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I don’t know who the Republican nominee for president of the United States will turn out to be in a few months, but whoever he is, his vice-presidential pick should be Bill Bennett.
Secretary William J. Bennett has both name recognition and respect. Kids say the darnest things and those of a friend of mine put it best after she had run into Bennett in D.C. earlier this year: “Oh I know him, he wrote The Book of Virtues,” one of hers said. Quickly, another interrupted: “No, silly, he was drug czar.” No, the third, protested, “Bill Bennett was education secretary.”
Well, yes, of course, they were all right. Which indicates the breadth of his experience, but also a comforting and practical reality for any president and any American who wants his president well-served — especially a president who may not know the ways of Washington to the extent that someone who has successfully spent decades there in various capacities would.
And that substantial Bennett package also comes with excellent communications skills. Trained in philosophy, Bennett would prove to be a good communicator and effective spokesman for an administration. As one D.C. hand put it to me: “He’s very smart and well-informed, quick on his feet, clever and humorous, doesn’t back down, and speaks like a human being, not like a person who’s been handed talking points.” Another prominent conservative recently noted to me, “everything he says just exudes ‘authority.’”
I’m far from the first person to suggest the former education secretary for vice president. In fact, Bob Dole asked him to be his running mate in 1996. Bennett declined the opportunity. Much like I am doing now, in 2000, conservative columnist Bob Novak insisted Bush ask Bennett in a cover piece for National Review. But as much as he loves public service, Bennett was never that into the idea; as Novak relayed, “he would rather spend a Saturday afternoon playing football with his young sons than shaking the hands of voters.”
But Bill and his wife Elayne, president of the Best Friends Foundation (which does inner-city abstinence work and would be a great cause for a Second Lady to have a platform for) are now empty-nesters. When I recently asked him if he’d consider it this time: “I have been asked to consider this seriously twice before and said ‘no’ each time — the timing wasn’t right then. But sure, I wouldn’t mind being asked again, and, sure, I’d think about it.”
Fact is, Bennett’s country and party may need him. The elephant in the Grand Old Party room right now is the real possibility that the nominee could be former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who favors legal abortion. For a party that has been pining for the next Ronald Reagan, to have a nominee who disagrees with such a key component of the platform Reagan was elected on in 1980 would be odd, and, for many pro-lifers, a real possible deal-breaker.
But what if Rudy Giuliani announced early on in the primary process that he had an established and respected social conservative ready to run with him? If Rudy is the GOP future, Bennett on a ticket assuages concerns.
If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, Bennett would still provide a gravitas and a deep well of political experience — conservative experience that a northeastern businessman who recently evolved into a conservative advocate on some key issues could use.
Bennett could also help Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) because Bennett is a known conservative commodity in a way that McCain, who frequently irks conservatives on key issues, will never be. If former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) somehow made it to the top, Bennett would provide some heft and energy to a ticket that would otherwise have a “lazy” rap.
Author of multiple bestsellers — including the recent two-volume tour of American history, America: The Last Best Hope — and two-time Cabinet secretary, Bennett is currently a daily radio talk-show host, CNN commentator, and Claremont Institute think tanker, with victory in the war on terror weighing on his mind. He wakes up in the wee hours to prep for his 6-9 A.M. EST show and can often be seen in the evening offering good sense on cable news. For a guy who could be retired and resting on his laurels, Bennett still has the Right fight in him.
The vice presidency has been a long-derided office. Daniel Webster wouldn’t take the job because “I do not propose to be buried until I am dead.” Woodrow Wilson’s vice president (Thomas Marshall for two terms) referred to the “utter uselessness and frivolity” of the slot and avoided Cabinet meetings because he saw no point — he was just veep. But George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have changed the office.
At 64, much like Cheney, Bennett doesn’t need to be vice president. He’s led a full life of service. He’s had his trash gone through and he’s put up with the nonsense. But he also realizes that not only are America’s best days ahead of her, but so are some of her direst challenges. He is someone who understands the threats, foreign and domestic. He’s someone who’s had fame and fortune and doesn’t need to be top dog, but who should be listened to. He’s someone who as vice president wouldn’t be running a campaign — he could be the president’s invaluable eyes and ears and confidante. He may be exactly what the GOP nominee — and America — needs.
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