Perspectives on the Palin pick

Charles Krauthammer continues to find John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin “deeply problematic.” He writes:

The gamble is enormous. In a stroke, McCain gratuitously forfeited his most powerful argument against Obama. And this was even before Palin’s inevitable liabilities began to pile up — inevitable because any previously unvetted neophyte has “issues.” The kid. The state trooper investigation. And worst, the paucity of any Palin record or expressed conviction on the major issues of our time.

McCain’s one hope, according to Krauthammer, is that Palin “pulls an Obama” – i.e., overcomes the thinness of her biography through “star power.” Krauthammer questions whether Palin can pull this off in nine weeks. But in our society, stars can be created overnight, and this may have already happened with Palin. The real problem may be that nine weeks is long enough for a star to lose its luster.

Krauthammer’s analysis is confined to the politics of the Palin selection. Her qualifications for office (or lack thereof) factor into his equation only to the degree that they might hurt the ticket politically.

Political considerations always enter into the selection of the vice presidential nominee, as they should. But no politician would ever publicly express the intent to allow political considerations to dictate the selection of a running mate who is unqualified to serve as president. In fact, McCain publicly stated that fitness for the presidency would be his primary consideration in selecting a running mate. Indeed, all presidential candidates say this. That’s because we would seriously question the fitness for the presidency of any candidate who did not say it.

In sum, we expect presidential candidates to consider politics when selecting a running mate, but not to the point of selecting one who is unqualified to serve as president. Only in the extreme case where the presidential candidate cannot win except by running with an unqualified running mate should we be other than disappointed by the nomination of such a running mate.

It can be argued that McCain was in this position. But some argue instead (or alternatively) that Sarah Palin’s credentials are adequate. These arguments are mostly laughable. We are told that she was a courageous whistle-blower. But whistling-blowing isn’t evidence of leadership skill, administrative ability, or familiarity with vital policy issues. We are told that Palin challenged an incumbent governor and called him out for his corruption. But mounting an insurgent’s campaign for governor isn’t evidence of fitness for the presidency either. We are told that she is responsible for her state’s national guard and visited its troops in Iraq. How this amounts to foreign policy or national security experience, or otherwise qualifies Palin for national office, is unclear.

What’s clear is that if Democrats made these sorts of arguments on behalf of a candidate for national office, conservative commentators would excoriate them for it.

It’s true, of course, that no governor really obtains meaningful national security or foreign policy experience. (Many Senators don’t get much of it either, though by voting on these issues they at least enable us to test their judgment). But governors who have served for an extended period of time obtain important executive administrative experience that is directly relevant to serving as president. It’s very difficult to find someone with both extensive executive experience and a background in foreign policy/national security. People like the current vice president don’t grow on trees. But we expect one or the other from a nominee for president. Palin lacks both.

That’s why those who defend Palin’s qualifications typically end up moving to more defensible terrain — the argument that her credentials compare favorably to Obama’s. This may constitute an additional reason to vote for McCain, but it’s not a defense of McCain’s selection of Palin.

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