Politics & Policy

No Joe, Ridge

Don't turn on either exit, Senator McCain.

In a speech to the Values Voter Summit last November, John McCain eloquently announced:

I have been pro-life my entire public career. I believe I am the only major candidate in either party who can make that claim. I am pro-life because I know what it is like to live without human rights, where human life is accorded no inherent value, and I know that I have a personal obligation to advocate human rights wherever they are denied: in Bosnia or Burma, in Cuba or the Middle East; and in our own country when we fail to respect the inherent dignity of all human life, born or unborn. That is a personal testament, which you need not take on faith. You need only examine my public record to know that I won’t ever change my position to fit the politics of the day.

If he meant any of that, he will not choose Joseph Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his vice-presidential partner on the road to the White House. Both of them have public records which are at odds with what McCain claimed to that group of social conservatives last year. It was an appearance that may have helped plant the seeds of an eventual turnaround for the Arizona senator.

This week, McCain has given indications he may not have meant what he said. “I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party,” he said in an interview with The Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes.

But then he added: “And I also feel that — and I’m not trying to equivocate here — that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.”

“Happens to be pro-choice” is not going to cut it with voters who truly believe that the abortion issue is a matter of human rights.

Tom Ridge, a pro-abortion-rights Catholic, is bad news for McCain. He’s a temptation because he’s from Pennsylvania — the Keystone state, and a key state — but McCain is already on the record saying he doesn’t care about the “social issues,”  and should not underscore the point with a pro-choice running mate.

The other occasion for sin for McCain is Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is a pariah Democrat Republicans want to love — but as an ostracized Democrat, not a Republican convert, because he is nowhere near one. As John J. Miller put it in a cover piece for National Review recently: “If he becomes vice president, the United States would be one heartbeat away from a Democratic administration.”

We’re no Pollyannas here at NRO. We can appreciate we don’t have a Buckley conservative running on the Republican ticket this year. We’ve been prepared for disappointment. As Miller put it:

There’s no guarantee McCain will please conservatives with a smart pick. He could very well make a selection that angers them, with disastrous consequences. If majorities of just six state delegations to the national convention in the Twin Cities revolt, they can force a floor vote on an alternative to McCain’s choice — and deal a bad blow to a campaign that probably can’t afford more than a few missteps between now and November.

But making a disappointing choice is different from making an unacceptable choice: Joe Lieberman, who, knowing better, voted against banning partial-birth abortion — something that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, liberal Democrat in good standing, considered too close to infanticide. Or Tom Ridge, who, as a Catholic, should also know better, and who doesn’t share McCain’s human-rights crusade for the most vulnerable among us.

John McCain, knowing this, and knowing how pervasive a culture of death is, cannot reasonably pick either Lieberman or Ridge. Will he anyway? I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt — that he knows enough about life and politics that he won’t; that his Hayes interview was about reminding independent-types that he’s more open-minded on everything than his eventual conservative running mate might suggest. That’s my wishful thinking, though I’m not betting my life on it. John McCain, meanwhile, should not make a political gamble with life.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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