Most conservatives I’ve read are hailing John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin. A partial exception is Ramesh Ponnuru. Let’s examine his reservations:
“Palin has been governor for about two minutes. Thanks to McCain’s decision, Palin could be commander-in-chief next year. That may strike people as a reckless choice; it strikes me that way. And McCain's age raised the stakes on this issue.”
This raises a number of issues:
i) Suppose, instead of Palin, McCain had tapped someone like Richard Perle to be his Veep. Few men have more foreign policy or national security experience than Perle. Perle would have no difficulty stepping into the job if McCain were sidelined.
If McCain had chosen Perle instead of Palin, would the liberal media be hailing McCain’s choice? Would they be praising Perle’s magnificent credentials? I don’t think so.
Whoever McCain were to pick, the liberal media would pounce.
ii) I agree with Ramesh that, at present, Palin would be underqualified to take over from McCain in a crisis. But I’d rather see her at the helm than Obama or Biden. And I also prefer to her Ridge or Romney or Lieberman.
iii) We also need to distinguish between personal qualifications and professional qualifications. I suspect the spontaneous approval with which her nomination was greeted was due in large part, not to her profession experience, but her life-experience. Many conservatives identify with her life-experience. They’re less concerned with what’s on her resume than with her personal views, and the way she lives what she believes, day in and day out.
They also like a candidate who knows the price of gas because she fills her own gas tank.
“As a political matter, it undercuts the case against Obama. Conservatives are pointing out that it is tricky for the Obama campaign to raise the issue of her inexperience given his own, and note that the presidency matters more than the vice-presidency. But that gets things backward. To the extent the experience, qualifications, and national-security arguments are taken off the table, Obama wins.”
Several more issues:
i) This is true up to a point, but it’s exaggerated. It’s not as though McCain was always running against Obama’s Veep or Hillary’s Veep (if she’d gotten the nomination instead of Obama).
ii) Because Obama is vulnerable on the issue of inexperience, he tried to recast the issue in terms of judgment over experience. But it’s not as if McCain ever cast the issue in reverse: experience over judgment. Not only does McCain have more experience than Obama, but McCain also thinks he has better judgment than Obama—or Biden.
iii) My reasons don’t have to duplicate the reasons given by one campaign or another. I can have my own reasons.
For example, Biden has more experience than Palin, but he lacks judgment. He has the wrong worldview. So his experience is useless. If you plug experience into the wrong worldview, the output is no better than the input. For good or ill, your worldview filters your experience.
iv) In addition, there are different kinds of experience. We all know about well-credentialed time-servers who hold one high-level position after another. They have a great-looking resume.
Yet they never distinguished themselves. They never made a difference.
Holding a high-level position is not, itself, an accomplishment. It’s what you do with it that matters. What to you have to show for your time in office? What did you do to make things better?
“And it’s not just foreign policy. Palin has no experience dealing with national domestic issues, either.”
True. On the other hand, she has executive experience, which is more than we can say for Obama, Biden, or McCain.
Also, gubernatorial experience can tie into national domestic issues. Take the issue of energy.
“Tokenism. Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”
i) There’s a catch-22 here. On the one hand, the GOP is faulted for not reaching out to women or minorities. But when it does reach out, that’s “cynical,” that’s “tokenism.”
Does Ramesh think the GOP shouldn’t tap talented women or minorities because that would be “tokenism”—or be seen as tokenism?
In that case, how could you ever get started? How could you ever recruit anyone different?
ii) Tokenism is choosing a person just because of his or her identity, without any regard to other qualifications.
Is that what McCain did? Does Palin bring nothing to the ticket besides her chromosomes? No.
Imagine the reaction from the party base if McCain had chosen Olympia Snow or Christie Todd Whitman for the job instead of Sarah Palin!
There’s nothing wrong with making a pragmatic choice or tactical calculation as long as the person you choose also has the right views and values.
You have to win before you can govern. And it’s possible to make principled choices which also help you win. That’s prudent and perfectly ethical.
“Compatibility. It doesn’t seem as though McCain knows Palin well. Do we have much reason to think they would work well together? “
What alternative candidate did Ramesh have in mind? Joe Lieberman?
“Debates. Maybe, as Jonah said the other day, Biden will look like a bully going up against her—and maybe she’ll shine. But I can think of a lot of other picks who would have been lower-risk.”
It’s a tradeoff. She brings some potential assets to the campaign that safer candidates would not. The more you gamble, the more you can either win or lose. McCain is rolling a hard six.
Sometimes he runs a little ahead of Obama, sometimes a little behind. I assume he wanted something that would break the stalemate. A tie-breaker.
“I am not even sure that the pick will have quite the galvanizing effect on conservatives that it seems to be having now as it sinks in. The concerns I’ve mentioned here—about her readiness and her credentials—are the kind of thing that many conservative voters take seriously.”
Frankly, I have far fewer problems with Palin than McCain (not to mention Obama and Biden). And I like her a lot more than some of the other names that were floated (e.g. Ridge, Romney, Lieberman).