That nervous laughter you hear is the sound of party activists responding to speculation that or might pick a vice presidential candidate from the opposing party.
More specifically, it is reaction to talk that Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) is being seriously considered as a running mate for Barack Obama or that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is a potential choice for John McCain.
Though it's nothing more than unfounded conjecture at this point, top conservative and liberal activists nevertheless say that any cross-party selection of that kind would thrust the respective party conventions into turmoil.
Hagel and Lieberman, both estranged from their own parties over their stances on the war in Iraq, are often mentioned as attractive candidates for the vice presidency for precisely that reason. Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, would offer some degree of validation to Obama's approach to Iraq, while Lieberman would do the same for McCain, with both offering the advantage of adding an air of bipartisanship to the ticket.
But all of that means squat to party activists. According to liberal activists, Hagel would be an insult to the causes that have defined their lives, from abortion rights to the role of government in public life.
"Hagel has certainly made some statements on the war in Iraq for which many Democrats would agree but he would be politically untenable to most Democrats as a vice president," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "Having someone who is against abortion, against gay rights, even protections against hate crimes, who would privatize Social Security, support school vouchers and no limits on gun ownership - he's a Republican, and he's a conservative Republican. I honestly don't understand why there is even speculation.
"Even Joe Lieberman is less conservative on most key Democratic issues than Chuck Hagel," added Gandy, "and I don't think many people would suggest Joe Lieberman as a good choice for Obama."
Among liberal activists, Gandy's sentiments were not unique.
"Hagel is attractive to Obama because he is anti-war. But he is anathema to much of the progressive base of the Democratic Party," said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America's Future, which holds one of the largest annual liberal conferences in the nation.
"Given Hagel's record on everything but Iraq, I'd be shocked if he was picked as a vice presidential nominee," said Ira Forman, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
Conservative leaders are similarly troubled by the notion of Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, on the GOP ticket. Though Lieberman endeared himself to many Republicans by standing with President Bush on the war in Iraq - a stance that nearly cost him his Senate seat - Lieberman's domestic liberalism is simply unpalatable to many on the right.
"Lieberman's a great pick for McCain if he doesn't want to president," said Tony Perkins, a Christian conservative leader who is the president of the Family Research Council.
Fellow social conservative leader Richard Land, the former director of the Southern Baptist Convention, called a possible Lieberman vice presidential pick "a catastrophe."
"This would be the kind of thing that could destroy McCain's campaign for the presidency," added Don Devine, the vice chairman of the American Conservative Union. "McCain might like to do this in some deep recesses of his heart, but I can't believe at the end of the day he would do it - and if he did, it would be disastrous. Lieberman is just too far out of any idea of conservatism. It's just crazy idea."
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"Lieberman is an impossible ice presidential choice," said Grover Norquist, a conservative anti-tax activist. "You don't average out a guy who votes hard left on economic matters because he has enthusiasm for occupying Mesopotamia."
There is, of course, a more formal stumbling block to out-of-the-box picks such as Hagel and Lieberman: the convention delegates themselves. Delegates have the opportunity to approve or disapprove the vice presidential nominee in a convention roll call vote. And liberal and conservative leaders said they could not conceive of a scenario in which either party's rank and file would approve the nomination of Lieberman or Hagel.
Still, that has failed to knock down rumors about the two. As recently as Sunday, veteran television newsman Dan Rather was lauding Hagel as the dark horse choice for Obama. Last month New York Magazine's John Heilemann named Hagel as one of three Obama options "getting a serious look in Chicago." Hagel himself told The Associated Press in June that if Obama offered him the vice presidency, "I would have to think about it."
Lieberman has consistently rebuffed the idea that he would again run for the vice presidency but speculation has not let up since January, when The Wall Street Journal reported that "McCain did little to dissuade" a town hall audience that he would consider Lieberman for the vice presidency. McCain had coyly remarked that the erstwhile Democrat could be a "great partner in any endeavor."
But a glance at the vote ratings complied by liberal and conservative groups illustrates why true believers are aghast over the prospect of Hagel and Lieberman.
On abortion issues, NARAL Pro Choice America gave Lieberman a perfect score of 100 in its 2007 scorecard; Hagel got a 0. The American Conservative Union's lifetime overall conservative rating of Hagel is 85 percent; Lieberman brings up the rear at 16 percent.
Neither McCain, who is struggling to win over social conservatives, nor Obama, who is struggling to bring feminists back into his fold, can afford to take either constituency for granted.
Still, those troublesome records on domestic policy haven't stopped Obama from embracing Hagel or McCain from embracing Lieberman. Hagel will accompany Obama on his first trip to Iraq later this month. Lieberman joined McCain when the presumptive Republican nominee took his requisite tour on the world stage earlier this year, an act that further alienated Lieberman from his own party.
There is now a website(http://liebermanmustgo.com), demanding Democrats eject Lieberman from their Senate caucus - an unlikely prospect at the moment because of the Democrats' narrow Senate majority. Yet that liberal ire has not translated into conservative ardor.
"I like Lieberman a lot. I would be delighted for Lieberman to be Secretary of State or Defense Secretary but not vice president, attorney general or a Supreme Court justice," Land said. "McCain would seriously deflate his base."
"What John McCain needs to is to shore up his support among social conservatives and fiscal conservative to the point that there is enthusiasm for his candidacy," added Perkins. "Certainly Lieberman is not that candidate."
Hagel's situation almost mirrors Lieberman's. Once aligned with McCain on the Iraq war, Hagel's opposition to President Bush's troop surge policy put him at odds with both McCain and conservative leaders.
"Let's say I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican," Vice President Dick Cheney said of Hagel's stand against the surge. "But it's very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved."
Yet even attacks from Cheney, who is reviled by liberals, haven't been enough to win progressives overto Hagel.
"Feminists would be appalled by the choice of an anti choice candidate like Hagel. Given the bitterness left over the primary it's inconceivable that Obama would make that choice," Borosage said.
By comparison, he added, if McCain selected Lieberman - "one of the most reviled politicians of the Democratic Party" - McCain "would mobilize the anti war base for Obama and he would further alienate Christian conservatives. Lieberman be a perfect choice from our viewpoint."
By David Paul Kuhn