pick do to shore up a weakness or what does it do to highlight a strength or how does this pick affect a certain demography or geography (meaning does it deliver a constituency or a state that was problematic before).  All of these are very valid discussions.

But I would like to focus on three different questions that we should ask or explore when these picks emerge in the days to come:

First,  did Obama and McCain make a decision that followed their gut or heart, or did they make a decision that followed their head.   Many of us never get a chance to pick a vice-president, but we do make important decisions in our lives – relationships, jobs, how we raise our kids, etc.  And from my vantage point the best decisions are those when we make them from our heart and follow our intuition.  Many times our heads get in the way of what we is best for us.  I believe that when we start doing balance sheet analysis of decisions and weighing pros and cons, then we are already away from our heart and we are going to likely make a decision that doesn’t work.  I think the same is true of the Presidential candidates.   As Americans, the most important aspect of a candidate is their gut values, and so the important pick for vice-president should reflect that.  Lets look at these decisions they make and weigh if they made a heart decision or a head decision. 

Second,  following closely from the first, is did they weigh the political affect more importantly than how the relationship will work over the next four years and whether a trust exists.  Did they go for the short term affect and not give proper weight to the functioning of the office of the Presidency in all the manifestations of policy and communication and leadership.   The complicated nature of the 21st century and the needs and desires of all Americans for a proper functioning federal government, I believe demands that the pick be about a partnership and that four years should matter much more than than next sixty days.   Many of us Americans have dysfunction in our own lives and families, and we don’t need institutionalized dysfunction that we actually have to pay for with our taxes!

Thirdly, did the pick represent a person that will appeal to the President’s best instincts or worst instincts.  All of us have seeds of bad or good embedded in us, and a key is surrounding ourselves with people who water the good and weed the bad.   And the  bubble affect of the White House is so dramatic, that a President will spend the vast majority of his time around only a few people.  So whether a vice-president brings out the best and pushes the President to be his best self I believe is key.  We have seen recent Presidents who have brought people into their administrations who have done the exact opposite and it turned out to be disastrous at many different levels.

So, these are the three I would focus on when the picks are made:  1. was it heart or head; 2. was it about a partnership or just politics; 3. does pick appeal to good or bad in person.

And by the way, examining the political ramifications of a pick can be a dicey proposition anyway.  I remember full well in 1988 when Dukakis made what most considered a brilliant political pick (Bentsen) and Bush made what many regarded as a horrible pick (Quayle), who ran away with that election. 

See ya in Denver. 

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