Time magazine's report that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has former Missouri Sen. John Danforth at the top of his running-mate list is good news on several fronts. First, it shows that Mr. Bush was never that serious about picking Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Though Catholic, Mr. Ridge opposes restrictions on abortion in most circumstances. He would have been a bitter pill for pro-life and conservative religious voters to swallow. Most would not have been able to reconcile Mr. Bush's convictions about the importance of protecting human life in law with someone who feels differently. Second, Mr. Danforth is the moral opposite of the Clinton-Gore sleaze machine. In a profile of Mr. Danforth last fall, CNN referred to him as "a man of high integrity who put principle above partisan politics during his years of elective service." There are not many about whom that can be said. Currently he is winding up an investigation of the 1993 government assault on the Branch Davidian cult headquarters in Waco, Texas. He has kept such a low profile that most people probably have forgotten he was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno to head the inquiry. Third, Mr. Danforth is an ordained Episcopal minister. Episcopalianism is not associated in the public mind with the so-called "religious right." It's hard to name a member of that denomination who can be tied to fanaticism or "intolerance," as the pagan left often labels people with deep religious convictions. He will be nearly impossible to smear, though that doesn't mean Democratic strategists won't try. Fourth, Mr. Danforth was the Senate general who led the battle over confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas. That alone will recommend him to the GOP's conservative wing, which is dissatisfied with contemporary Republican politics and what it sees as Republican wishy-washiness following the Reagan years. Mr. Danforth was an early supporter of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, though he warned against the process becoming partisan, which it did when Democrats put power above principle. In a 1998 interview on PBS' NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, Mr. Danforth said, "It would be a very bad thing for our country if we came out of all this and said, in effect, 'Well, it's okay to commit perjury, it's not all that bad,' or 'It's okay to obstruct justice.'" It was a bad thing for the country because lying under oath did indeed earn our collective indifference. Mr. Danforth could take the role of a sermonizer and, while not appearing holier-than-others, show us not only why we went wrong but speak the words and set the example that will guide us away from the moral darkness of the last eight years and in the direction of nobler things. Mr. Danforth could also serve as a kind of "older brother" to Mr. Bush, assuring the public that someone of proven maturity is always on call. Not that Mr. Bush isn't mature, but polls (whipped by the media) indicate public concern about the "smirk" and occasional appearance of cockiness. If Mr. Bush is elected there will be time enough for him to disprove the image, but Mr. Danforth would give voters a reason not to worry in November. A key Al Gore organizer in St. Louis, upon being informed of Mr. Bush's interest in Mr. Danforth, is quoted by Time as letting loose with a string of expletives before grudgingly acknowledging Mr. Danforth's popularity among the critical moderate and independent voters. Mr. Bush has said that his choice of a running mate will be the most important he makes this year. It also will tell us more about the presidential candidate and what is meaningful to him. If John Danforth, in fact, leads the list, Mr. Bush could hardly do better.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate