A heartbeat from the presidency

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By John Barnhart

While President Bush heads off to the Beijing Olympics to plant a big wet kiss on Hu Jintao's rear end, others of us are wondering who the two major party candidates are going to pick as their running mates.

There's been a lot of speculation. Some think that John McCain ought to pick somebody who will bring economic expertise to the ticket. On the "Democratic" side, there's been speculation that Barack Obama will choose Tim Kaine.

I think this would be a good idea as, assuming Kaine would have to resign his office as governor, it would get Kaine out of Virginia. I'm not sure that it would be a great benefit to Obama. Obama has neither executive nor extensive legislative experience and it seems he would be better served by somebody who could make up for that weakness. Not Hillary Clinton, of course. If he chose her and won, it would mean he also gets Slick Willy. Having this conniving duo at the top of his administration, undermining it, would be the last thing he would need. He will have enough trouble as it is, without that mess.

The most important thing, for both candidates, is to choose somebody who will be able to be president, and hit the ground running, if something happens to the president. That's why the office exists, to provide for quick, smooth succession, should the president die in office or be incapacitated.

We need to look closely at who both of these men choose. McCain's age makes the possibility of him dying in office greater. He'll be 72 when he takes the oath of office, should he be elected. Let's not forget, however, that Obama, at 46, is not immortal. An incident on a campaign flight last month should remind us of that.

Obama's campaign plane took off, but shortly afterward had to return to the airport. The pilots were having trouble leveling the aircraft. It turned out that the problem was caused by an inflatable escape ramp in the tail that had inflated in flight. Although nothing bad happened, this was serious as it could have interfered with the equipment that allows the pilots to operate the control surfaces on the aircraft's tail. This could have caused a fatal crash.

Back in 1960, John F. Kennedy was running for president. He was 43 years old, three years younger that Obama is now. Obama is apparently healthy and so was Kennedy, other than a back injury suffered during the war. Nevertheless, Kennedy did not live to finish his term of office. On Nov. 22, 1963, he became the fourth American president to be assassinated.

No American president has ever died in an accident, but that doesn't say it can't happen. No American president, since Kennedy, has been assassinated. But that doesn't mean it can't happen. Ronald Reagan almost became the fifth. He was seriously wounded in the attempt and it was only the quick thinking of a Secret Service agent, who diverted the motorcade to the nearest hospital, that saved the president.

None of us, no matter our age or health, is guaranteed tomorrow. The same is true of the President of the United States. This is why I've always been so uneasy about the fact that Dick "Quail Hunter" Cheney is our current vice president.

Despite what some people who have held the office have said about it (one said it wasn't worth a warm bucket of a certain body fluid) we need to take it seriously. We need to consider how we feel about the fact that either vice-presidential candidate will be a heartbeat from the presidency if his ticket is elected. This is why I fervently hope that McCain does not pick Mit Romney, who is neither conservative nor honest.

When McCain and Obama choose their running mates, they need to forget about regional ticket balancing nonsense or whether the running mate comes from an important swing state. They each need a running mate who would make a good president and we need to consider whether we approve of the choice.