Senator John McCain has been running a two track campaign for president: one is focused on issues like Iraq and off-shore oil drilling; the second attacks his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, for lacking the experience to hold the nation’s highest elected office. With the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, Senator McCain has irrevocably undermined that second track as Senator McCain cannot credibly claim Governor Palin is qualified to be president without acknowledging that Senator Obama is, too.
Senator McCain and his political advisorsclearly view choosing Governor Palin as a running mate is a game changing move. It is. It makes Senator McCain’s election far more unlikely. After all, the best argument for choosing Governor Palin as his vice president is that of all the possible selections, she was further away from where Katrina made landfall than any of them.
OK, that’s a bit harsh. Turning to Sarah Palin makes a lot of sense on some levels. Back in February I wrote about the political wisdom of Senator McCain choosing a woman as his running mate. I listed several choices, including one of Alaska’s Senators, but neglected to mention the state’s governor, Sarah Palin. So, of course, that’s who Senator McCain picks as his running mate.
One of the comments to my post got it right though. Someone who signed the post as DGB wrote: “What about the most popular governor in the nation? What about a young energetic new face? What about a solid evangelical conservative? Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, is a no brainer. It would be the smartest choice in years for a VP.”
And in many ways it is. Governor Palin satisfies the Republican party’s conservative wing. She’s anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment, against gay marriage, and, in her campaign, supported the teaching of creationism in Alaska’s schools. She also bolsters Senator McCain’s claim to being a reform-minded maverick. She defeated an incumbent GOP governor in 2006 and, once she took office, quickly passed a comprehensive ethics law. Prior to taking the Governor’s office she had gone after Republican officials for ethics violations resulting in their resignations. Her approval rating in Alaska hovers around 80 percent.
Add to all this the fact that she’s a mother of five children (the youngest of which has Down syndrome), is married to a part-Eskimo, is the former mayor of a small town and represents a new, younger generation of Republicans, and she is, as DGB said, a “no-brainer” as running mate.
However, she also undermines the Republicans strongest attack against Senator Barack Obama’scandidacy. In selecting Governor Palin, Senator McCain is proclaiming that, over everyone else in his party other than himself, she is most qualified to be President of the United States. Considering that Senator McCain, at 72, will be the oldest major party, non-incumbent nominee in history, this selection takes on even greater importance. Senator McCain is declaring Governor Palin is qualified to step in as president at any time. Yet consider:
- Senator McCain has said military service is an important criteria to be president and pointed out Senator Obama’slack of such service. Yet Governor Palin has never served in the military.
- Senator McCain’s claims Senator Obama lacks the experience to be president. They point out he’s only 47 years old and that the only elected offices he’s held was seven years in the Illinois State Legislature and three years in the United States Senate. Yet Governor Palin at 44 is even younger and her only elected offices was as city councilwoman (four years) and mayor (10 years) of Wasilla, Alaska (population less than 9,000) and less than two years as Alaska’s Governor.
- Senator McCain blasts his opponent for lacking experience in international affairs and on defense. Yet Senator Obama has served on the United State Senate’s Armed Services Committee for three years. Governor Palin has absolutely no international experience and her only defense experience stems from her position, as Alaska’s Governor, as being “comander in chief” of the state’s national guard unit.
Senator McCain can’t have it both ways. He can’t simultaneously claim Governor Palin is qualified to be President of the United States, but Senator Obama isn’t. He can’t claim Senator Obama lacks the experience to be president, without admitting Governor Palin doesn’t either. And if she is unqualified to be President of the United States, why did Senator McCain select her to be one heartbeat away from that position? Even if that heartbeat isn’t 72 years old, selecting a running mate someone unqualified assume the presidency is a disservice to the country that rises to the level of malpractice.
Governor Palin’s record is thinner than Senator Dan Quayle’s was in 1988 when then Vice President Bush selected him as a running mate — and they won that election. Yet in 1988, candidate Bush wasn’t facing the political challenge Senator McCain does. President Ronald Reagan may not have been as popular in 1996 as he is today, but his approval rating was far higher than is enjoyed by the current President George Bush. The economy was stronger and the country was safer in 1988 than it is 2008. The times call for a running mate with substance.
What makes this selection so politically pathetic is that, as I pointed out in that previous post, if his goal was to add a woman to the Republican ticket he had several choices. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, for example, has served in the United States Senate for 15 years, is part of the GOP leadership and is eight months younger than Senator Joe Biden. Senator McCain could have made history (the first woman on a Republican national ticket) and demonstrated his belief that experience matters. He didn’t.
In his acceptance speech, Senator Obama questioned Senator McCain’s foreign policy judgement. Senator McCain’s selection of Governor Palin to be Vice President brings into question the GOP candidate’s political judgement as well.