Kathryn Lopez

I do not know who the Republican nominee for president of the United States will be, but whoever he is, his pick for vice president should be Bill Bennett.

William J. Bennett has both name recognition and respect. The children of a friend of mine illustrated this best when she ran into Bennett this fall. "Oh I know him, he wrote 'The Book of Virtues,'" one of hers said. Quickly, another interrupted: "No, silly, he was drug czar." "No," the third protested, "Bill Bennett was education secretary."

They were all right, which not only indicates the breadth of his experience, but also a comforting and practical reality for any American who wants his or her president well-served. The bonus: That substantial Bennett package also comes with excellent communications skills. Trained in philosophy, Bennett would be an effective spokesman for an administration. As one D.C. hand put it to me, "Bill is among the handful of best conservatives who appear on television and debate: He's very smart and well-informed, quick on his feet, clever and humorous, doesn't back down and speaks like a human being, not like a person who's been handed talking points."

In fact, Bob Dole asked the former education secretary to be his running mate in 1996. Bennett declined the opportunity. Also in 2000, conservative columnist Robert D. Novak insisted Bush ask Bennett to be veep. However, as much as he loves public service, Bennett was never that interested in the idea. As Novak relayed, "He would rather spend a Saturday afternoon playing football with his young sons than shaking the hands of voters."

But Bill and his wife, Elayne, president of the Best Friends Foundation, are now empty-nesters. When I recently asked him if he would consider the vice presidency this time, he replied: "I have been asked to consider this seriously twice before and said 'no' each time -- the timing wasn't right then. But sure, I wouldn't mind being asked again, and sure, I'd think about it."

The fact is Bennett's country and party may need him. The elephant in the GOP room right now is the real possibility that the nominee could be former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who favors legal abortion. For a party that has been pining for the next Ronald Reagan to have a nominee who disagrees with such a key component of the 1980 platform could be a deal-breaker.

But what if Giuliani announced early on in the primary process that he had an established, respected social conservative ready to run with him? If Giuliani is the GOP future, Bennett on the ticket assuages concerns.

If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, Bennett would still provide gravitas and a deep well of political, conservative experience for a northeast businessman who recently evolved into a conservative on some key issues. This could also help Sen. John McCain (Arizona) because Bennett is a known conservative commodity in a way that McCain, who frequently irks conservatives on key issues, will never be. If former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tennessee) somehow makes it to the top, Bennett could provide heft and energy to a ticket that would otherwise have a lazy rep.

Author of multiple bestsellers and a two-time Cabinet secretary, Bennett is currently a daily radio talk-show host, CNN commentator and Claremont Institute think-tanker, with victory in the war on terror weighing on his mind. For a guy who could be retired and resting on his laurels, Bennett still has the Right fight in him.

At 64, Bennett does not need to be vice president. He has led a full life of service. He has had his trash gone through, and he has put up with the nonsense. However, he also realizes that not only are America's best days ahead of her, but so are some of her direst challenges. He is someone who understands the threats, foreign and domestic. He is someone who does not desire to be top dog, but only to be listened to. And he will not be running a campaign while being the president's invaluable eyes, ears and confidante. Bill Bennett may be exactly what the GOP nominee -- and America -- needs.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.