As a counterpoint to Paul’s post below on Sarah Palin–Paul and Charles Krauthammer are two of the few conservatives who continue to be unhappy with John McCain’s selection of Palin, or at least who are vocal about it–today’s Zogby poll shows McCain and Palin ahead of Obama and Biden by four points. Rasmussen Reports has the tickets tied for the first time in a long while, maybe ever, with one more day to go before the Republicans’ convention bounce is fully reflected.
It may be that the chord Sarah Palin has struck with American voters is just more evidence of the voters’ gullibility, and that she is as much a fad as Barack Obama was six to twelve months ago. But I don’t think it is obvious that this is true. A great many Americans believe that a long-time Washington insider is likely to be co-opted by Washington ways, and that an outsider is more apt to shake up the ways in which business is done in D.C. Those who watched the Republican Congress between 1994 and 2006 are likely to admit that this view has merit.
Someone who has not spent decades in Washington will almost inevitably be subject to the charge of inexperience. Yet does anyone think that Joe Biden’s career in the Senate, however long it may have been, makes him a good prospect to be President? We know for sure that hardly any Democratic primary voters thought so.
Obama and Palin both are conventionally viewed as young and–relatively, at least–inexperienced. But they are hardly babes in the woods; Obama is 47 and Palin 44. Napoleon was 46 at the time of Waterloo. Washington was 44 when he took command of the Continental Army. Lincoln, who was sometimes referred to by his staff as “the Ancient,” was all of 52 when he became President.
Krauthammer thinks that by selecting Palin, McCain threw away his best argument, the fact that his own qualifications are so obviously superior to Obama’s. That was my concern, too, when I first learned of the Palin pick. But it fails to give enough emphasis to the basic fact that Obama is running for President, not Vice President. It also fails to acknowledge that Obama and Palin, being middle-aged, do have track records, and those records are very different. Obama has never been a reformer. He has always been a careerist. Wherever he has gone, he has left an extraordinarily light footprint. He has had little or no impact.
The opposite is true of Palin. She entered politics as an outsider–in Alaska!–and as a reformer. Wherever she has gone, she has made a difference. In political terms, her record usefully shows up the fact that Obama is a poseur.
Paul’s concern about Palin is substantive, not political. He really doesn’t think she is qualified, by experience, to be President. But she isn’t running for President, she is running for Vice President. If I thought that John McCain is likely to go the way of William Henry Harrison, I’d be concerned too. But not as worried as I would be at the thought of either Obama or Biden acceding to the Presidency.
In assessing Palin’s experience, one fact that is often overlooked is that she has run a small business for a number of years. That, in my view, is an important qualification that too few of our recent Presidents have had. What we need above all in a President is judgment. There is an adage that good judgment comes from experience. Where does experience come from? Bad judgment. If you are running a small business and make a mistake, you will pay for it. Over a period of years, the result is good judgment.
There are few places where bad judgment is so routinely tolerated as Washington. There is perhaps nowhere in the world where there is so little accountability, where bad judgment goes so routinely unpunished, as the U.S. Senate. This is why Joe Biden can be wrong about every major foreign policy issue for decades, and still be regarded as an “expert” in the field.
All of this is to say that, while I, like Paul, would be happier if Palin had more seasoning, I don’t think the voters who see Palin as “one of us,” who like the fact that she hasn’t been corrupted by decades in Washington, who don’t mind that she has spent most of her life working at the unglamorous tasks of earning a living and raising a family rather than being kowtowed to as a member of the Senate, are necessarily wrong.
Palin is off to an impressive start on the national stage. Last Wednesday, she performed courageously and skillfully under conditions of almost unimaginable pressure. Between now and November her skill and judgment will be tested further. By then, I think the voters will have a pretty good idea whether she has what it takes to be President, and I’m betting the answer will be Yes. I also think John McCain, whose extraordinary energy and resilience make him a force of nature, is good for quite a few years yet.
UPDATE: Today’s Gallup Poll has McCain up by three over Obama. That’s an eleven-point swing since McCain announced Governor Palin is his running mate, with one more day to go before all polling is post-McCain’s acceptance speech. A month ago, no one imagined that either McCain’s veep choice or the Republican convention would have this kind of impact.
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