Saturday, September 06, 2008

Who Is Sarah Palin?

After we heard that AK governor Sarah Palin had been chosen as McCain's running mate, I wrote that I am "anxious to see how Palin handles the klieg lights of the national media circus." Well, it seems that the McCain campaign may simply see to it that she doesn't have to face the national media anytime soon.

Marc Ambinder reports that a "senior McCain campaign official" told him "Gov. Sarah Palin won't submit to a formal interview anytime soon. She may take some questions from local news entities in Alaska, but until she's ready -- and until she's comfortable -- which might not be for a long while -- the media will have to wait. The campaign believes it can effectively deal with the media's complaints, and their on-the-record response to all this will be: 'Sarah Palin needs to spend time with the voters.'"

Well that's one strategy. And given the way Palin and other speakers at this week's Republican convention went after the media, it's not a surprising one. But I don't think it serves the country well. A big glitzy rollout followed by sixty days of campaign events and one nationally-televised debate are simply an insufficient introduction to a modern vice-presidential candidate, a person who could be called upon, at a moment's notice, to take up the duties of the presidency. The American people don't know Sarah Palin: we don't know her positions on very many issues; we don't know her management style; we don't know how she'd react in a crisis.

We've learned a little bit about her biography in the last week, and it is a compelling life story. We've learned that she's managed to become a very popular governor in Alaska in the last eighteen months. We've learned way too much about her family and their personal business. We've learned that she can deliver a few mean-spirited attack lines and land a partisan punch without breaking her smile.

We've learned that she can tell blatant untruths without a moment's pause, such as when she claimed to have "told Congress thanks but no thanks" for that now-infamous Bridge to Nowhere earmark project. Here's the full analysis of that comment from the non-partisan I guess she was for it before she was against it. We've learned that she's against earmarks, except for when she's hiring lobbyists to push for them, or personally traveling to Washington to beg for them. You'd think it would have been a little embarrassing for the campaign to admit that some of Palin's Wasilla earmarks (which amounted to some $27 million during her tenure as mayor) had even made it onto McCain's annual lists of outrageous pork-barrel projects, but they simply ignored that particular revelation.

What little we've learned about her positions on the major issues facing our country today is, quite frankly, rather unnerving. She does not believe global warming has been caused by humans, saying in an interview just last week "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made." She does not believe that women should be permitted the right to choose an abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. She believes (in fact, she "fiercely advocates") that we should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and as governor has filed a lawsuit against the EPA for listing the polar bear as a threatened species (that's the EPA under George W. Bush, mind you). These are hardly mainstream positions.

We've learned that Palin was a founding director of indicted senator Ted Stevens' 527 fundraising group from 2003 through 2005, and that she delighted in his endorsement during her gubernatorial campaign in 2006. We've learned that she at least considered in the abstract the question of banning books from the Wasilla Public Library while she was mayor, and we've learned there there's a very serious investigation going on in Alaska now to determine whether Palin acted improperly in (apparently) trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper. We've learned that she's a little confused about the Pledge of Allegiance. In a survey filled out during her 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Palin was asked if she was "offended" by the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge. She responded: "Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance." The Pledge of Allegiance, of course, dates only to 1892, and the phrase "under God" wasn't added until 1954. At least a few of the founding fathers would probably have been rather uncomfortable with the whole idea, actually, but they're not around anymore.

These last four paragraphs are provided simply as a way of pointing out what we can say that we know about Sarah Palin after the last week of coverage. And, so far as I can tell, that's about all we know of her. We cannot say that about the other three principal nominees. John McCain and Joe Biden have been in political life longer than I've been alive, and I have no doubt whatever of their qualifications, their views, their reputations, and their personalities. Barack Obama has been in the national spotlight for more than four years now, and has been through the ringer of a national campaign for just about the last two. He, McCain, and Biden have done countless interviews, allowing their views on the issues to be heard, dissected and parsed by the media, the bloggers, and the American people. They have debated repeatedly over the course of this - seemingly endless - campaign, allowing their political opponents to jab and punch back at their stances on the issues, teaching the skeletons in their closets to dance, making their case to the American public.

Sarah Palin hasn't done any of this, and it is utterly laughable for the McCain campaign to blame reporters for daring to think it appropriate to ask the same questions of her that they have asked of the other candidates over the course of their national political careers. Roger Simon said it in a wonderfully-satirical Politico column yesterday: " We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? ... Bad, bad media." We're heard some pretty outrageous arguments about Palin's foreign policy experience, including the one that being the governor of the state closest in proximity to Russia confers some sort of osmosis-based qualification. But when reporters have asked McCain campaign spokesmen to explain Palin's foreign policy decisions, they can't do it. They keep trying to twist the question around to what Obama hasn't done, or what McCain has done. Well I've heard Barack Obama talk about foreign policy, and I know he can do so intelligently, extemporaneously, and at length (here's a transcript of a long interview with Fareed Zakaria from this summer, for example). I've never heard Sarah Palin do this, and from the sounds of it, I'd better not expect to anytime soon.

It is true that Palin is the vice-presidential nominee, as McCain surrogates like to remind us. But as John McCain said earlier this year, "we all know that the highest priority [in a VP choice] is someone who can take your place." Does John McCain truly believe that Sarah Palin is ready, today, to be president of the United States?

I don't.

Do you?

Barack Obama chose as his running mate a man whose presidential qualifications are unassailable. John McCain chose someone who seems to have gotten the Republican base excited but who the country knows next to nothing about. If the American people are to have the option of making an informed judgment about Sarah Palin before election day, the McCain campaign must allow her to speak, to answer questions about her record and her views and her temperament. At this time, with these stakes so high, we simply cannot have an enigma a heartbeat away from the presidency.


At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent column! Should be required reading for everyone who's even thinking about voting!

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Lucas said...

Great to have you back, Jeremy! I very fair post. The McCain attacks on the media are outrageous since over his career he has benefited from some of the most positive coverage of any senator. Worst of all is the assertion that tough questioning and negative coverage is sexist. The current Republican leadership will say and do anything to get their way, it's disgusting.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I enjoy your fair-minded analysis. I hope you find time to keep your political pen in motion.


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