01 September 2008

Sarah Palin for Vice-President

I think Governor Palin (Alaska) is an exciting choice as John McCain’s running mate. Her record in Alaska shows her to be a sound conservative, an effective governor and politician, and a moral family woman. She is known as a reformer. As governor she cleaned house in her state’s corruption-ridden Republican Party, not afraid to throw fellow party members involved in scandal to the dogs, thus showing her moral integrity. She also single-handedly killed the symbol of pork barrel spending: the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which (Republican) Alaska Sen. Stevens wanted built at tax-payer expense. Also, her personal background shows she learns quickly and can do many things at the same time, balancing work and family in an admirable way.

Yet this was no easy choice. There was no easy choice. All contenders (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Tom Ridge, Joseph Lieberman) had major problems attached to them that would have hampered John McCain’s effectiveness in the campaign. To suggest that any of these other candidates would have been better is naïve.

Mitt Romney has two problems. As a Mormon he would scare away a good deal of the so-called Christian Right who will baulk at giving the Mormon cult political legitimacy. The lack of personal affection between Romney and McCain also doesn’t help. Similarly, the liberal pro-choice senator Joseph Lieberman, though sound on foreign policy, especially Iraq, would undo all the healing between McCain and the conservative base in the Republican Party who—unfairly in my view—consider McCain a dangerous left-leaning moderate. Tim Pawlenty’s drawback, even though he is a fine conservative and effective two-term governor, is summed up in Jay Leno’s joke: “Tim Who?” Outside of his state of Minnesota, nobody knows him. Why Tom Ridge’s name has even come up still confuses me. There can be no room for pro-choice politicians on a Republican presidential ticket. Assuming you’re campaigning to win, that is.

It has to be admitted that Palin is not the dream candidate. Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience as well as limited executive experience is a problem. By choosing Palin, McCain has dulled one of his mightiest weapons against Obama: the charge of his inexperience. What is more, within days, the media have dug up two blemishes on her image, if not actually blemishes on her career (note the difference, if you are able).

Her involvement in what some detractors call “Troopergate” (her alleged unethical interference in having her ex-brother-in-law fired from the State Police) is certainly the more serious problem. Palin has sought legal representation to defend herself against the charges. While it may be true to state that Palin remains innocent until proven guilty, even of relatively minor charges, the story does not look well in the media. In our media culture which revolves around subjective images and feelings, the allegations pack a much bigger punch than ought objectively to be the case.

At the same time, her squeaky clean family image has been dented by the revelation of her 17-year old daughter’s pregnancy. Barack Obama may say that “families are off-limits,” the media are drooling over the story. It blunts Gov. Palin’s effectiveness somewhat. Even the reiterations that, naturally, the girl is keeping the baby detract ultimately from Palin’s staunch pro-life image, because the repeated statement actually reinforces the pro-choice norm of America’s left-wing politicians and media that such young girls ought not to continue unwanted pregnancies. Pro-life sensibilities are subtly ridiculed.

Gov. Palin will have to work hard to become a household name across the country. The vice-presidential debate in Missouri will be a real challenge. Joe Biden is a seasoned politician who knows how to work the camera and whose foreign policy expertise could easily dazzle in comparison to Palin’s neophyte stature in that area. Yet it is not entirely fair to suggest, as the New York Times seems to insinuate, that national security and foreign policy experience are of overriding importance in deciding whether a candidate is fit to be vice-president. John McCain, although 72, is not about to drop down dead. The Constitution gives the VP only two duties: inquiring after the health of the president and preside over the Senate. I’m sure Gov. Palin can handle that. And more. To suggest that she is clueless about politics just because she hasn’t served 38 years on the foreign relations committee is nonsense.

Last but not least, it cannot be ignored that McCain has picked a credible woman candidate. Palin was not picked just because she is a woman. But hey, it does help to make McCain’s image more hip. So we have a ticket with a black man running against a ticket including a woman. Sounds exciting.

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