Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain's Choice for VP: Political Cynicism (update)

Yesterday I posted my initial thoughts about John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. After listening to several pundits, reading several articles (both online and in print), talking to some friends and family, and, most importantly, thinking about the issue for myself, I thought that I'd add a few more thoughts on the nomination.

I thought that John McCain was supposed to be a "maverick". I guess that we're supposed to be impressed by his decision to choose someone from outside of Washington who has "history" of going against party insiders. But let's take a closer look at that. First, there is a thin line between being a maverick and being reckless. Yes, Gov. Palin comes from way outside of Washington; so far outside, in fact, that it will be interesting to see if she knows much, if anything, about national (let alone international) issues. In fact, Palin herself said just a month or so ago that she didn't even know what the Vice President does! Speaking on CNBC's Kudlow & Co., Palin said:

As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day? I'm used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.
And this is the person that Sen. McCain wants to be our Vice President, a heartbeat away from the Presidency? I'll be interested to hear Gov. Palin's plans for healthcare, renewable energy (after all, Alaska's oil won't last forever), and social security reform. How would Gov. Palin handle the Russian invasion of Georgia, Iran's nuclear ambitions, or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Of course, I already know that she's pro-NRA, anti-abortion, and opposed to gay rights.

As to this notion that she has a "history" of fighting political corruption and going against party insiders, there is both truth and exaggeration in the claim. Yes, she won the job as Alaska's governor by challenging the old guard and taking on political corruption and for that she should be applauded. Of course, it is worth noting that the incumbent governor that Palin defeated was, according to polls conducted in Alaska, the most unpopular governor in the country with an approval rating of just 14%! And just how politically difficult was it really to kill the "bridge to nowhere" given that it was being built at the behest of (and to honor) now-indicted Senator Ted Stevens and made Alaska somewhat of a laughing stock to the rest of the country? It is also worth noting that she apparently expressed support for the bridge until it became a national symbol of wasteful spending.

And let's not forget that the Alaskan legislature, just a few weeks ago, launched an ethics inquiry aimed at Gov. Palin. The charge is that she fired Alaska's public safety commissioner because he, in turn, had refused to fire a state trooper who was going through a messy divorce with Gov. Palin's sister.

One of the most disturbing things that I've heard over the last 24 hours is the Republican drumbeat recitation that Gov. Palin has as much or more experience as Barack Obama. Huh? If I understand the argument, it is that Sen. Obama has only been an attorney, community activist and organizer, law school lecturer (not to mention president of the Harvard Law Review), state legislator, and United States Senator, while Gov. Palin has, in her capacity as mayor and now governor, actually managed something. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that argument. First, the town that Gov. Palin led was only 25% bigger than my high school. Viewed another way, the town of Wasilla, Alaska, has only about 10% as many people as the number of people who worked in the World Trade Center on any given day before 9/11. I don't accept, for a moment, that her experience as mayor of Wasilla was, in any way, comparable to that of either Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden. Similarly, with regard to her role as governor of Alaska, again recall that Alaska's population is about 670,000 (I don't think that number includes moose...), only about 85% of the population of Indianapolis. Indianapolis has had some terrific mayors (Bill Hudnut, Steve Goldsmith, Bart Peterson), but I don't think that any of them would necessarily have had the experience to be Vice President, let alone President. In fact, in his acceptance speech Thursday night, the audience at Mile High Stadium was equal to about 12% of the entire population of Alaska! And, don't forget, that the Gov. Palin's much-ballyhooed gubernatorial experience comprises a whopping 20 months! So, frankly, to anyone who tries to equate Gov. Palin's "experience" with that of either Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden, all I can say is stop smoking whatever you're smoking. (I will commend the Republicans for managing to get their political supporters on the same page and stick to their "talking points" even if it does make them look foolish.)

One thing that does scare me is how appealing Gov. Palin (and her husband) may be to certain segments of the electorate. The fact that she hunts (moose, no less) and fishes will, at least to some, far outweigh the fact that she has no experience dealing with national or international issues. She will certainly be a counterpoint to Sen. Obama's alleged elitism (which, I hope, the Democratic Convention put to rest). I just hope that people decide to vote based on the issues and not just on which candidate looks more like them or which candidate they'd prefer to have over for a beer and a mooseburger.

I think that The Indianapolis Star's Matthew Tully described Sen. McCain's choice very well:

This is what McCain does with his first big executive decision? Seriously, does anyone reading this believe McCain looked at his lineup of potential running mates and honestly said, "You know, I really think Sarah Palin is the Republican best suited to serve as my vice president?"

Of course not.

Instead, it appears he looked at the polls and focus groups and decided to play politics with the most important decision he'll make during this campaign.

Unless the rest of the world is missing something, it seems clear McCain's decision was made for blatant, pandering reasons -- a desperate attempt to win over women, especially disaffected Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters, while puckering up to conservatives.

Sen. McCain is supposed to be a maverick and his pick of Gov. Palin is supposed to demonstrate that. Instead, the pick demonstrates that Sen. McCain is resorting to the worst kind of focus-group politics, in this case gender politics, to win the Presidency. I'd so hoped that the efforts of Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton would have begun to put an end to that kind of political cynicism. I guess that Sen. McCain the Republicans haven't gotten the memo yet. Hopefully, come November, they will learn the hard way.

This is the second post in a series. Part one was posted on August 29, 2008.


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