A Jan. 14 Outlook article by Lanny J. Davis incorrectly said that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated less than a month after his second inauguration. The interval was six weeks. Also, the article said that the Constitution prohibits a ticket with a presidential and vice presidential candidate from the same state. There is no such prohibition.
McCain-Clinton '08? Obama-Hagel? That's the Ticket
Imagine this scenario: The country is so deeply divided that the media have color-coded the map of the United States to indicate the partisan chasm -- one color covers the South and most of the border states, the other drenches the North.
As the presidential election year nears, one candidate, a shoo-in for his party's nomination, has an obvious choice for running mate. Yet he also senses the uniqueness of the moment. So he makes a risky decision: He asks a leader of the opposition to run for vice president alongside him, forming the first bipartisan presidential ticket in U.S. history.
This is no fantasy. It's the decision Abraham Lincoln made when, running for reelection in 1864, he asked his Republican vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, to quit the ticket in favor of the highly partisan Democrat Andrew Johnson.
Lincoln's experiment in bipartisanship was tragically cut short when he was assassinated less than a month after his 1865 inauguration. But if ever there was a time to give it a second try, it's now.
Today's national unease and rabid partisanship -- so similar to the circumstances of 1864 -- raise the challenge for someone to form a bipartisan ticket in 2008. The lingering trauma of 9/11, the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism call for an administration open to bipartisan solutions to the crises that confront the country.
Last year's congressional elections showed that voters are tired of the partisan gridlock in Washington. They want some solutions from liberals and others from conservatives. That's the new politics of our age, as exemplified by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's reelection in Connecticut as an "independent" Democrat. Though he has voted mostly with his fellow Democrats over the years, Lieberman is open to both liberal and conservative approaches.
The most important reason for a bipartisan presidency in 2008 is the need to find solutions to the war in Iraq and to avoid delaying the end of significant U.S. involvement over fear of partisan recriminations. Solving the dilemma of Iraq -- how to get U.S. troops out of harm's way in a civil war yet not leave behind a rogue state dominated by terrorists -- will require bipartisan effort and support.
A bipartisan administration is also essential for enacting new taxes. Most responsible political leaders in both parties know -- though few are willing to admit it publicly -- that there is no way to pay for the war in Iraq, even as it winds down, and reduce the deficit while also addressing health care, energy independence, global warming and Social Security other than by raising taxes. Only a bipartisan presidency pushing leaders on both sides of the aisle can make it possible to tackle that issue honestly.
So how do you put a bipartisan ticket together? Theodore Sorenson, speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, wrote a book in 1984 describing the various ways it might be done.
The Democratic and/or Republican nominee could do what Lincoln did -- reach out to a leader of the other party as a running mate at the nominating convention. Another scenario, which I prefer, would be for the two parties to nominate their respective tickets and wage a traditional partisan campaign on the issues, so that voters could see each party's approach and weigh their preferences. After the election, the winner would ask his or her vice president-elect to step down (and become, for example, secretary of state) while inviting the defeated presidential or vice presidential candidate from the other party to serve as vice president. This plan would ideally be announced during the campaign -- with the vice presidential candidate agreeing to act as a placeholder on the ticket -- so that the electorate would be aware of the commitment to a bipartisan presidency.
In this scenario, the vice president could be selected after the election by the Electoral College, which would presumably honor the president-elect's request to vote for the president or vice president of the defeated party. Or the selection could occur after the inauguration, with the newly sworn-in vice president resigning and the resulting vacancy filled, under the 25th Amendment, by a majority vote in both houses of Congress. The advantage of this latter method is that it would receive Congress's ratification of the concept of a bipartisan presidency.
In forming his administration, the new president would continue to adhere to the ideal of bipartisanship, selecting a 50-50 Cabinet and choosing judicial nominees on the basis of merit rather than party.