McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin (or my characterization of it) has clearly hit a nerve, judging by your continuing responses, which range from the astute to the questionable to the vitriolic. A sampling:
“If the American people voted based on executive faculties, I’d be liable to say the race would be no contest. …Obama wins”
“While I agree that McCain has captured the public’s attention with his choice, I wonder if Obama was looking beyond the election to governing when he made his vice presidential selection.”
“How can you defend McCain’s choice when it is clearly an attempt to pander to women voters? And what does it say about his judgment and patriotism when he puts winning an election ahead of the best interest of the country?”
“With McCain’s choice of Palin, Obama just won the election.”
And, my perhaps my favorite (a quote from a “German student” forwarded to me): “Palin is f*$%d in the head.”
Finally – in a blatant attempt to pander to ME: “The choice of Biden shows that Obama has read Neustadt’s Presidential Power.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide which are the astute comments, which are the questionable, and which are the vitriolic. But let me make two general observations. First, there is a consistent and I think mistaken underlying theme to many of your comments that criticize McCain’s choice but defend Obama’s, and that is that they were motivated by different impulses. From this perspective, Obama’s decision to appoint Biden was driven by love of country, Mom and apple pie, while McCain’s was blatant pandering; he sold the country down the river to secure the women’s vote. There is a saying, popular among political scientists, to which I ascribe that goes something like this: “Never assume an altruistic motive for a politician when a self-interested one will do.” So it is in the case of Obama and McCain. In my view, both acted on identical impulses: they chose the vice president most likely to strengthen their voting coalition in the general election. For Obama, that meant counteracting the perception that he was too inexperienced in foreign policy to serve as president. For McCain, that meant reestablishing his image as a “maverick” Republican while burnishing his credentials with the Republican right.
Some of you appear uneasy with the idea that electoral considerations might determine a vice presidential choice. The Palin choice, you argue, is blatant pandering to women voters. Far better that McCain ignored electoral considerations and instead did what was best for the country. The problem with this reasoning is that McCain’s – and Obama’s – first consideration must be getting elected. Both believe they can lead this country, but all the good intentions in the world mean nothing if they aren’t selected. Everything they do between now and November must be directed toward that single overriding purpose. How do you get elected? By appealing to voters – by convincing them that you are stronger than the other candidate. Now, McCain’s choice might be interpreted as pandering, but women voters – all voters – will make that decision. It’s not as if he sold Palin as something other than what she is – it is perfectly obvious to the electorate why she is on the ticket. Some people will be offended by her selection. McCain is guessing that many more will respond favorably. For better and for worse, that is how we choose presidents in this country – we leave it up to the voters to decide whether a candidate has demonstrated leadership qualities. The choice of a vice president is one indicator of judgment.
In my view, the early returns have largely validated McCain’s choice. But it is still early – we shall see how she does tonight in her primetime convention speech, and the media vetting process that I warned you about is still underway (I’ll have something to say about that in a separate post later today).
A final thought regarding Obama and the Biden choice. Since I defended the Palin pick in part by comparing her to the alternatives McCain considered, some of you have argued that even though Biden has faults, he was the best of the possible candidates. Let’s consider that. What Obama clearly needed to do was shore up his centrist base among voters, and put someone on the ticket who has some governing experience, presumably from within the executive branch. Hmmmm…..who might have met that criteria? Was there any candidate out there who understood the media scrutiny the president receives, who was familiar with decisionmaking in the Oval Office, who understood the policy process and how to work with the executive branch, and had worked with Congress from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue AND who might have also served on a Senate foreign policy-related committee (say, the Armed Services Committee)? John Edwards? No executive branch experience. Bill Richardson? Cabinet and foreign policy experience, to be sure. He might have fit the bill, but had lost popularity in his home state. Chet Edwards? nope. Evan Bayh? No executive branch experience. Kathleen Sebelius? Executive experience to be sure, but no national exposure. Tim Kaine? Ditto. Chris Dodd – uh uh.
Who might fit the criteria then? Thinking….thinking…. Oh, that’s right. Hillary Clinton. Executive experience – presidential, actually. Serves on Armed Services committee. Two-term Senator, so knows foreign policy from a congressional perspective. And – oh yeah – brings millions of voters to the booth.