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Sarah Palin: Is she ‘presidential’?

I asked Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University (author of “The Modern American Vice Presidency: The Transformation of a Political Institution”) who has become my go-to guy on matters vice presidential for his reaction to John McCain’s veep pick. Here’s his reply:

“I’m stunned by the choice of Governor Sarah Palin just as I would have been surprised had Senator Obama picked Governor Kaine or Senator McCain picked Governor Crist. I think that a threshold choice for a vice-presidential selection is that the candidate has to be presidential.

“We have not had a vice-presidential candidate with so little relevant experience since Spiro T. Agnew. It is doubtful that any or many would have ranked her as one of the Republicans they would most like to be a heartbeat away. Years of experience alone is not, of course, the only measure of whether someone is presidential timber and perhaps Governor Palin, like Lincoln or FDR, has gifts well beyond her experience. The most charitable view of Senator McCain’s pick is that, having met with her (which I assume he has done), he has decided that she is presidential. If that is his conclusion and her performance vindicates his faith it may prove a good pick.


“On the other hand, there are disturbing things about the choice. Especially given Senator McCain’s age and health history, one might question his judgment in putting someone with so little experience a heartbeat away. Senator Obama has had twice the time in the Senate as she has had as governor and has been tested in the most strenuous presidential nomination battle in our history against the presumptive nominee among others.

“It should be hard for even a Republican partisan to credit claims that Senator Obama is not ready when Senator McCain chose someone with far less experience on a quantitative or qualitative basis. If the choice reflects a gamble that Senator Clinton’s unhappy supporters will favor Senator McCain because of Governor Palin’s gender it indicates a rather cynical view of their decision-making process. That clearly seems to be part of the strategy, witness her praise at her rollout for Representative Geraldine Ferraro and Senator Clinton, not two of the traditional heroines of the Republican Party.

“Did the choice of Governor Palin instead of someone like Secretary Ridge represent a cave to the right wing?

“I think Senator McCain was in a tough spot. He needed to convince the base, especially the social conservatives, that he was one of them. He also needed to protect, perhaps reinforce, his maverick image. Choosing Governor Palin did both (whereas Governor Pawlenty would have helped with the base but not with maverick). In doing so, however, Senator McCain ran the risk that if people can’t see Governor Palin sitting in the Oval Office they will discredit his judgment and see him as having made a crass political move which runs counter to the image he seeks to project of doing the right thing whatever the consequences.

“Unless Senator McCain has determined that she really is the second coming of Lincoln, the choice might lead one to infer that he thinks he has a very uphill race. The choice is an effort to reshuffle the deck which suggests that the person who made it sees the status quo as unlikely to produce victory.

“Governor Palin will present some tactical problems for Senator Biden in the debate. The expectations game will be all in her favor. With a low bar, she could lose the debate and still win.

“On the other hand, the late timing of the choice poses some real problems for her. Having dealt with the Alaska problems and the Alaska media and with that of the small town she led, she will now have to address international and national issues before the national media, and with no spring training. Not an easy position to be in.”

What think?


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Comments (17)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/31/2008 - 02:43 am.

    I haven’t seen any comments yet about a very serious plus for potential VP Pallin. She just mothered a child with Down’s syndrome. As the parent of a child with a genetic disorder I am aware of how large a segment of the population has been touched with this type of problem and how much, many feel the government has not been responsive to the needs. True there have been major legislative changes to support the persons with disabilities, but there is a strong feeling of, nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, and any sense of empathy is treasured. Most of the solutions to disability have been in the nature of accomodations that are related to the physical side, but the “MR” side of the equation is more related to the perception of understanding and aceepting.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 08/29/2008 - 06:48 pm.

    FYI, Eric and perfesser —

    According to Politico, McCain met Palin once six months ago and talked to her on the phone once before offering her the nomination, in person, yesterday.

  3. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 08/29/2008 - 10:07 pm.

    I see the hand of Karl Rove in this pick.

    I heard today that McCain’s polling showed a large “enthusiasm gap” between his campaign and Obama’s. The Democrats are energized, organized and optimistic. On the other hand, the social conservatives in the Republican Party were lukewarm to McCain.

    That segment of the electorate has become crucial to Republican victory. They had to be galvanized in order to turn out in sufficient numbers to give McCain a chance.

    Whether the rumors about a Lieberman or Ridge pick were genuine or merely disinformation, I think the vehemence of the reaction from the social conservatives may have taken McCain aback. He may have lost ground with them by merely mentioning the possibility of a pro-choice VP. This was a rift he had to repair.

    At the same time, his field of likely VP picks was dwindling. Lieberman or Ridge were clearly out. (There are rumors–and I have no idea whether they’re true, but they’re out there—that Karl Rove actually called Lieberman and asked him to take his name out of veep contention). The logical choice–Mitt Romney, with his perceived knowledge of economic matters—lost altitude when the number of McCain’s houses became an issue. In addition, it’s pretty obvious that the two men heartily dislike each other. His Mormon religion could be a problem with some evangelicals. Finally, there’s lots of footage of the two guys dissing each other’s qualifications during the primary campaign–which the Democrats would have gleefully used in ads.

    It was starting to look as though Pawlenty was the last man standing—unless McCain picked a dark horse, which he ultimately did. Palin was a last-minute choice. I attended the Washington Week taping today where John Dickerson said that McCain met with her at his ranch yesterday (Thursday), then took a solitary walk to think about it, returned to the ranch and offered her the job.

    Why Palin over Pawlenty? I have no idea, but I can speculate. (Why not? Everyone else is doing it!) First, I think he thought a woman would not only shake things up, but give him a chance with some disaffected Hillary supporters. (I can’t imagine this happening in significant numbers given Palin’s positions on issues, but he might pick up a few). Since he was down to a choice between two governors, neither with foreign policy experience, he may have thought, “Why not go for broke and REALLY make a bold pick?” Second, although most Minnesotans think of Pawlenty as an evangelical Christian, I keep hearing that evangelicals don’t really consider him “one of them.” Don’t forget, he was originally a Catholic, which they might hold against him. As we know, reality is nothing, perception is everything. Sarah Palin is unquestionably regarded by the Christian right as “one of them”, as evidenced by their enthusiastic reception of McCain’s choice.

    Since I can’t imagine Governor Palin bringing over many Democratic women (and isn’t it a bit insulting to think that women will vote for their gender regardless of sharp differences on the issues?), I conclude that she was chosen primarily to get the social conservatives, particularly evangelicals, excited about the ticket. And, since that’s a cornerstone of Rovian strategy, I suspect he had something to do with it.

    If I were Pawlenty, I think I’d feel like a bride jilted at the altar. “Politics ain’t beanbag”, I guess, but it’s got to hurt.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/29/2008 - 10:30 pm.

    Yes, she strikes me as Presidential. I feel more confident with her at the helm than I would have been with John Edwards.

  5. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 08/31/2008 - 11:06 pm.


    Ms. Palin may believe in small government in principle, but she hasn’t been tested and asked to make tough choices about what to cut and what to keep. Thanks to high oil prices, her state has healthy surpluses that free her from those painful decisions. The challenges of the current deficit the federal government is running are completely outside her experience.

    As far as crusading against earmarks, she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. You can look it up! (The Plank column in The New Republic—left-leaning, I know, but her own words are quoted and make her position pretty clear.)She does have a record of reform but it’s not quite as unambiguous as it’s been portrayed.

    She may be personable, politically talented and with lots of potential for bigger things, but the fact of the matter is that she is simply not ready right now. I read today that Senator McCain stated that she has “far, far more experience” than Senator Obama and cited her work in the PTA as an example! I couldn’t believe my he would say that with a straight face. It sounded like a line from a Saturday Night Live skit. Such attempts to convince the public that the grass is blue only look foolish.

    P.S. I checked under my bed. No Karl Rove—thank God!

  6. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/30/2008 - 02:05 pm.

    I don’t think there is much difference between Alaska and Arkansaw. Was Governor Clinton ready to be president? Palin is only a possibility, not a certainty.

  7. Submitted by Jason Spurlock on 08/30/2008 - 03:50 pm.

    Presidential? What happened to the proverbial “gravitas” argument of Dick Cheney?

    Referring to your husband as “First Dude” is hardly presidential.

    Insame. [sic]

  8. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/31/2008 - 04:51 pm.

    Don, she’s obviously not a pure libertarian but yes, she does move away from the Big Gov’t mania that existed in the GOP with Bush and Delay. She’s fought against earmarks that would benefit her state. She cut the Alaska budget. She could hardly be more pro-gun. She’s about as libertarian as you could hope for on major ticket.

  9. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 08/30/2008 - 10:22 pm.

    So after more than 200 years of history, we have a vice presidential nominee who:
    Doesn’t believe in evolution;
    Doesn’t believe that human actions affect global warming;
    Admits to not knowing ‘what a vice president does’ or ‘what the plan is’ for Iraq.
    It is unlikely that Palin will be much help to McCain in differentiating Shia and Sunni or in identifying the borders of Iraq.
    Amazing. Just Amazing.

  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/30/2008 - 10:23 pm.

    Ann, I’m not much of a social conservative and I’m thrilled with the pick. Yes, she’s got the chops on the social conservative stuff but that’s not why this pick was important. It’s been dynamite on the conservative side because she’s represents a return to the small gov’t, more libertarian impulse that’s important to a lot of us. She’s got a great resume when it comes to cutting wasteful spending and standing up to corruption. She also seems to be pretty ‘live and let live’ on a bunch of the nanny state stuff.
    BTW, make sure to check under your bed for Karl Rove tonight. As we all know, he’s responsible for all the evil in the world and he could be anywhere.

  11. Submitted by David Rasmussen on 08/31/2008 - 06:03 pm.

    Interesting comments. They package her as a libertarian and go after the Ron Paul/Bob Barr vote? It sounds more plausible that getting any Hillary supporters.

  12. Submitted by Mitch Larson on 08/31/2008 - 06:07 pm.

    My first impression was that this feels like a poor short-term sales tactic rather then a realistic plan to lead the country. I just can’t get myself to agree this was a reasoned choice.

    McCain will probably only run for one term anyway… so why not pick someone who could use the next four years to ramp up for the following eight.

    Perhaps in the following weeks I will learn why this is the right path.

  13. Submitted by Don Ogden on 08/31/2008 - 08:51 am.

    Palin “represents a return to the small gov’t, more libertarian impulse that’s important to a lot of us”?

    Surely it’s not a Libertarian impulse to promote Big Oil, deny established science (climate change, evolution), or deny a woman’s choice to bring a rape fetus to term! I believe you need to reexamine the meaning of Libertarian.

  14. Submitted by Norman Norman on 08/30/2008 - 12:03 pm.

    Who vetted Gov. Palin for John McCain? Alaska has a population of approximately 630,000 people. It is a big state in square miles, but many people live up there to get away from the rest of America.

    From my experiences in that state the mavericks of this society live in Alaska by choice. Employment is tenuous and oil, plus military bases have kept the state afloat for the past thirty years. Global warming has a real and growing presence in Alaska; consequently, I am not sure how the Governor will play with that fact and her Party’s platform position.

    There are many good people, including many women, who are far better prepared and better known for John McCain to have picked. Gov. Palin is not even close to being compared to Hillary Clinton nor to Michele Obama!

    There must be some grand strategy behind his decision, but I am at a loss on what it could be at this time. Is John McCain trying to be Rex Harrison! Could she replace him if the situation developed and would anyone have confidence in her to do the job in a dicey world?

    The role of the VP has changed and I don’t know if she can meet the demands of the realities inside the Beltway. Juneau and Wasila exist in different worlds from D.C., Moscow, Paris, London, Iraq, Kabul, etc. Will she be a ceremonial backdrop-like figure or a president in development? Or, perhaps, a crutch for McCain? MMN

  15. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/05/2008 - 07:29 pm.

    Take a look at the record.
    $27 million in pork for a town of 5000 is hardly a belief in small government.
    She only came out against the ‘bridge to nowhere (Ketchican)’ once it got bad publicity.
    The fact that she didn’t get along with the Alaskan Republican establishment sounds more like personality than ideology.
    Just another ‘big government money for me, not for you’ Republican. Very ambitious and on the make.

    I’m inclined to think that the best explanation for her selection was early dementia (not on her part ;-).

  16. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/08/2008 - 07:12 pm.

    Small government Palin took control of a city with no debt, she left it with 20 million in debt. She failed to complete a $170000 land deal for a sports center she wanted to build, but went ahead with road, sewer and other improvements anyway. That locked the city into a site they did not own. Small government Palin eventually used imminent domain to obtain the land. With court costs, that land ended up costing the city $1.4 million. The owner is sueing the city and it may cost them quite a bit more.

    She was facing a recall and agreed to hire a city administrator as a way of avoiding it. She needed help running a city of 5000 people!

    This all sounds very familiar. In Republican terms she seems well qualified, for those that beleive in goverment, not so much.

  17. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 09/06/2008 - 09:40 pm.

    Two points:

    1. Peder, I acknowledge that Karl Rove had nothing to do with the Palin pick. Subsequent reports have established that he wanted McCain to pick Romney.

    2. While I am concerned (though not surprised) that Sarah Palin is not quite the anti-pork heroine she would have you believe she is, my principal objection to her is that she is dangerously unqualified to be Vice President for a 72-year-old candidate. I read today that 39% of people recently polled believe she’s MORE qualified to be President than Barack Obama. How ludicrous. Until 18 months ago, she was mayor of a town about half the size of the one I grew up in (“15,000 friendly people” was the town motto, catchy if not entirely accurate). The notion that dealing with sewer and water issues, zoning squabbles, debates over where to build the new tennis courts, and other small town concerns qualifies a person to be potential leader of the Free World is so ridiculous on its face that I wouldn’t expect anyone to believe it—yet they do.

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