Sarah Palin The Lightweight

Okay, so there had to be a big bone thrown to the right wing. And while you’re at it, make a play for at least some PUMAs. That makes sense. And you can argue that Sarah Palin provides some balance for “youth” and “newness” and doubles down on “maverick” and “integrity.” I might add in Palin’s defense that her experience has been on the executive side of things rather than on the legislative, and there are different skill sets involved in being a good legislator as opposed to being a good executive.

Nevertheless, the big concern is that she’s a lightweight of the sort we haven’t seen since Dan Quayle.

Upon further reflection, and despite the political pressures that I described in the first paragraph, I’m really quite amazed that McCain has thrown the best arrow in his quiver away. McCain’s best argument against Obama was that Obama is too new to the game, too inexperienced, and unready to take on the job of President. If he makes that argument again, he needs to explain how Sarah Palin will be ready to be President at a moment’s notice in a way that Obama, who has been running for President for more than two years now, will not be. That’s a tough sell.

This pick has got Obama supporters launching attacks on the issue of experience. Obama formed his Presidential exploratory committee 743 days after first taking national political office. Sarah Palin has held serious political office for 635 days before being named as the presumptive vice-presidential candidate for the Republican Party. We’re talking about a difference of 108 days of political officeholding between the two of them to learn what’s what. Either way, if we’re talking experience, it’s a bit like me saying I’m qualified to be Attorney General because I once covered an appearance for a colleague on a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license.

About the best thing that I can say about Palin’s inexperience is that if elected, she will be the Vice President and not the one actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office. If it were really a question of who would be ready to go if something happens to the President on day one, then that would make the choice fantastically easy. But we don’t pick our Presidents on the theory that they’ll be assassinated immediatley upon swearing the oath of office. The person on the top of the ticket is the one who really matters.

Now, until proven otherwise, I’m going to assume that Sarah Palin is a smart politician. I doubt she has been properly schooled on the array of policies and issues that would confront a President at the moment. She’s going to have to learn then, and fast. If she’s smart, and McCain gets some good people to school her, that can happen. But the election is nine and a half weeks away, and that isn’t a lot of time to become an expert on pretty much everything the Federal government does, both at home and abroad.

At some point in the campaign, she’s going to have to face Joe Biden — a formidable and quick-thinking debater possessed of a keen intelligence, a lifetime of political experience and policy knowledge, and one scarcely able to restrain a biting, Churchillian sarcasm. He seems to have been genetically bred for the role of attack dog in a vice-presidential debate.

I’m going to reserve judgment on her until that debate, until we can see how she does. Politicial wonks who have followed her brief career suggest that she may just be able to hold her own. I say, keep your expectations low against someone like Biden. For her sake, I fear the possibility of a Lloyd Bentsen Moment — all the elements of such a thing are there. But if she can hold her own in that debate, I’ll say that would be good enough to demonstrate the intelligence and mental ability that would be necessary to finish out McCain’s term should something happen to him.

But one other point, and it’s really about McCain. A good leader has an eye to the future, meaning that the leader understands that his position, like all others, is temporary and one day someone else will need to succeed him. McCain is 72 years old today (happy birthday, Senator) and come election day in 2012, he will be as old as Ronald Reagan was when he retired. McCain has a sharp need to groom a successor. If McCain does not run for re-election in 2012, Vice-President Palin would be the obvious and probably only choice for the Republicans to run in that cycle. At 48 years of age she would be older, and more experienced in national politics, than Bill Clinton was when he assumed office in 1993.

I’ve not yet made “Joe Biden” or “Sarah Palin” categories for blog labels, because VP choices are going to fade in importance fairly quickly. The person on top of the ticket matters way more than the Veep.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. perhaps palin’s strength is that she is expendable to an extent: from her own position of inexperience she will attack obama as being equally inexperienced while indicating that perhaps biden or clinton should be at the top the ticket. then mccain can take the high road. just a thought.and the evangelicals will now start giving money to mccain’s campaign.

  2. She actually seems pretty moderate and does have executive experience. She doesn’t have that stench of a professional politician who’s done nothing but train for the presidency their whole life. She’s likable, a lot more so than McCain. Biggest issue for me is she’s an outsider and a whistleblower.

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