Politics & Policy

No Joe

McCain's backtrack after Saddleback.

National Review Online. The Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. The Laura Ingraham Show. The Rush Limbaugh Show. The Sean Hannity Show. The Mark Levin Show. The Right side of the web. Every Right way you went, it was like it was 1991 all over again. There was testimony. There was passion and debate. There were clear enemies. But that was yesterday.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama had galvanized the Right on Saturday night when he lived up to at least half of his bestseller’s name: He had the audacity to question Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s credentials during Saddleback megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s candidate forum. There was nowhere in the conservative world you could go Monday without hearing about Clarence Thomas. His resume. His jurisprudence. The depth and shape of his character.

And John McCain could well undo all of that political momentum the Republican presidential nominee gained from Obama’s missteps this weekend.

Since the general-election campaign began, few things have so rallied conservatives as Obama’s ridiculously uninformed and un-self-aware attack on Clarence Thomas. It happened at a time when conservatives were increasingly concerned about Sen. McCain’s commitment to leading a pro-life administration, as he announced to reporter Steve Hayes that being pro-choice is not a deal breaker for potential running mates.

On Saturday, as Obama was riling up conservatives with his attacks on Thomas, McCain reassured them about his administration’s commitment to life. McCain’s avowed recognition that life begins at conception and his forthright commitment to a pro-life presidency stood in stark contrast to Obama’s weak and insulting answers about when life begins, and his spin-room lies about his own record (which includes a vote for infanticide) and attacks on fact-finding and truth-telling pro-lifers.

But on Monday, signals from the McCain campaign — including word of a survey of state Republican chairmen on their receptivity to a vice-presidential nominee who supports abortion rights — indicated that McCain has at least one pro-choicer on his short list for running mate. If that candidate is Joe Lieberman, as is widely believed, that would mean that John McCain is willing to share his ticket with a senator who refused to support a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Joe Lieberman also, by the way, voted against Clarence Thomas when his name was submitted to the Senate for the Court in 1991, after giving indications he would do otherwise.

If John McCain picks Joe Lieberman as his running mate, he would “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” as radio talk-show king Rush Limbaugh put it in an e-mail last night.

Joe Lieberman should be commended as a profile in courage on the war in Iraq, standing athwart the defeatist Democratic party at a crucial time in history. But that does not a vice-presidential candidate for the pro-life Republican party make.

Senator McCain may not really care about abortion, Clarence Thomas, or conservatism — none of which would be a shock to many movement conservatives, who’ve long had an uneasy, and at times acrimonious, relationship with the Arizona senator. But if he cares about winning, he won’t pick Joe Lieberman as his running mate.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor of National Review Online.


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