Friday, August 29, 2008

Is Sarah Palin Ready for the 3 AM Phone Call?

In a brilliant choice of "stunt casting," John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice President running mate. The announcement was made (and no, I don't make these things up) at The Nutter Center at Wright State University .

Palin, a former runner-up beauty queen with five children, has been Governor of Alaska for two years, and is married to a man who is 1/8 Yu'pik Eskimo.

Prior to her short tenure as Governor of Alaska (the state population is 670,000, smaller than that of Charlotte, North Carolina) Palin served on the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska (population 5,500) from 1992 to 1996, and was elected mayor of that hamlet in 1999. She has no economic experience, no foreign policy experience, no legislative experience, and has an undergraduate degree (no graduate degree at all) in journalism from the University of Idaho.

After being defeated in a run for Lieutenant Governor in 2002, Palin was appointed Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a post she held for less than two years before resigning to protest the "lack of ethics" of fellow Republican leaders in Alaska.

Palin's major claim to fame in conservative political circles is that she is an anti-choice right-to-life advocate who gave birth to a Down Syndrome child (her fifth child) in April of 2008.

For John McCain, of course, the chief attraction of Sarah Palin is that she is a woman, making her the ultimate affirmative action candidate, selected almost solely for her gender.

Palin's selection by McCain puts the question of drilling in ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) front and center. She and John McCain disagree on ANWR -- though in truth McCain has flip-flopped on so many issues this year that it's hard to know if he stands for anything any more. Palin also disagrees with McCain's good buddy, Joe Lieberman on ANWR. Will McCain tell Palin to be quiet about ANWR, or will John McCain fold on this issue, as he has on so many others?

Time will tell! In the interim, McCain has clearly abandoned the notion that experience matters.

As Michael Halperin at Time magazine puts it:

On the face of it, McCain has failed the ultimate test that any presidential candidate must face in picking a running mate: selecting someone who is unambiguously qualified to be president.

Palin is a talented politician who has both support among conservatives and a compelling personal story. But her short resume in Alaska politics and her nonexistent national track record will make it impossible for McCain to argue with a straight face that she was the most qualified person he could have selected.

In the short term, the pick will create excitement among the kind of grass-roots conservatives who have never been enthusiastic about McCain, and in the media, which will be fascinated by Palin's good looks (matched by those of her dishy husband), intelligence and charm.

But Palin is now going to have to perform at a very high level to persuade the media and the public that she is truly ready to be a heartbeat away — and a 72-year-old's heart at that — from the presidency. How she handles questions about federal issues, national security and foreign affairs will be closely scrutinized, and her margin of error is next to zero.


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