I first saw John McCain’s VP candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, on Glenn Beck’s show in June:
It’s interesting how Beck floated the question of her being VP, which Palin gracefully declined. I remember being impressed with Palin by the end of the interview, and a bit disappointed that she sounded so definite about not taking the VP nomination. I know potential candidates are expected to say stuff like, “Aw, shucks. I’m flattered, but I’m really focused on what I’m doing now,” to show they’re not too eager. She plainly said, “No,” which is usually a sign that the person just doesn’t want the job, period. I’m glad she changed her mind.
Some time back William Kristol threw out Palin’s name as his suggestion for McCain’s VP pick on an episode of Fox News Sunday. It was promptly laughed off the table at the time. I thought, “Wouldn’t that be neat?” Now Kristol is deemed a bit of a sage, bucking conventional wisdom.
When I heard that McCain had picked Palin I was excited. The first word out of my mouth was “Wow!” I didn’t think he had it in him. Palin is a risky but brave choice. McCain had a roster of candidates he could’ve picked from, any of which would have made everyone feel safe, but at best complacent or at worst divided. Either of these emotions would’ve made it easier for Obama to win. He could seem fresh and new, and with the blessing of the Clintons, shown a united front. Palin has energized the Republican Party in a way that none of the other VP candidates could have.
The reason I say Palin is a risky choice is she is unknown. It reminded me a bit of George H.W. Bush’s choice of Dan Quayle 20 years ago. People asked, “Who is that guy??” The difference is Quayle was a candidate who desperately wanted respect, despite the fact that he wilted under the spotlight, and occasionally was like a deer in the headlights in that first run. Palin in her acceptance speech at the convention was cool and confident. She sounded “Reaganesque”. People could see right from that moment that she is a rising star. Some have even said, “She is the future of the Republican Party.” I think what they see is that she had her “Obama moment” at the convention. I’m referring to Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention, which really wowed the crowd. Now, I have good feelings about her in this role, but let’s see how she does down the road before declaring her “the future”. I only say this because, well, we don’t really know her yet.
Contrary to what the MSM has been saying, I don’t think Palin is risky because of her experience. On the contrary. I think it would be riskier to elect Obama president at this time. The way I see it is the choice for president is between a candidate who has had executive experience as a Naval officer, McCain, and a candidate who has had none. Even Gov. Palin has had more of this than Obama has. Why is this important? A person in an executive position, like the presidency, needs to make decisions and be unequivocal about them in order to lead.
The very idea of this makes many liberals uncomfortable. They want decisions made by consensus. They also want someone who appears thoughtful, and is principled but not certain that any particular direction is the right way to go. My impression is they like the idea of responsiveness, someone who can turn on a dime when conditions change. They also like the uncertainty they see in their leaders because they feel it’s a more realistic position to take, because who really knows how things will turn out until something is tried? And once something is tried, and it doesn’t work, well then it’s time to try something else. Experiment.
The problem is in executive positions, as former president Bill Clinton found out, there often isn’t time for that. A good executive listens and gets input before making a decision. Bad decisions are made in a vacuum, but there must come a point where a direction is chosen and that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while. Once a direction is chosen it’s a good idea to see how progress is going and if objectives are being met. If not, at some point down the road reconsidering the decision should at least be put on the table. This process may sound stupid to some, because, “Are you just going to stick with a stupid decision come hell or high water?” The point is when leading a large organization you have to pick a direction and stick with it or else the enterprise will become chaotic, which leads to decreased effectiveness, due to confusion among the ranks and decreased morale. People need to feel like their efforts are accomplishing something and not just being thrown away because, “Oh, I changed my mind.” There are consequences to being indecisive. You can either commiserate endlessly or get something done, even if it doesn’t turn out like you expected. It’s called leadership.
Sen. Joe Biden pointed out at the Democratic convention that executive experience isn’t really important, because President Lincoln had none before he became president, too. That’s a good argument, and I don’t have anything to say in answer to that, except that Lincoln was decisive. He was determined to win the Civil War no matter the cost. He didn’t sue for peace with the Confederacy despite his popularity ratings going into the toilet. I haven’t seen Obama be decisive. I might have more confidence in his executive abilities if I saw him take a genuinely informed position and stick to it for a while.
Secondly, the Founders envisioned that the people who became president would be men of accomplishment (I use “men” here in a historical context because they never envisioned a woman becoming president) who had shown they could accomplish great things, and show their leadership qualities. I have listened for evidence that Sen. Obama has done some things that are worth “writing home about”, and to date I haven’t heard any, either from pundits or his adoring supporters. Many will point out that he graduated from Harvard with top honors. Indeed that is an accomplishment that is worthy of praise, but in comparison to other people in government this would earn him a position doing just what he was doing before he ran for president: being a state senator, and then progressing to senator in the federal government. There are many people in government who have degrees from Ivy League universities. So the next question is, “What else have you got?”
Rudy Giuliani made a very good point at the recent Republican convention: Obama has never been in a position where he has to make a decision that’s critical to the functioning of an organization, except perhaps in his own campaigns for office. In the scheme of things, how you run a campaign says some things about you, but I wouldn’t put it in with governing experience because bad decisions in a campaign only affect the candidate. Bad decisions in government hurt other people. Despite many people saying, “Yeah, and that’s the reason why Obama is the right choice because he has better judgment,” I say Obama has good judgment about international affairs the way Michael Moore does. Moore said in 2002 that there were no WMDs in Iraq. He based this on the fact that the U.N. inspectors hadn’t found any up to the time they left. The truth was though he didn’t really know. He got “lucky”. People like Moore take ideological stands, and in many people’s eyes events sometimes come out as predicted by that ideology. Ideological positions are right the way a broken clock is. Sometimes events just coincidentally appear to “work” the way the ideology expects them to. I don’t mind principles based in ideology, but I’m uncomfortable with leaders whose whole world view is defined by one. It reflects an inflexibility that I think is dangerous for this country.
So to again quote Giuliani, I think the Republicans have the ticket “the right way around”, with McCain at the top of the ticket, and Palin as the VP candidate. I think it’s fine for a vice president to “learn at the knee” of the president. VPs have to be available to make decisions should the president be incapacitated or die, but they’re not expected to be president most of the time.
Lately the MSM has put forward the odd notion that Palin is in effect the GOP’s presidential candidate, as if McCain is irrelevant, and besides he’s going to die soon, isn’t he? This is absurd. We’re not voting for Palin for president. For some reason the media has no such apprehensions about electing Obama president, who was elected to the Senate in 2005, and has spent most of his time campaigning for president since 2006. He reminds me of John Edwards, who did the same thing in the 2004 presidential election, practically running for president the moment he was elected senator. It’s as if Edwards and Obama have seen the Senate as just a jumping off point for higher office. Obama was a state senator in Illinois before joining the congress. Edwards was a tort lawyer before he joined. I’d almost lump Hillary Clinton in with this group, except she waited a bit longer from the time she got elected.
It’s as if they were employees who worked at the “ground level” for a while, became mid-level managers at a Fortune 500 company, and then expect to move up to CEO after having only worked at the place for a year. The question I have for these candidates is what the hell is the rush? Do us all a favor and learn the job before getting into a position where you could do damage to the organization.
The Obama campaign just looks odd to me, with an inexperienced though extremely eloquent candidate leading the ticket, and a very experienced, seasoned candidate, Sen. Joe Biden, running for VP. Some have rightly wondered, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
Edit 10-21-08: I found three videos of Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin R-Gov. Alaska on Charlie Rose, 10-12-07
Sarah Palin’s speech when it was announced she was McCain’s VP pick, broadcast on CBS
Green Room interview with Sarah Palin on Charlie Rose