09/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Exciting And Distracting Veepstakes

If you're on the trail to discover Obama's or McCain's VP choice, you're on the pulse of the momentum of the campaign. All political sleuths are tracking down clues. Everyone's scratching names off their short lists. Advice-givers and soothsayers control the dialogue. All bets are on the name of the final pick. The crescendo: the announcement. The two candidates on the ticket stand together on stage and hold hands. Their spouses hug. Balloons spring into space. Applause rings out. A few headlines use exclamation points. And then the VP slips backstage to wait until called on again.

What's the Real Prize for the Voters?

Self-congratulation for getting the second name on the ticket right.

What's Wrong with the Prize?

Nothing for politics as usual. The process is the same for both the Democrat and Republican campaigns. Voters become familiar with the names of the main contenders. After the betting, the winning name makes the news. Betters get to say, "I told you so. But inherent in that seemingly natural political progression a lot has already gone wrong--at least for the voters.

The treasure hunt itself is the problem. Why have a hunt in the first place? Why the elaborate ceremony of clue chasing? Why don't candidates just show up at the convention with their pick?

At worst the hunt substitutes for participatory democracy. It may be fun to try to put together the clues. It may be ego building to name the name. But this isn't a game show. In reality, voters don't vote for the VP. Candidates select them. Another at worst: the excitement of the hunt makes up for the absence of excitement for the VP choice. That's one reason supporters want Hillary on the ticket. At least the excitement is for the candidate herself. And that's rare. Of other leading contenders, Richardson is the closet in positions to his Number One. On the Republican side, all candidates must rely on the excitement of the hunt itself.

The Hope of The Hunt

There is one benefit to such a hunt. It offers the voters a chance to test the political character and judgment of the presidential candidate. From his choice, we can learn just how much he will fight for his positions on which he was elected to run in the first place. From his choice, we can learn a lot about how he will govern once the administration is his to shape. A candidate chosen to get votes in a state is chosen for the wrong reasons--at least in terms of governance. A candidate chosen to fill in gaps is also a poor choice. The VP's role is not to fill in gaps in the presidential candidate's resume. The VP's role is to re-enforce the positions of the president, to do public relations work, and to wait in the wings in case something goes wrong. The presidential candidate owes it to the voters to choose someone who echoes his political positions. Otherwise, the voters have every right to feel betrayed.

While such testing rarely happens, voters should take the initiative to integrate it into the process. Voters should have the long lists and short lists of candidates and hold forums. And voters should be able to add names to the list. Which is it? We're either on the road to take back our country or we're willing to put it once again in the hands of the few.