Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama: Wrong Response to Palin

Following up on my post yesterday, about my problem with McCain's pick of Sarah Palin: I'm concerned Obama's counterpunch may be all wrong.

This article by Michael Kinsley in Slate echoes what I was saying yesterday. ("We Have to Bend It" ). The real issue with McCain's VP pick isn't her lack of experience -- it's that for months, all we've been hearing from him is that in these dangerous times, experience (and particularly foreign policy experience) is what matters, most.

Here's the article: ...

Here are the most relevant six grafs, in brackets [ .... ]. The italics are mine. I reprint in full, because he makes the point well:

[It seems like just yesterday that the Republican Party was complaining about Barack Obama's lack of foreign-policy "experience." As a matter of fact, as I write (on Friday, Aug. 29) it actually was just yesterday. Even now, the Republican National Committee's main anti-Obama website has the witty address The contrast in experience, especially foreign-policy experience, between McCain and Obama was supposed to be the central focus of McCain's campaign.

But that's so five minutes ago, before Sarah Palin. Already, conservative pundits are coming up with creative explanations for McCain's choice of a vice presidential running mate with essentially no foreign policy experience. First prize so far goes to Michael Barone, who notes on the U.S. News & World Report blog that, "Alaska is the only state with a border with Russia. And it is the only state with territory, in the Aleutian Islands, occupied by the enemy in World War II." I think we need to know what Sarah Palin has done, in her year and change as governor of Alaska, to protect the freedom of the Aleutian Islands, before deciding how many foreign policy experience credits she deserves on their account.

The official response to the question of experience emerged within hours and is only slightly more plausible: She may not have foreign policy experience, but -unlike Obama, Joe Biden or even John McCain-she has had executive experience. Why, before her stint as governor of Alaska, population 670,000, she was mayor of a town of 9,000. Remember when the Republicans mocked Bill Clinton for being governor of a "small state"? That would be Arkansas, population 2.8 million. As it happens, 670,000 is the population of metropolitan Little Rock.

The whole "experience" debate is silly. Under our system of government, there is only one job that gives you both executive and foreign policy experience, and that's the one McCain and Obama are running for. Nevertheless, it's a hardy perennial: If your opponent is a governor, you accuse him of lacking foreign policy experience. If he or she is a member of Congress, you say this person has never run anything. And if, by any chance, your opponent has done both, you say that he or she is a "professional politician." When Republicans aren't complaining about someone's lack of experience, they are calling for term limits.

That's why the important point about Palin's lack of experience isn't about Palin. It's about McCain. And the question is not how his choice of Palin might complicate his ability to use the "experience" issue, or whether he will have to drop experience as an issue. It's not even about the proper role of experience as an issue. In fact, it's not about experience at all. It's about honesty. The question should be whether McCain—and all the other Republicans who have been going on for months about Obama's dangerous lack of foreign policy experience—ever meant a word of it. And the answer is apparently not. Many conservative pundits woke up this very morning fully prepared to harp on Obama's alleged lack of experience for months more. Now they face the choice of either executing a Communist-style U-turn ("Experience? Feh! Who needs it?") or trying to keep a straight face while touting the importance of having been mayor of a town of 9,000 if you later find yourself president of a nation of 300 million.

We all know that modern political campaigns choose their issues from the cafeteria line, after market-testing them, and then having them professionally framed. Rarely, though, are we offered such a clear and unarguable example. How could anyone truly believe that Barack Obama's background and job history are inadequate experience for a president, and simultaneously believe that Sarah Palin's background and job history are perfectly adequate? It's possible to believe one or the other. But both? Simply not possible. John McCain has been—what's the word?—lying. And so have all the pundits who rushed to defend McCain's choice.]

Now, I find this article from, which obtained a leaked memo, indicating how Obama plans to respond to the pick: According to the article, the campaign is going to argue that "John McCain's decision for a running mate signaled that he is beholden to the right wing of the Republican Party and putting politics ahead of judgment."

The article concludes by quoting the leaked memo:

"What does it say that he knuckled under to the right-wing of his party, who angrily threatened to veto McCain’s preferred candidates, Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge, for their pro-choice views?," the memo reads. "What does it say that, in order to satisfy the right, he hastily selected someone he barely knew-and had only met once – to serve a heartbeat away from the presidency?"

The answer to the first question, judging by the random sample of independent-minded folks I spoke with at a wedding in Severance Hall, downtown Cleveland tonight, is: It says he's conservative, which we already knew, and, it says he's a smart politician, because it's electrified his base. The answer to the second, according to some of the same folks, is: She can learn at the knee of a foreign policy master for four years, and she'll be fine. And anyway -- she has more "executive" experience than Obama's ever had.

That's why the Obama campaign should be asking a different question: "What does it say about John McCain that for months, he's argued that foreign policy experience is essential for the next president -- is perhaps the most essential thing -- and then he picks someone for VP with absolutely none?"

At the wedding tonight, I pointed out to a rabbi that it's completely hypocritical. As Kinsley says, it's a lie. The rabbi, who knows people, said that the people he knows really don't care about hypocrisy. They expect it from their politicians.

If that's true, then it's all just a hall of mirrors.

Thank God for the rollicking, spinning hora that followed dinner. There's something about that centrifuge of dance motion that focuses the mind on the beauty and power of young, just-out-of-the-gate love. Not even a day of stomach-churning politics can corrupt that.


62Robinson said...

When I heard about McCain picking Palin, my first reaction was (after I asked "Who?") that the Republicans' experience argument goes out the window.

But I heard an interesting angle from Craig Ferguson (the late-, late-night guy) on Bill Maher's HBO show. He said Republicans will surely argue that although both tickets have a veteran Senator with foreign-policy experience and a relative newcomer, the GOP has them in the right order.

What do you think? It sounds like a fairly palatable argument against Democrats saying the pick kills the experience issue.

NeuroticDem said...

Sixty-two --
Again, I think the hypocrisy is the broader point. The only thing that matters in a VP pick is that they are ready to step in, if god-forbid happens, on day one. How can McCain say that Palin is ready if Obama is not? (I don't buy the "executive experience" thing for a minute -- as the "close to Russia" argument should make clear. Here are two presidents with no "executive experience": Lincoln, who ended slavery and won the civil war; and Kennedy, who saved the globe from nuclear destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis.) To me, the issue is what it says about McCain.
Also -- more and more is coming out about how McCain really didn't vet Palin very carefully. Apparently, no one went to the Alaska papers to check the archives (and they are not online). And no one from the McCain camp interviewed the guy who was fired for not firing the Alaska cop. I wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg of unasked questions. By most reports -- I hope more comes out -- McCain only met her once himself before picking her. Again -- this goes to the temperament question. I want a politician to know his or her gut. But after 8-years of this kind of politics, I also want one who is going to do the research, thoroughly, before making the most important decisions.
Obama, in my book, is much more experienced -- even if only because he has been running for president for 20 months in a 24-7 news cycle; he's been through more than 20 debates; he's been interviewed by every major journalist; he has two best-sellers outlining his views and his biography; he's been in the public eye in a major way for at least twice as long as Palin; we know him in a way we simply could never get to know Palin in the next 10 months.
But maybe that's just me?

Loyal said...

I think you are right in your comment. News events and revelations have to a large extent taken over from your concerns in the orginal post. Temperment, judgment, image are all negatives for McCain in this pick. An energized base comes in as a postitive.

FWIW, McCain met her once in advance and had an in person interview (she stayed in a local hotel under an assumed name: how celebrity a thing to do).