Mystery, Alaska

48 hours after the announcement, I’ve figured out where I stand on the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.

While I like the idea of a Sarah Palin, and think the lady herself has some potential, right now she is not a good choice to be Vice-President of the United States. More importantly, I’m concerned about what this tells us about Senator McCain, and how he would approach his term in office.

First, we should define what a vice-president actually does. The US Constitution is pretty vague. The only specific duty mentioned is in the 25th Amendment (Presidential Disability and Succession), which states the instances (such as the president’s death or inability to discharge duties) where the VP would take over. Aside from that, the only specific duty is to cast the tie-breaking vote if the senate is deadlocked. Tough job. In addition to that, the VP generally does what the president decides, and attends to ceremonial functions.

So beyond that, the best way to determine what role a vice-president would have in a McCain administration is to see what the man himself had to say about it:

“The fundamental principle behind any selection of a running mate would be whether that person is fully prepared to take over, and shares your values, your principles, your philosophy and your priorities,” he said. “I think that’s the first and only real criteria for the selection of a running mate.”

On the surface, it looks like Palin shares many of McCain’s values, principles, philosophies, and priorities. But is she fully prepared to take over?

This is not an insignificant consideration, given that Sen. McCain just turned 72, which is coming up to the end of his natural lifespan, and has a history of skin cancer. Plus, any advantage that good genes would give him is probably offset by the years of smoking, and the 5-6 years he spent as a POW.

So, as morbid as it sounds, the odds of Sen. McCain not surviving until 2012 are a lot higher than for a normal presidential candidate. We then must pay peculiar attention to whether or not Gov. Palin is ready to step up if needed. There is precedent for this. In 1944, Democratic leaders pushed to dump Vice-President Henry Wallace from the ticket in favour of the more reliable Harry S. Truman. While Sen. McCain in ’08 is in better health than FDR was in ’44, this situation does show the relative seriousness that is required when you’re dealing with a president in failing health.

Some things to consider:

– On paper, she has the thinnest resume of anyone to appear on a major presidential ticket since Jimmy Carter. And Carter had served a full-term as governor of Georgia (a much larger state than Alaska), in addition to time in the state senate, and heading up the DNC Congressional and Gubernatorial campaigns in ’74, so the man from Plains had a longer resume than she does today.

Now, experience isn’t the be all end all, and it can be a liability if it’s removed you from day-to-day life for too long. Many experienced politicians have turned out to be duds in leadership roles, and many inexperiences ones have turned out to be very good. So the best we can do is look at her past judgment to try and get an idea of how her decision-making skills would play out should she become president.

– Until such time as she is proven guilty, I will give her the benefit of the doubt on “Troopergate”. But the fact that she didn’t properly vet her hand-picked replacement is problematic.

– However, there is reason to think that this might not be the first time she’s fired someone over personal feelings if she is indeed found guilty.

– Her opposition to pork barreling is exaggerated.

– As Mayor of Wasilla, she pushed forward, and badly managed the process of building a rec centre, which is significantly squeezing the city’s budget.

– Her public comments on the Iraq War so far don’t show that a lot of serious consideration has been given to the issue. Contrast this with someone like Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who clearly understands the real world impact of some of the decisions about how the war has been carried out.

Now, Palin almost certainly has thoughts on the war, and many other national issues, but there is no public record of them, and in the few opportunities she’s had to air her thoughts, she leaves a lot to be desired. Especially for someone who could conceivably be the commander-in-chief. With most politicians who lack conventional experience, we at least have a record of them giving serious thought and having serious conversations with serious people about the issues of the day. That has yet to come to light for Governor Palin.

There are a number of issues where I differ from her stances, (covered well here), but those are my personal biases. But in terms of her performance as an executive, I see a lot more bad than good in her record.

So, to sum it up, do we have evidence she meets “the fundamental principle behind any running mate”? I don’t see it. She has very little experience, and none we can see dealing with broad domestic issues (except for some work on energy). Moreover, she has no foreign policy experience, and the few statements she’s made in the public record leave a lot to be desired.

Should she receive the benefit of the doubt? Maybe. Could she be brought up to speed on the issues over the next four months? Conceivably, but I don’t know where she’s going to find time to do that while campaigning full-time and theoretically still running the state government in Alaska.

This isn’t just about Palin. It’s also about the judgment Senator McCain has shown in making his selection. The Senator has spent the past number of years arguing two things:

1. He is a maverick, not beholden to anyone, especially special interests both inside and outside his party.
2. The war on terror, and the threat of Islamic Jihadism is the transcendent issue of our times.

So, in the first major decision of his presidential campaign (post-primary), he chooses a VP who:

1. Is short on accomplishments, but long on criteria that satisfies his base.
2. Has no foreign policy experience and of whom we’re uncertain of what level of knowledge on the issues she has.

McCain could have made a daring choice. He could have defied his base and chose a pro-choice VP with national security credentials – former homeland security director Tom Ridge or Connecticut Senator Joe Liebermann, both of whom were rumoured to be on the short list.

If he didn’t want to focus all on national security, he could have gone for a mold-breaker in another direction. Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, both highly successful businesswomen and McCain supporters, would have been groundbreaking in two ways. First, they would have been the first women on a GoP ticket, and second overall behind ’84 Democratic running mate Geraldine Ferraro. Second, as career businesswomen, either one would have been the first non-politician on a major party ticket in over 50 years, President Eisenhower being the last.

They also would have offered the benefit of being strong on the economy, McCain’s self-professed weakness.

McCain could have had a qualified, ground-breaking running mate. He could have bucked the party trend, showing real leadership and a real maverick streak.

Instead, Palin got picked because he wants someone who shares his values, principles, philosophy and priorities. In crass terms, he wants a mini-me. She got picked because she satisfies the neo-cons, and she can play well on the campaign trail, not because she can help govern.

A year and a half ago while backing the unpopular Iraq surge, McCain said “I’d rather lose an election than lose a war”, which is an honourable position to take. I don’t see that same principle in McCain today. He picked a promising governor of one of the smallest, most remote states and is willing to put her next in line for the presidency on the hopes that she can swing voters towards his campaign.

That may work out for him in the short term, but it’s a huge, unnecessary risk for the US in the long term. The willingness to do that should give anyone pause about supporting the McCain/Palin ticket.

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One Response

  1. My response can be found here.

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