Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


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.


Foxfier said...

Thank you! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one!

Anonymous said...

My compliments on a real decently thought-out column.

Newspapers - heck, who cares? Thomas Jefferson did not read newspapers and said he was happier for it. C.S. Lewis did not read newspapers because he felt they create a false sense of sympathy or charity.

A leader needs to be educated, and have sound principles. Sarah definitely qualifies.

Oh, I think Sarah was approaching that question from the point of view, "Ya know, we aren't just a bunch of hicks in Alaska. Sure we can read. I don't need to say what I read, but I will answer any intelligent question..."

Anonymous said...

As a foreigner living in your Country I am a bit scarred at the lengths Conservative Americans will go too to apologise for someone who is obviously unqualified for the role that she might fill.

I suppose because she opposes abortion she is to be supported at all costs

Foxfier said...

By any measure, she's more qualified than the front runner for the dems; if you disagree, please, offer examples.

(yes, I do suspect this is a random troll; hopefully, my cynicisim will be smacked down)

Darwin said...


While I in general live up to a reputation for moderation and even-handedness, allow me to say that we have a word in this strange country of ours for the kind of argument you've just made: bullshit.

Yes, it's a typically crass and inscrutable American phrase, but the meaning is basically, "Your argument will convince no one who does not already agree with you because it is fallacious and is not really an argument in the first place so much as an assertion."

And since that takes rather longer to say and sounds less American, you can see why we go with the shorter phrasing. Palin has been a solidly successful governor after having been elected to the highest executive office in her state. Only 50 people at a time are elected to the highest statewide executive office in their states, and only 100 are elected to the statewide legislative role that represents the state at the federal level. Palin has met that threshold, whether you like her or not, and done fairly well at that level. So while she is definitely less experience than some, it is _entirely_ reasonable that she ended up on McCain's list of 20-30 possible vice presidential candidates.

And frankly, she showed herself tonight to be at least as solid as Biden -- who has been inhabiting Washington for the last 30 years. Abortion did not even come up, but any any standard she turned in a very solid job -- though not a knockout.

TS said...

I'm in the shocking position of thinking experience may actually be a detriment, simply because it seems to lead to over-confidence, with Biden & Rumsfeld & Cheney being poster children for that syndrome.

Overconfidence leads to too many interventions both foreign and domestic, i.e. too much....government.

But Palin seems to have too much confidence in the ability of regulation and oversight. It was a regulatory agency (the SEC) that gave its highest triple-A rating to crap financial instruments. Some regulation is necessary but much of it strikes me as window-dressing to inspire confidence, much as the whole airport security fantango is just a dance to keep the customers feeling safe. Regulation always regulates sheninigans that went on before. It is rarely if ever imaginative or proactive.

It can never imagine an Enron situation ahead of time, nor can it a terrorist's latest device. Closing the barn door after the horse is out eventually leads to a society where all the barn doors are closed and you can't get any work done. (See Sarbanes Ox).

Darwin said...


On an irrelevant note: It seems to me that "The Story of Sarbane's Ox" ought to be a written up as a myth or folktale of some sort.

Anonymous said...

Those of you who think that Ms. Palin is qualified to be a VP probably also think that a sports journalism degree is as worthy as a law degree and that the Reader's Digest is every bit as good as the Atlantic Monthly. I wonder if you would choose your surgeon on those same principles. Ms. Palin is pretty but I want someone thoughtful (even your very own Peggy Noonan says she isn't a person of thought)and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, Sarah Palin is unschooled and ignorant. America will be the laughing stock of the world if she is elected.

Foxfier said...

Alright, can I start giggling that the above post is supposed to be a reason to vote FOR Obama?

Darwin said...


Some people like to use the straw man argument, but you seem to be attempting to use a whole haystack.

Let's see if we can work through your assertions here just for a bit of amusement:

Those of you who think that Ms. Palin is qualified to be a VP probably also think that a sports journalism degree is as worthy as a law degree

Well, I don't necessarily think that a law degree or indeed a degree in any other given topic is a certificate of worth all on its own. I've known some very intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable lawyers; I've also met some who only picked up certain argumentation techniques and factual knowledge but who are neither thoughtful not intelligent. I myself have no interest in sports, and thus none in sports journalism, but it doesn't seem clear to me that one is necessarily an "unworthy" person simply because 20+ years ago one studied sports journalism.

Personally, I studied Classics, and I think that a humanistic education is good for everyone. But from what I can tell Obama knows little more about Western Culture and philosophy (much less ancient languages) than most members of his generation.

But your big misapprehension is that Palin supporters support her _because_ she studied sports journalism. My reaction to someone who has a sports journalism degree is not naturally, "Ah, I know. I'll support that person for the vice presidency." However in this case Mrs. Palin has since gone on to be a mayor and a very successful governor. And while sports journalism is in no sense a preparation for federal executive authority, successful state executive authority is.

and that the Reader's Digest is every bit as good as the Atlantic Monthly.

I think I'll up the elitism ante a little bit: Come now, do you really think that the Atlantic Monthly is all that good these days? Like other classic magazines such as The New Yorker, it's a much diminished creature from its glory days earlier in the century. There are occasionally some good articles in The Atlantic, and when there are I read them. But frankly, if you think appreciating The Atlantic puts you at the pinacle of culture, you're settling low.

I wonder if you would choose your surgeon on those same principles.

Based on successful experience rather than academic achievement twenty plus years before? Yes. I would indeed choose a surgeon based on how well that surgeon had done in the last couple years on actual surger, not on what schools he'd attended.

Ms. Palin is pretty but I want someone thoughtful (even your very own Peggy Noonan says she isn't a person of thought)and knowledgeable.

I would very much prefer someone thoughtful myself, but more than thoughtful I would prefer someone who agrees with me on the issues and appears to have the capacity for effective management/leadership.

Hamlet was very thoughtful, but he was a very poor ruler -- indeed he was so thoughtful that he never got around to successfully making himself ruler even though he should have succeeded his father to the throne.

So while I'll give it to Obama that he tends to think things through, I have no intention of supporting him because I think that many of his beliefs about how the world works are wrong and dangerously so.

Unfortunately, Sarah Palin is unschooled and ignorant.

There is a great deal of difference between being unschooled and being ignorant, and I'm not sure that you either know the difference nor the substantive matter of whether Governor Palin is one or both.

America will be the laughing stock of the world if she is elected.

For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and to laugh at them in our turn?

(That's a quote. Just thought I should clue you in since it isn't from The Atlantic. But you're free to dislike it, as it was written by a woman who didn't even _go_ to college.)

There now, that was a fun way to blow off a little steam between meetings. Have a nice day...

Anonymous said...

Lets’ see. My absurd blog reading of the day was a refutation on Peggy Noonan’s remark that Ms. Palin wasn’t a thoughtful person. Suddenly we’re into Hamlet – who gee whiz- was too thoughtful for his own good which made him a terrible leader. Hmm. One can go into Shakespeare and pull out almost anything as in war mongers like Bush, and McCain, and Ms. Palin, all like MacBeth, and gee whiz, see where that get him! Ms. Palin wouldn’t merit affirmative action in a meritocracy. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this country no longer can even attempt to aspire to one. I'm somewhat mystified that African Americans and Mexicans and other minorities
are treated as unworthy for special consideration when clearly we are asked to give special consideration to a person with an incredibly thin resume.

Darwin said...


I hate to break it to you, but MacBeth was not a warmonger. Indeed, his own instincts were fairly sound and honorable. His problem was that he was too easily led by his wife -- whose ambition knew fewer inhibiting principles -- to a great extent because he was able to be goaded by her into doing things even she was unwilling to do when she argued that his manhood would be lessened if he failed to go through and murder the king. (Have you read MacBeth, or just the Readers Digest version?)

Look, I'm open to agreeing that Palin's resume is thin. I don't think she's prepared to step in and be president right now -- but then, that's not her job. Her job is to serve as vice president with someone who is very, very experienced.

I don't think the experience argument is a very strong one for someone who's apparently supporting a half-term junior senator for the top of the other ticket.

But as I say, people support presidential tickets based on political philosophy more than experience. McCain is far, far more experienced that Obama, and yet I get the impression you don't think he's the better candidate. Cheney was a very, very experienced with government in a number of roles, but I don't get the impression that most liberals think he was a better pick than Lieberman or Gore.

If you want to say that you would never vote for McCain-Palin because you disagree with their politics, I'll understand and stop pointing out the constant literary and intellectual mistakes that you are making in attempting to express yourself. But let's be clear: Most people don't vote because of "affirmative action" or experience or rhetorical style, they vote because they agree with the political philosophy of one candidate over the other. From what I can tell, Obama's political philosophy is the farther from mine than any candidate to grace a national ticket since Mondale. And so arguing that the vice presidential candidate of the other party hasn't read Atlantic Monthly (with all the famous validity of the argument from silence) is really not going to impress me or change my mind. Especially when the other option is a former state rep who's spent less than four years leading a very undistinguished career in the Senate.

(And I'll advise not to cast aspersions at African Americans or Mexicans around here. I am half Mexican -- though I'm willing to forgive all of the current political candidates for not being so blessed.)

Anonymous said...

"Those of you who think that Ms. Palin is qualified to be a VP probably also think that a sports journalism degree is as worthy as a law degree"

Well, let's see, I've got a law degree from one of the more highly rated law schools in the country. I've been a lawyer now for over a quarter of a century and I've known hundreds of attorneys, judges and politicians with law degrees. Some have been highly intelligent men and women, more have been intensely mediocre and a few have lacked the wit to pour water out of a boot if the instructions were written on a heel. In that same time I've encountered thousands of other people, some with college degrees and most without, and I've reached the conclusion that the alphabets after one's name, or the lack thereof, really are not a very good indicator of the intellectual prowess of the person. Nice try Obama troll.

CMinor said...

I wonder if you would choose your surgeon on those same principles.

Funny thing--I'm in Georgia and the (brilliant and highly skilled) orthopedic surgeon who performed spinal surgery on one of my daughters sounds like he fell off a melon truck. As do quite a few of the local intelligentsia. I'd caution Anonymous (or Anonymi?) against equating elocution with intelligence or knowledge.

Re academics: Reagan (bachelor's degree) and Truman (no degree, two years of law school) tend to be up around the top ten of any "best presidents" list. Lincoln (18 months formal schooling, read for the bar) is frequently at the top. Buchanan, Taft (both judges), Nixon (lawyer), John Quincy Adams (Harvard--also studied abroad), and Carter (B.S.--physics) were all highly educated compared with most men of their time but are generally at or near the bottom of such lists.

BTW, isn't the idea that someone can "merit" affirmative action a non sequitor?

Foxfier said...

The head enlisted guy for the Spooks on my ship-- a distant cousin, oddly enough-- had an country accent that got so thick that you couldn't understand him if you got him drunk or got him annoyed. The #1 way of getting him annoyed was to act like he was stupid. A lot of officers got him annoyed.

This guy could chat in morse code and several other (natural) languages.

No degree.

Bernard Brandt said...


I entirely concur with your assessment, both in the original entry and in your follow up comments.

For what is probably a more trenchant and less even handed concurrence, may I suggest the following:


Anonymous said...

Palin is a moron and everyone knows it, otherwise, it wouldn't be such a hot topic now would it? :P

Foxfier said...


Wow, are they REALLY that stupid?

No wonder so many libs hate guns-- they'd accidently kill themselves by trying to look down the barrel to see if it's loaded.