In an article on salon.com on 6/6/08, Walter Shapiro argues that Barack Obama is unlikely to select as his running mate any of the usual suspects. Shapiro notes that the practice of the nominee choosing the V.P.-designate began only in 1960 and frequently has produced "a national embarassment- or worse." Think Agnew, Eagleton (a little unfair- but it was an embarrassment), Ferraro, Quayle, Lieberman, Cheney.
By contrast, through 1956 the convention iself selected the head guy's running mate. And in 1960, that process led to a fight among four giants: John F. Kennedy, Estes Kefauver, Al Gore Sr., and Hubert H. Humphrey.
Think about that a moment. We all remember John Kennedy. Then there was Albert Arnold Gore, whose son became Vice-President before being elected President in 2000, of whom it was said "never ran a negative campaign." The Tennessee senator who helped create the Interstate Highway System, was dedicated to fighting poverty, opposed the Vietnam War, and was one of only three southern Senators who refused to sign the segregationist Southern Manifesto. He supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after he had opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964- but later wrote in his memoirs of his regret over his position.
The other two senators opposing the Southern Manifesto? Lyndon B. Johnson and Estes Kefauver. That was Estes Kefauver, a supporter of antitrust activity and opponent of "the concentration of U.S. economic and political power under the control of a wealthy, exclusive elite." He served as chairman of the Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses), whose televised hearings in 1950-1951 threw light on the danger of organized crime before American society, a la The Sopranos, began to glorify La Cosa Nostra.
And then there was Minnesota Senator, and Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, who tirelesly fought for justice for the less fortunate in American society. At the Democratic Presidential Convention on July 14, 1948, Humphrey helped spark the walkout of Strom Thurmon's Dixicrats with a speech in which he declared
To those who say -- My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say -- To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
Years later, we have a presumptive nominee whose slogan is "we are the ones we've been waiting for" and little experience by which to judge him; and a vanquished candidate, the spouse of a former president, who during the campaign compared her opponent unfavorably to the presumptive Republican nominee. The decline in the caliber of the national candidates of our party is disturbing. And stunning.
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