Like, I suspect, many conservatives, I can't help feeling a little nervous about how the vice presidential debate tonight will go. Governor Palin is, from what I can tell, fundamentally sound when it comes to a conservative outlook -- and the vice presidency, I think, a better place for an up-and-comer than for someone who thinks he is more experienced and skilled than the president and will proceed to attempt to run his own shadow administration. But though I generally like McCain's choice of VP, there is certainly the possibility that Palin will struggle a bit tonight -- and so it seems more honest, if I'm to post on this topic, to get it out before the debate rather than after. Making the call while the cat is still inside the box, so to speak.
There are a lot of claims going around that Palin is "obviously unqualified" to be vice president -- fueled by increasily silly reactions to her recent interviews. For instance, when Palin failing to name, in response to questioning by Katie Couric, another Supreme Court decision other than Roe v. Wade which she disagreed with, opinion makers immediately rolled out the meme, "Palin can't name a single Supreme Court decision other than Roe." When asked the same question by Couric, Biden refered to the Supreme Court's rejection of his attempt to make all violence against women a federal crime. He failed to give the name of the case, and claimed that they should have supported his law, because violence against women affects interstate commerce in that "Women who are abused and beaten and beaten are women who are not able to be in the work force." (Text of both candidate's answers.)
I'm disappointed that Palin didn't have the presence of mind to fire back, "The Dredd Scott decision -- which I think actually has a lot of parrallels to Roe in that it was decided on the basis of what the justices wanted the constitution to say rather than what it said." But at the same time, I'm frankly pretty horrified by the asinity of both Biden's justification for Roe (he basically argues it was a good compromise regardless of whether it correctly interpreted the constitution) and his claim that assault should be federalized because of its effect on interstate commerce. If you asked me which of these two is likely to cause damage to the Republic through his/her ignorance, it's Biden all the way to my mind.
As if commentariat hysteria could not get any sillier, Palin's refusal to list off which newspapers she reads in a response to Couric (which, incidentally, I think was a bit foolish of her -- she should have gamely listed off a few papers, though it's a dumb question) had bloggers screaming, "She can't even name a single major newspaper!" and "She doesn't read!"
Indeed, the general consensus among those who pound keyboards for fun or profit seems to increasingly be that Palin is dumber than pond scum and that it's gravely irresponsible of McCain to have picked her. (Some commentators, even on the conservative side of things, are urging that she bow out and let McCain replace her -- an odd suggestion given how well that worked for McGovern.)
So, is Palin unqualified to be vice president?
Let's look at this honestly: To my knowledge, every single person elected president in the last 100 years has been a current or recent governor, senator or vice president. Nearly every vice president has been drawn from the same pool, though I'm a little less sure there. Cheney springs to mind as someone who had not recently been in elected office -- and he doesn't have a lot of fans at the moment. Gerald Ford was a representative rather than a senator when he was appointed vice president.
Working from that prescident, this means that there are 200-250 people out of a population of 300,000,000 at any given time who have the career track record to be vice president. (And half of those are of the other party, so McCain and Obama effectively each had a pool of 100-125 prospects.) Palin is one of that select group. Within that group of current and recent governors, senators, vice presidents and well known members of the House of Representatives, her track record is fairly short, but it's also pretty accomplished. Still rather green, but promising, is how I'd describe it.
But she's not Ivy League! But she isn't a lawyer! But she hasn't been on Meet The Press! But she's been flustered in some interviews! But she hasn't been "vetted"!
All true to one extent or another. But frankly, there's something a bit self congratulatory about much of the commentary that's being put out about Governor Palin's alleged lack of qualification. The complaints basically boil down to: "Palin is not enough like me."
Those who spend a lot of time writing and reading political columns doubtless imagine they would sound very, very intelligent if put in front of Couric or on Meet The Press or if otherwise allowed to pontificate on policy in public. And the propensity of Senator Obama to think out loud and wonk up new policy on the fly certainly appeals to such people. However, while reading up on issues and speaking about them clearly is an important part of being a successful and effective politician -- it is most certainly not the sum and total of it.
In my own life in the corporate world, I recently worked under a divisional VP who had never gone to college and was frank in telling people that he hadn't read a book cover to cover in ten years. To which my immediate gut reaction was, of course: "What an idiot. I could do that job better than him."
But I couldn't, you see. He'd been in the world of business for 30 years and had been a moderately successful COO and then CEO of a fairly large company before coming to our very large one. He made some good decisions, and some bad ones, but overall I'd say that he was more effective than his predescessor, a Warton MBA with the tendency to head off in vastly varying directions based on whatever her wonkish close set decided was the direction of the moment. The ability to pick a good staff of experts, listen to their advice, weigh it, and make the right decision requires a combination of skill and talent which not many people have. (Few to none, I would suspect, of the media and blogsphere types declaring Governor Palin to be so obviously unqualified, either have this quality or indeed much understanding of it. They are seeking a bigger version of themselves for president -- a wonk and commentator writ large.)
Does Palin have the skills to be a good vice president? I don't know -- though I certainly hope so as I am quite convinced that Obama and Biden have the ideology to be an absolutely disasterous administration. I would feel much more confident in my support of her if she had six or eight years of successful governorship behind her rather than only two. But to claim that she is "obviously unqualified" is clearly wrong. If you're one of the one out of every million Americans with the career qualifications to be a vice presidential candidate -- you're qualified.