This country is suffering from a chronic case of E.D.–electile dysfunction, that is. When it comes to proving that they are up to the challenge of leading a country, none of our political parties can seem to get it up.
The marketing has become very precise, with analysts and advisors weighing in on the implications of every word, phrase, clause, sentence, and paragraph, telling us how a particular person or thought might appeal to demographic groups, states, and geographic regions. We get word of red states, blue states, green states, and purple states.
Trouble is, elections have devolved into micro and macro pandering games. This is why–where vice presidential picks were often little-regarded in the analysis of Presidential tickets–they are now looked at in the most critical of terms.
Can anyone remember–without looking at Wikipedia (Cubbie, with the photographic memory, is not allowed to answer this one)–Lyndon Johnson’s running mate in 1964? Can anyone remember Truman’s VP? Ford’s? I can–only because I’m a junkie–but how many people remember these things?
Much of the focus on VP picks began in 1984, when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale selected Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY) as his running mate. She was quickly thrown off-balance by revelations of her husband’s financial dealings, and–in the Vice Presidential debate–got clobbered by Vice President Bush. Reagan proceeded to win the mother of all landslides.
The GOP would take a hit 4 years later, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle, a new Senator from Indiana with little experience, as his running mate.
On paper, Quayle stood for all the right things that Reagan conservatives value the most. He became a Senator by defeating a well-established political machine. He had a certain charisma that one could expect from a rising young star.
Then, in his Vice Presidential debate with Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), he became the victim of the most imfamous retort in political history. Remarking that he was the same age as JFK, Bentsen responded:
Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
That would be the first of many skewerings that Quayle would suffer, as a result of his own gaffes. Since then, the lesson has been clear: a President’s choice of running mate speaks volumes about his or her judgment. And both parties have been very shrewd in their VP picks. The closest thing to a serious risk since then was Sen. John Kerry’s pick of Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), a one-term Senator whose talk was better than his action, and who stood almost no chance of winning re-election in his own state.
In the VP debate, Edwards acquitted himself well, fighting to a draw with the shrewd, experienced Dick Cheney.
Yesterday, however, GOP Presidential hopeful John McCain made the mother of all outside-the-box picks: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a staunch conservative who took on a serious political machine–one dominated by Big Oil–in 2006, won the gubernatorial election, and has run an aggressive agenda of reform. Against the backdrop of failed attempts at reform by a Republican governor in Kentucky (Fletcher) and a Democrat governor in New York (Sptizer), she has proven herself quite well.
But, like Quayle before her, she has a dearth of experience. How much foreign policy expertise does she have? How well-versed is she on national security matters? How well-versed is she on macroeconomic policy? How well-versed is she on fiscal and monetary policy? In her debate with Biden, she will face those questions.
If she falls flat, she will become the latest laughingstock of the GOP.If she handles them well–and manages to land a blow or two on Obama/Biden–and avoid a Dan Quayle gaffe, she will become an instant Margaret Thatcher and will propel McCain to the Oval Office.
McCain’s selection of Palin is intriguing but not surprising.
He had to go outside the box on this one. Minnesota Governor Pawlenty was an inside-the-box pick with no new ideas and a fair amount of baggage (like last year’s bridge collapse).
Those most highly-touted–Gov. Mitt Romney (MA), Gov. Tom Ridge (PA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT), and CEOs Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard) and Meg Whitman (eBay)–either had unproven conservative credentials, or were completely out-of-touch and unable to connect with most Americans.
Palin, on the other hand, seems like the dream choice for a VP candidate. Even my staunch Democrat friends–at the bar last night–all agreed: “Palin is HOT!” There was near-unanimous agreement that this could upset the whole dynamics of the election if she holds up well against Biden.
- Proven experience as a policymaker (Mayor and Governor)
- Proven conservative credentials
- Clean record of ethics
- Proven corruption fighter
- Good record of fiscal conservatism
- Good record of social conservatism
- Walks her talk
- She has a son is in Iraq; one cannot accuse her of supporting a war that does not impact her directly.
- Virtual unknown outside her state
- Little experience at the federal level
- Little experience in foreign affairs.
Her archrival–Sen. Joseph Biden–has been in the Senate for 36 years. He has sat on several key committees, and knows how to talk, a good talk. He’s good with one-liners, but has been known to make frequent gaffes.
Her mission will be to show the world that she is ready for the Big Dance. She will need to show that she can talk intelligently on foreign affairs, speak authoritatively on fiscal and monetary policy, and relay her positions on social issues without coming off sounding like a hack. At the same time, she will need to land body blows on Obama-Biden.
This Vice Presidential debate will be the most-watched Veep debate ever.
If she does well, she will be a rock star. If she flops, Obama wins a landslide.