Is Sarah Palin a token?

I have long respected the views of the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, even when I occsionally disagree with them. I am therefore mulling over her vigorous dissent from Senator McCain’s selection of Governor Palin as his running mate in “Sarah Palin (R-Diversity).” Mac Donald foresees that, as a result of Palin’s selection, Senator McCain “has just ensured that the diversity racket will be an essential component of presidential politics forever more.” Mac Donald laments that “from now on, any presidential ticket that consists solely of white males—no matter their qualifications—will likely be dead in the water.” If true, that would be profoundly unfortunate.

Mac Donald acknolwedges (some of) Governor Palin’s strengths:

Palin brings traditional political strengths—such as gun enthusiasm and a pro-life record—to the ticket. Her fight against self-dealing in Alaskan politics counters the inside-the-Beltway corruption that damaged the Republicans in the 2006 elections. And her stance on drilling for Alaskan oil admirably bolsters the Republican Party platform on energy issues.

But Mac Donald complains that McCain would not have selected Palin were she not a woman:

[A]dmit it, fellow conservatives: none of these attributes pushed her over the top. Your enthusiasm for her is driven in large measure by the fact that the McCain camp has beaten the Democrats at their own game, and in so doing, driven Obama’s moment of glory off the wires.

Mac Donald concedes that political considerations necessarily affect the vice presidential selection, but objects to the injection of the usual Democratic identity politics here:

Presidential politics, and especially vice-presidential selections, have always been driven by sectionalism, poll-driven voter segmentation and demographics, and economic stratification. But race and gender are different than whether someone comes from a Sun Belt state or can appeal to disaffected auto workers. Race and gender are almost never a valid job qualification. Yet they have taken over in field after field—whether in the hiring of lawyers and selection of judges, in the choice of books and art to which students will be exposed from the moment that they step into a classroom, in the composition of police and fire departments, or in the selection of corporate boards. This tendency must be fought, not capitulated to.

I think Mac Donald is invoking utopian standards that give short shrift to Palin’s bona fide politcal appeal. The political considerations that support Palin’s selection are legitimate. This is an elective office we’re talking about, after all. Indeed, Mac Donald’s article is pushing me in the opposite direction. All things considered, including her political views, her record in office, her personal attributes, her complementarity with John McCain and her authentic appeal, Sarah Palin may be the best person for the job. She is almost certainly a good one for the job, especially compared with Joe Biden, whose executive responsibilites have been limited to running his mouth. But Mac Donald has me thinking.

UPDATE: This Washington Post article by Dan Balz and Robert Barnes comports with my comments and suggests that the gender component of Palin’s qualifications has been vastly overestimated. See also Lisa Schiffren’s column, which is the City Journal counterpart to Mac Donald’s column. On the merits, Schiffren concludes, it couldn’t get much better than Palin, “not even if she were a man.”

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