After John McCain announced the choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin I wrote a blog entry on how I thought she was a smart pick. Given how poorly McCain looks in a race against Obama, he needed a game changer, someone who could shore up his base and maybe appeal to Hillary voters. However, in praising his choice I made some assumptions. First, I assumed that McCain had, like Obama, talked with his potential VPs often and with depth, and that the vetting process had been extensive. As it stands, it appears McCain had only one short conversation with her, and that was months ago. While the campaign says she was ‘just as vetted’ as the others, there are questions. Was the pick done perhaps out of panic after the Democrats unified in Denver?
Second, I assumed that Palin had strong credentials as governor. I wrote that if her judgment were sound, she didn’t need foreign policy experience. However, unlike Obama, who has been to Harvard Law School, was the first black to head the Harvard Law Review, and who has worked with a variety of people the community before going into politics, she comes off as a light weight. She used beauty pagents to get through college (Northern Idaho), receiving a non-descript journalism degree. She hasn’t shown much knowledge of the world, and her main credentials seem to be that she’s a life long gun owner who believes we should drill for oil here at home.
In short, I had assumed that McCain had done his homework and was assured that there was substance behind this woman. Now it seems he simply reacted to his February conversation with her, thinking her a ‘kindred spirit,’ perhaps charmed by an attractive young woman (you know how some men think with their….you fill in the blank). There are more questions than answers, and McCain’s big bit about who might have power in a terror crisis seems to turn against him with Palin as his VP choice. I had also thought that perhaps she was a model of a modern marriage; a family with a number of children while the wife holds an important job. It turns out that her husband doesn’t seem too much into raising the kids, and they’ve relied on family a lot. And while Obama is right to say her 17 year old daughter’s pregnancy is not something to use in the campaign, one does have to wonder what kind of values she instilled to her children.
I lean to the theory that this was a Rove inspired pick designed to mollify and energize the Republican base. Palin would be the anti-Bush, the young face of a GOP which was growing old with the American public, an attractive woman to balance the attractive man put forth by the Democrats. On paper it looks enticing, but the more one looks at the reality, the more problemmatic it becomes.
Alaskan newspapers question whether she’s qualified to run Alaska, let alone the country. Cindy McCain defended her foreign policy expertise by saying that Alaska is close to Russia. Huh? Knowledge through osmosis because another country is close by? Her time on city councils and as a small town mayor had controversies, and currently she’s involved in an ethics dispute involving abuse of power. She’s untested on the ‘big stage’ where every word will be scrutinized, and every flub magnified. Her lack of experience compared to Obama is so extreme that not only does it take experience off the table for the GOP, but makes it a legitimate point for the Democrats.
So I take back my blog entry of last Saturday, when I said Palin was a smart choice. I had assumed things I shouldn’t have, and am shocked by what I’ve found out. Moreover, I think one has to really question McCain’s judgment if he chose a VP on the basis of only one conversation. It’s clear he was going from the gut, a reaction to perhaps some discussions within the campaign, without really taking the time to analyze and investigate. I’ve earlier speculated that McCain is intellectually lazy. This seems to prove it. His first “Presidential” decision and he makes it on the fly, apparently without much work or thought. Moreover, the Democrats have been able to define her first, despite the GOP convention, suggesting that the Republicans were way underprepared for what they’d encounter. In short, it was incompetent decision making.
To be sure, she does have a kind of ‘average American’ appeal, and that part of the choice does appeal to me. We focus so much on professional politicians and people with strong educations that there is a seductive thought: ‘what if some strong person with common sense was given the job rather than an ambitious politician?’ On the other hand, the idea that ‘creationism’ should be taught in public schools is a sure loser, even most Christians don’t deny evolution — and the Catholic Church is fine with seeing the big bang as the act of creation. She can “refine” her positions, but still, in an election this important she’s an extreme risk.
One of the main reasons I originally considered this a smart pick was because McCain is in trouble. After Denver, and with Gustav swamping the GOP convention on the news, he needed something dramatic. A Republican agent of change, corruption fighting, average woman yet attractive and tough headed looked good. And perhaps my first post will ultimately be proven correct and this retraction will be seen as the error. Yet the more I learn, the clearer it is that this pick undercuts the strongest GOP argument against Obama. I start to wonder if Sarah Palin won’t suffer the same fate as Thomas Eagleton in 1972 (the Democratic VP nominee who, after it came out he had been treated for depression years earlier, dropped out and was replaced by Sargent Shriver).
So my blog now contains two contradictory posts. Sarah Palin: A Smart Pick, and Sarah Palin: A Dumb Pick. As a blogger, I can easily change my mind once I gather more information. For a Presidential candidate, however, the stakes are much higher. John McCain had better hope that my first post was more on the money than my current thinking about the choice.