Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Case for Sarah Palin

I’ll admit, as a staunch John McCain supporter and rhetorician, I often find myself somewhat less than enthusiastic when asked to defend the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President.

I’ll admit, as a staunch John McCain supporter and rhetorician, I often find myself somewhat less than enthusiastic when asked to defend the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President. Do I agree with her policies? No, not many of them. Am I impressed by foreign policy experience? What foreign policy experience? Am I impressed by her leadership? A bit. Do I enjoy Tina Fey portraying her? Strongly yes. But she does have one legitimate thing going for her that frankly neither candidate on the Democratic ticket can claim, and I’m throwing out gender.

Governor Palin rose from beauty queen to sports reporter to city councilwoman to mayor to governor, landing her governorship in a very impressive fight by beating the incumbent governor in the primary and a former two-term governor in the general election. And now she’s the most popular governor in the country, which is saying a lot when you consider that she’s made many politically unpopular decisions along the way, especially amongst those of her own party. She has done more in her 2 years than any governor before her to clean up Alaska’s government.

Along the way, she made some questionable calls. I do not intend to justify her decision to keep the money from the “bridge to nowhere” (though you would be hard pressed to find a governor who has not pulled that sort of thing). But she has put herself in the position where decision making was not a luxury, but rather a requirement, numerous times, and she did so because she wanted to. She wanted to make decisions. And the positions from where she has had to make decisions have been held solely by her, not jointly with 99 other people. This you cannot say about Barak Obama or Joe Biden.

Taking nothing away from the membership of Barak Obama and Joe Biden to the United States Senate, but they have never led; they have never, as elected officials, been the final stop executive decision maker. In fact, in the case of the top ticket holder, Senator Obama, the man routinely voted “maybe” in his days in the Illinois legislature. Since September 2007, he has missed 80% of Senate votes, no doubt due in part to his campaigning, but that’s the point. It has become clear that since his time in the Illinois legislature, he has either not been present or voted “maybe” on many of the most important and/or divisive issues, including abortion, security, foreign aid, bridge safety, and the AMT, so that he can campaign without a track record that could contradict claims he may make.

His most controversial opinion (at least at the time the decision was being made) was that he did not support the Iraq War. That’s a pretty easy position to take when you have no vote on the matter, because of course he was not in the federal government at the time and did about as much as I did to affect the decision. However, since he has been in the US Senate, he has voted with Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Christopher Dodd on every significant bill pertaining to the Iraq War, perhaps suggesting that, given an actual vote on the matter, he may have voted with them to approve the war too.

For the last 6 days, I have not been able to get a quote out of my head. Some of you reading this have heard me recite it. It’s truly one of my favorites. It popped into my head last Friday when reading a Wall Street Journal article. Here’s the sentence that reminded me of the quote:

“During a morning meeting on Thursday, Sen. Barack Obama called the cellphone of Sen. Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat, to take stock of the talks, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Senator Obama was taking more of a hands-off approach, claiming that presidential politics should not taint the process. Someone might have reminded the Senator that he and Senator McCain were not the only people involved and that partisanship was tainting matters plenty already. However, one thing their attendance would accomplish would have been to illuminate their positions on the matter, so I understand why he would want to stay in the background given his history. This train of thought is what reminded me of what Alexandre August Ledru-Rollin, a 19th century French radical, said upon seeing a crowd of people marching through Paris: “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” Classic.

And then I watched the debate, and I heard Senator Obama say “John’s right on this” or “I agree with John” in double digit frequency, and I realized something. Senator Obama is only comfortable leading when it is politically expedient. This may strike you as odd considering he wants to be the leader of our country, and I’m struck by that too. As president, you cannot opt out of the role of leadership. But ask yourself this: when has Senator Obama truly stood up, when his name and issue were both on the line at the same time, and he was in a position to influence the outcome, and stated his position unambiguously and voted that way? I’m not sure I can come up with a significant instance. While this is not unheard of behavior from a politician, it is not to be respected.

This is what Governor Palin has going for her. She may have been on a city council, but that’s grassroots. After that, she went straight for the executive role, and sought and achieved other executive positions of greater responsibility, because she wanted to make more important decisions, and she wanted the ultimate power in making those decisions. She does not shy away from taking the lead; she shows up every time, even when it matters most. She is a reliable leader precisely because of these things. You may not agree with what she did when she showed up, but she always showed up, unlike her opponents who ridicule her. You have to respect that.


Anonymous said...

But I don't respect the fact that while she was mayor, as part of a cost savings effort, she supported the town's police chief's move to charge rape victims for the kits that would help to identify their assaulters. This is essentially blaming the victim, discouraging them from filing reports which might lead to prosecution. Her rabid opposition to abortion could be the force behind this but putting that aside, to further humiliate rape victims is contemptible. The then governor had to pass a state mandate to overturn this. Frankly, I don't want someone with this mindset a heartbeat away from the presidency. Did she really leave her little town a better place? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea that it's crap to charge the victim for the cost of discovering evidence, but let me put this out there. Social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are always heavily covered during a presidential election, but when it comes time for federal governing, the President and Congress have historically stayed away from guiding policy on these issues, instead eschewing them to the states. Were this an election year for her governorship, it'd be worth talking about. But as VP, and even President, there is very little she could, or would, do to establish federal policies along these lines. And regardless of how she feels, these are issues that would be challenged, and won, at the Supreme Court level.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope so. But if McCain is elected, there is the potential for two Supreme Court appointments and I don't think that Abner Mikvah is going to be one of the nominees.
I appreciate the thoughtful response. I wish that the dialogue in the rest of the blogosphere were this civil.

Anonymous said...

I am still wondering where all the scrutiny was of John Edwards' lack of foreign policy experience 4 years ago when he was on the VP ticket.

Here is some fact checking on the rape kit thing (oh and I think 3 or 4 other states charge for rape kits):