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Commentary: Bayh-Warner

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

Is there a dream ticket for Democrats in 2008? I believe there is, if not a dream ticket, than certainly a sensible, centrist combination with a realistic hope for victory. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, in that order, would offer the country an approach that would not be completely appealing to the left wing of the party but would stand a strong chance of winning over independent Americans.

Feminists would be the first to complain about Bayh's vote against partial-birth abortion, but he is otherwise pro-choice and so is Warner. Bayh voted for the war in Iraq and against restricting missile defense so he could not be attacked by Republicans as soft on military matters though anti-war Democrats would have to swallow their passions on this front. He also has served on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. Best of all, before running for the Senate he was governor of Indiana for eight years, so he knows how to run an organization.

Some would suppose that the ticket should be reversed, with Warner on top, since he is making an all-out bid for the nomination while Bayh has been less forthright. But Warner, a big success in the cell-phone business who was limited to one term as governor of Virginia, simply does not yet have enough experience for the presidency. He's weak on foreign affairs, and his positions on national issues need further thought and fleshing out. There's no reason, however, given his otherwise solid background, why he could not gain adequate preparation for the Oval Office serving as vice president.

Others would charge that Bayh and Warner are too much alike. One of them should be balanced by a running mate from the left. But why choose someone from a sure Democratic state? Why not repeat the Clinton-Gore strategy that brought to the blue column Arkansas and Tennessee and denied them to the Republican South? If Bayh and Warner could hold the Kerry States from 2004 and win back Iowa and New Mexico, then add their own home territories of Indiana and Virginia, they could carry the election, even without Florida or Ohio.

Still others would note that Bayh's voting record in the Senate in recent years is not so different from that of Republican front-runner John McCain. Both of them supported a measure to outlaw drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and opposed the energy bill, legislation for prescription drugs funded by Medicare as well as a ban on same-sex marriage. There are areas, of course, where they differed such as on outlawing assault weapons which Bayh favored while McCain did not.

The main argument Bayh-Warner could mount, however, is that even conservative economist Milton Friedman now says that divided government works better than turning it all over to the same party. He told Charlie Rose that he prefers a Republican in the White House and a Congress controlled by Democrats. But if the GOP still leads the House and Senate in 2008, then a plausible campaign could be waged for the importance of checks and balances in the Oval Office. No one could do that more effectively than Evan Bayh and Mark Warner.

Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.

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