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My reaction to Senator John McCain’s selection of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate came in three phases. First was dismay. Is this a national election for the most powerful position in the world? In what was surely the longest and most open pre-primary and primary process in the history of the country, how on earth does the former mayor of Wasila, Alaska, get named to a national political ticket? Where were all the grown-ups when this happened?
Next was insult (v.t., to behave with insolent triumph, to exult contemptuously.) How could a man seeking to serve as this country’s President use the authority of a national party nomination to choose someone so categorically unfit to succeed him in that role? Was all what went before – the debates, the primaries, the position papers, the millions of hours spent by thousands of dedicated professionals and volunteers from every party, from every state – was it all farce? Of all those in Senator McCain’s party who have dedicated their lives to public service and this country’s political process, is it Senator McCain’s contention that Sarah Palin is the most qualified, best available to serve? Yes, where were the grown-ups?
Finally there was vulnerability, a sense of powerlessness, the fear that reason and process play no role other than that allowed by Senator McCain. We are told that the Senator’s selection of Governor Palin followed a rejection by party leaders of former Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania and Senator Lieberman of Connecticut. While one might agree or disagree with their views, there can be no question that these were leaders of the first order, public servants of national standing and political substance.
The vulnerability, though, goes deeper than this. The intended impact of the primary process was to rid the selection process of back room deals and party bosses who manipulated the process to their own selfish and parochial interests and ends. Well, we have now come to a place where the parties are the prizes of the primaries whose winner takes all, in this instance giving us to two weeks of pit bulls with or without lipstick, soap opera emotions surrounding an out of wedlock pregnancy, repeated dribble about “thanks, but no thanks” while the country and world shudder under the weight of the worst financial crisis in 70 years. Exactly whom in Governor Palin’s experience would she call upon to counsel her were she now the President? We all want Washington to work better. With Governor Palin the question is How would it work at all?
A presidential election should be a quadrennial discussion and debate on the issues that join and separate us, a review and examination of the national soul. The process should be interactive such that a heightened appreciation of the needs of the nation and the goals to be pursued are examined, challenged, refined and claimed by the candidates so that we might choose between them. This is what we should rightly expect from a national election. Senator’s McCain’s selection of Governor Palin has made this all but impossible.
A Palin presidency, which Senator McCain’s nomination compels us to consider, offers two highly disturbing scenarios. The first is a president as populist tool to be manipulated and manged by an inner circle of uncertain composition, capacity and intent. The second, and the more disturbing, would be an emergent, self-nurtured demagogue whose political experience is informed by rural Alaskan politics and governorship of a state whose revenues are overwhelmingly single-sourced, i.e. oil. Among her most important duties as governor is that of dispensing revenue surpluses to agencies or citizens (i.e. voters), duties not unlike those of OPEC sheiks and other third world potentates.
Despite her current celebrity, Governor Sarah Palin is patently unfit to be president of the United States. Her arbitrary and ill-advised nomination by Senator McCain, putting her first in line to lead this country in what might be optimistically anticipated as a period of great uncertainty and tumult, both at home and broad, calls into most serious question his qualifications to serve as this nation’s President.