Barack Obama’s search for a running mate is off to a less-than-rousing start. First, there was the disclosure that one of his vetters, Jim Johnson, took millions in discount loans from Countrywide, the mortgage firm that Obama has roundly criticized.
Confronted with that revelation from The Wall Street Journal, Senator Obama took a page out of the Jeremiah Wright playbook, and distanced himself from his own VP vetting team. From the Washington Post’s campaign diary:
Pressed on the involvement of one of the members of his vice-presidential search committee with a controversial mortgage company, Sen. Barack Obama said of the people helping him find a running mate that they are serving in a "volunteer, unpaid position" and "these aren't folks who are working for me."
The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Jim Johnson, an Obama fundraiser and backer, received $7 million in loans from Countrywide, a mortgage firm Obama blasted in March for giving its executives huge bonuses in the midst of the home foreclosure crisis. Johnson, who is one of three members of a committee that will help "vet" Obama's vice-presidential pick, received the mortgages at rates below market averages, according to the paper, a claim Obama aides have disputed.
Reading the senator’s response, it’s tempting to ask just who in the hell Mr. Johnson and his colleagues are working for. Paid or unpaid, they were selected to screen potential vice-presidential nominees for Mr. Obama. While the final choice rests with the candidate, the vetting team has tremendous input on who makes the cut—and who does not. Because of that, the background (and connections) of the “vetters” is a valid concern. Obama told reporters that digging into the history of his advisers is a “game,” suggesting that Mr. Johnson is safe, at least for now.
On a related note, it appears that the Obama team is considering a running mate that would “balance” the senator’s meager background in foreign affairs and national security. North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad tells the AP that Mr. Obama is considering “former top military leaders” to be his running mate.
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad told The Associated Press said the team asked him about potential candidates from three broad categories — current top elected officials, former top elected officials and former top military leaders.
Conrad would not disclose which names they discussed, and the Obama campaign has been keeping the process a closely guarded secret.
"We talked about many names," Conrad said, including "some that are out of the box, but I think would be very well-received by the American people, including former top military leaders."
The AP’s Nedra Pickler, who wrote the story, has an established reputation as a Democratic cheerleader, no small feat in today’s MSM. So, it’s hardly a surprise that she would gush over Obama’s consideration of a “military” running mate, someone who could counter John McCain’s bonafides as a career naval officer and Vietnam War hero.
But some of the names mentioned by Ms. Pickler are non-starters. Former Air Force Major General Scott Gration, one of the first retired officers to endorse Obama, is virtually unknown outside military circles. He never led a Numbered Air Force, let alone a major command. While General Gration has extensive experience as a foreign area specialist, it is extremely doubtful that Obama would run with a retired general who never reached four-star rank.
A better choice would be retired Marine Corps General James Jones. Before leaving the military in 2007, General Jones was the first Marine to serve as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. A few months after his retirement, Jones was appointed a special envoy for Middle East security by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, a position he still holds.
The prospect of General Jones running with Obama first surfaced last April on a Meet the Press segment featuring James Carville and Bob Shrum. Despite the obvious interest in General Jones, we can’t find any evidence that he’s actually endorsed Obama, and Carville admitted that he “didn’t know” if the former Marine Corps Commandant is even a Democrat.
Other names being mentioned are General Wesley Clark, a Hillary Clinton supporter who ran his own, failed presidential bid in 2004; General Hugh Shelton, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill “Tony” McPeak.
The prospect of McPeak as a running mate should make Republicans salivate. General McPeak became the Air Force’s top uniformed officer in October 1990, after the dismissal of General Michael Dugan. Widely revered in the Air Force, General Dugan was fired for his candor—publicly admitting that killing Saddam Hussein would be an objective of any U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq.
Unfortunately, Dugan’s departure opened the door for McPeak, and four of the most miserable years in Air Force history. General McPeak took it upon himself to reinvent the service, and he tried to do just that, reorganizing units and even redesigning the Air Force uniform. Speak to anyone who served in the USAF during that period, and you’ll learn that “Tony” McPeak was the most reviled Chief of Staff in Air Force history.
And, his experimentation came at a price. While the service maintained combat commitments in Southwest Asia, McPeak moved aircraft and personnel around like toys, creating “composite” wings that were supposed to provide more combat power. Instead, they created operations, maintenance and logistical nightmares, with some wing commanders trying to operate four different types of aircraft at the same base.
Even units that had only one type of aircraft were swept up in McPeak’s reorganization mania. Trying to find the optimum structure, some wings reorganized multiple times, sowing dissention and confusion in the ranks. By one account, the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan AB, Korea, reorganized three times in two years. Airmen of all ranks cheered when McPeak retired in 1994. His successor, General Ronald Fogleman, immediately imposed a one-year moratorium on change, to give the weary Air Force a break.
By one GAO account, McPeak’s composite wing experiment cost the U.S. taxpayer more that $5 billion, with no appreciable savings or improved combat efficiency. He spent millions more on a “new” service dress uniform, featuring “Navy-style” rank on the sleeves for officers. The “airline” uniforms didn’t survive McPeak’s tenure, although variants of the new wing structure are still around today.
If Barack Obama wants to lose the vote of thousands of Air Force veterans—and their families—all he needs to do is put Tony McPeak on the ticket. But, that’s a longshot, in our estimation. Lest we forget, General McPeak has recently assumed a lower profile in the Obama campaign, after telling reporters that U.S. policies toward Israel would be decided by “voters in New York and Miami.” Under normal circumstances, that would be enough to disqualify McPeak as a VP candidate, but with the Obama gaffe machine, you never know.
Assuming the Democratic nominee wants someone with a military background, the smart money is on candidates like General Jones, or Virginia Senator James Webb, who won the Navy Cross in Vietnam, and later served as Navy Secretary under President Reagan. But, Webb’s out sized ego and legendary temper present their own problems, something that Obama and his advisers might want to avoid.
It also seems evident that the vetting team is looking for someone who won’t hog the limelight from Obama. That’s why a retired general makes sense; someone with legitimate credentials in national security, but no threat to the candidate’s “rock star” status.
Following that logic, it’s no wonder that those retired generals are being discussed as potential running mates. That may also explain why Tony McPeak was such an early backer of Obama, sensing an opportunity for bigger and better things if the senator won the nomination. McPeak is still a longshot for the VP slot, but the fact he’s in the mix speaks volumes about Obama’s selection process.
The GOP should be very happy that Obama is considering someone like General McPeak. Putting him on the ticket would be cause for celebration. He's one retired flag officer who can bring out the vote--for John McCain.