Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain, John, lack of seriousness thereof

A couple weeks ago Vic said I was cynical about politics, and I said I would write a more lengthy treatise on the election, but I never got around to it, partly because the Olympics were on, partly because if I were to write about John McCain, that would involve thinking about him that much more, and partly because other people (like Ryan Wu, Matthew Yglesias, and Andrew Sullivan) have been doing a perfectly good job of covering things.

So anyway, yeah, I am cynical about politics. Eight years of George W. Bush will do that to a person. Something like 13% of the voting population thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim. Our current President has some of the lowest approval ratings in history, and yet before his convention bounce, Barack Obama was polling in a statistical tie with a man who promises to continue the disastrous policies and boneheaded intellectual tradition of Bush. So, yeah, I don't have a tremendous amount of confidence in the ability of the candidates to make good decisions and stick to relevant points, for the news media to report on them fairly, nor for the public to pay attention and make good decisions in the voting booth. But we make do with what we have, and the U.S. still turns out pretty good most of the time, despite all that.Wednesday evening I watched Joe Biden's great acceptance speech, in which he clearly made the case for people to vote for Barack Obama and against John McCain. Then, online, I watched Brian Schweitzer's very good speech from the day before, mostly about energy. My man Schweitzer spoke well, but after watching his speech I was happy Obama had gone with Biden and not taken my advice. Schweitzer was just too new on the national scene, from too small of a state, and had only held office for about three and a half years.

Two mornings later, John McCain went ahead and selected somebody with even lighter credentials --- zero experience on anything on a national or international scale*, and even less time governing an even smaller state. In fact, she'd been governor for less time than McCain had spent on the campaign trail! And it's not like before that she was running a big company or been a respected political commentator or organizer or anything else that might give her credentials meriting a quick jump to a national ticket. No, she was a mayor and councilmember for Wasilla, Alaska, which is notable for housing the Iditarod headquarters but beyond that is just spillover from Anchorage (I drove through a few times last month and ate dinner there once).

Which is something, I suppose, but trust me, I work in local government, and while some elected officials are very smart and get a lot of good things done, there are plenty of twits who do OK simply because the consequences of not being very well-qualified for a city council position are very minor compared to the consequences of not being very well-qualified for VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! Even editorials and lawmakers in Alaska are expressing doubts over her qualifications (although maybe cancer-surviving State Senate President and fellow Republican Lyda Green is still sore over Palin giggling like a teenager when a radio DJ referred to her as a "cancer" and a "bitch").

*The one exception is that she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, over which she's clashed with McCain.

"But just because we don't know much about Sarah Palin doesn't mean McCain didn't fully vet her first, right?" Wrong. The two of them met only once before he picked her. Since her 20 months of experience in Juneau obviously wasn't what won her the spot on the ticket, it's pretty evident that her qualifications were:
  1. Female
  2. Conservative
  3. Reputation as a "reformer"
And that's pretty much it. Let's look at #1, being female. Above all, this was a transparent ploy to win over disgruntled Hillary partisans. I doubt even the staunchest McCain supporter would be able to say with a straight face that she would have gotten the job with her resume if she had been male. She even invoked Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro in her introduction speech. But I thought conservatives were against affirmative action and tokenism? Well, that's what they say, but just remember that a couple years ago Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and before him Bush Sr. replaced Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. So much for that concept.

But how to square the idea that Palin will win over Hillary supporters with #2, her conservatism? Apparently McCain thinks Hillary voters think any woman is as good as Hillary. Let's hope he's not right, but remember my cynicism about the electorate in the second paragraph?

The most public element of her conservatism is her pro-life bona fides, which I actually agree with (though I doubt most Hillaryites do). But it goes beyond that--- she seems to think science is whatever you believe it is, is interested in censoring library books, has clashed with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on polar bears vs. oil drilling, and is super-gung-ho on hunting from airplanes. So much for John McCain trying to pretend he's a "moderate."

I will give her credit for #3, cleaning up corruption in Alaskan politics and rejecting Ted Stevens' insane "Bridge to Nowhere" pork project. CORRECTION: It appears she was a big fan of pork projects, including the BTN until she discovered she could score political points by latching on to the "reform" movement. I retract my credit to her here. Now if only she didn't have an abuse-of-power problem of her own. At this point it's also worth noting that John McCain didn't really take up political reform as his pet issue until after his involvement with the Keating Five scandal.

The Palin selection completely negates McCain's criticism of Obama's lack of experience and belies his pledge to "put country first." It was a hastily-decided political gamble to try to win votes, not a reasoned selection of a capable replacement if he should be incapacitated. The VP selection is the first major decision we get to see a Presidential candidate make. Barack Obama's selection showed solid judgment and an understanding of the gravity of the office. John McCain was fundamentally unserious with his selection, illustrating the very fine line between "maverick" and "loose cannon." I hope this can be a turning point for the press and the public to stop excusing McCain for his temperamental unsuitability for the Presidency.

MORE: Jonathan Alter points out that the problem is less that she has an unimpressive resume, but that she hasn't been preparing for the Presidency for the past couple of years like the other candidates or potential candidates have. She's being thrust into the position of having to absorb information and be able to plausibly deliver responses to a panoply of questions on foreign and domestic issues that simply weren't on her table a week ago in Juneau. All the same, the difficult thing here is for Democrats in general and Joe Biden in particular to criticize her without looking mean, paternalistic, or dismissive of small, rural states. I think they can do it, though, as long as she doesn't become the press's darling the way they largely have with McCain.

UPDATE (9/3/08): Huffington Post is probably your best one-stop shopping spot for all the latest revelations about Palin.

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