My previous posts regarding Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, have gotten a lot of traffic. Some were reposted elsewhere in whole or in part, and have served to pull a significant amount of traffic to Stonekettle Station.
What I find perplexing is that my thoughts and words have been interpreted in wildly disparate ways depending who is reading them. Conservatives see my posts as direct support for Palin, liberals see my words as as a rail against Palin- or perversely support for her, or just plain confusing. I find this both interesting, and infuriating.
Initially I felt compelled to write about Palin, because as an Alaskan I kept seeing spontaneously self-generating falsehoods broadcast by the media, both about Palin's tenure as Alaska's Governor and about Alaska itself - and I'm still seeing a lot of hysterical nonsense and hyperbole being created whole cloth by those who have no experience in, or knowledge of, my state and the culture I live within, and because for the large majority of Americans, Palin is still a relative unknown and Alaska is a vast remote mythical land.
The intended gist of my posts was that instead of buying into hysterical or enthusiastic rumor, outright falsehoods, exaggeration, and preconceived notions about either Palin and/or Alaska, readers should base their judgement of the woman, indeed any political candidate, on accurate information, verified fact, and validated historical performance - and then vote according to whether or not those things fit within the acceptable boundaries of their political ideology.
My intention was never to endorse Sarah Palin, influence your vote, or to tell you who to vote for - only to exhort you to think before you make your decision and make certain that you are voting for or against the things you really want.
Here in Alaska, Sarah Palin represents a marked change from the corrupt nepotism of our previous executives. Many Alaskans, myself included, were aware of her religious beliefs and political leanings prior to her election, and we voted for her either because we agreed with those ideals or, in my case, because we wanted our state to move in a new direction. And in large part she has done exactly what many of us, but not all, wanted. For me, voting for a creationist, was no different than voting for any other Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or for that matter an atheist - providing that they can separate their beliefs from their duty, I consider the point of minor concern.
Based on that, albeit brief, track record I wrote that I thought she would "make a dandy Vice President, and an even better President" somewhere down the line - which is probably why so many people took my words as a wholehearted endorsement of Sarah Palin.
It's obvious in retrospect, that I should have been much more clear and I will attempt to be so here.
First, see the previous post for a graphic of my basic political position: I'm a centrist, who leans very slightly towards liberal/libertarianism when it comes to social issues, and slightly to the right when it comes to matters of national security, defense, and the economy. I'm neither republican or democrat or libertarian. I'm an independent who votes my conscience, I believe in common sense, education, and intelligence and Joe-Six-Pack would probably call me an elitist, real elitists would probably call me a jumped up pretender - frankly I don't care, I am who I am and I like making it difficult for people to pigeon-hole me. If you're one of those people who just has to categorize others, you'll be extremely unhappy here, and it's best you leave now.
With that said, I think that, if we have to have John McCain as President, Palin will make a dandy Vice President. And I do think that she has the potential to be a decent president.
Wait, don't start screaming yet. Hear me out.
First, as regular readers are fully aware, I am diametrically opposed to Palin's publicly professed personal beliefs, i.e. creationism - from which all else in her world view depends. I think creationism is, well, to be blunt, just plain stupid and ignorant. While the Constitution says that the government has to respect Creationism as a religious belief, our law puts no such onus on me as an individual and I have absolutely no respect for what I see as deluded silly nonsense. Now, before the creationists out there get all red-faced and pear-shaped, don't feel singled out - I feel that way about most religions. However, as long as you keep it to yourself and don't attempt to push your beliefs on me, I'm perfectly willing to let you believe whatever you like. And that's how it's been here in Alaska, Palin, despite her religious beliefs has done a credible job of representing those who believe as she does, and those of us who emphatically do not.
In other words, for the two years that she has been Alaska's governor, she has placed her duty as governor above her personal religious beliefs.
This is in large part acceptable to me. I am quite familiar with with many folks who have the ability to separate duty from personal belief. The military, where I spent most of my life, is full of people who every day place their sworn duty above their personal, religious, and political beliefs. This is called professionalism. And based on her track record, Palin has by and large exhibited this quality as Alaska's Governor.
I do think that she has allowed her political beliefs to influence her professed views on certain things - such as the underlying cause of global warming. [As an aside here, I don't think this particular viewpoint is limited to Sarah Palin. Seriously, I think a hell of a lot more conservatives would be willing to accept the vast array of high confidence science that points directly to human activity as a significant contributing factor in global climate change if anybody but Al Gore was the spokesman for the cause. Any conservative who embraces the environment as a cause celebre, will be seen as a traitor to the party, period. I've always found this bizarre and perverse, but that's human nature in general, and politics in particular, for you.]
This is less acceptable to me. However placing the politics of the party above logic, science, and duty to the whole is unavoidable in our current system. Politicians largely place their duty to the party that got them elected over their duty to the whole. Like it or not, that's part and parcel of American politics.
Now, down to the crux of the matter at hand, i.e. justification of my stated opinion that Palin will make a decent Veep.
First, as long as she continues to place duty above personal belief, I believe she'll execute the Office of Vice President in a manner that brings credit upon the office. Will she? Place duty above belief, that is. All I can point to is her track record, which indicates that she will, anything else is pure speculation, hysteria, and presumption of guilt without proof.
Second, it is important to point out that she is the Vice Presidential candidate, not the Presidential candidate.
Now, the formal duties of the VP are limited by the Constitution to a few simple roles: 1) become President should the sitting President become unable to serve for whatever reason, and 2) act as the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate which includes two primary, and very limited, duties: a) to cast the deciding vote in the event of a senatorial deadlock, and b) to preside over and certify the vote count of the Electoral College. And if you want to get technical about it, the VP is also required to sit behind the President during State of the Union addresses, and try manfully to stay awake for an hour without resorting to either doodling or throwing spitballs at the back of the President's head.
Is Palin qualified to carry out those duties? No, and yes. I think that it's painfully obvious that she is not qualified at the moment, in either knowledge or experience, to execute the first duty of the Vice President, i.e. become the President should the sitting executive become incapacitated due to a rage induced stroke or sudden age-related cardiac infarction. However, based on her track record, Palin is both smart and a quick learner and given enough time in the standby seat I think she'll come up to speed fairly quickly. Additionally, as I've written elsewhere, a president's knowledge and experience is less important than who they get advice and consul from, and how willing they are to listen to that advice and consul - which is why I think it imperative that we as voters demand to know who those people will be now, prior to the election. Now don't get me wrong here, I do think this is a major concern, however, I think it's less a concern regarding Palin's qualifications than it is McCain's, and if you truly believe that John McCain will die in office, well, then you probably should have picked a different candidate - and that's a separate post entirely. Now, is Palin qualified to carry out the other formal Constitutional duties of Vice President? Yes, certainly. Her experience as town mayor and governor qualifies her for that. In the event of a Senatorial deadlock, she'll predictably vote along party lines, just as every VP has, whether or not she understands the issues in detail. And anybody of sound moral fiber can certify the Electoral College vote - additionally there's plenty of oversight, transparency, and a formal process for doing so, even those without sound moral fiber would be hard pressed to jigger results - not that it couldn't be done, but it's unlikely despite urban myth to the contrary.
What about the informal duties of the Vice President? What are those exactly? Well, that's a good question, and the answer often depends on the relationship between the President and the Vice President (I almost said between the President and his Vice, but that conjured up images of Bill Clinton and cigars and I really don't want to go there). In recent years the Office of VP has usually included the following duties: 1) spokesman for the administration's policy - which I think Palin has demonstrated that she's aptly able to carry out. 2) Advisor to the President - which, in Palin's case, would depend entirely on what type of salmon fishing McCain had mind. I'm being a smart ass, of course, but the truth of the matter is that Palin lacks any kind of experience that would make her a respectable presidential advisor in any significant capacity outside of a very few, very limited areas - such as Alaskan oil exploration and export (However, this may be a critical role, and one few others could provide). It is unlikely that Palin will be able to provide the type of advice and consul that the current VP does to George Bush. At the beginning of the current administration, Dick Cheney's experience in Washington far, far outweighed Bush's, this is manifestly not the case with McCain and Palin. However, the role of advisor is purely dependent on the person, and not a formal duty, and this is important to remember. 3) Traditionally, since the Kennedy administration anyway, the Vice President serves as the Chairman of the Board of NASA, and in this Palin is utterly unqualified, but so have been most Vice Presidents. Lyndon Johnson's tenure primarily emphasized beating the Rooskies in manned spaceflight, and getting as much of the resulting NASA pork barrel dumped into Texas as possible. And vice presidents since the last American left the moon in 1972, have mostly been about containing NASA's expenditures and reliving past glories. Note: astute readers might note that Alaska is one of only three states to have a spaceport (the others being Florida [Kennedy SFC] and California [Vandenberg AFB and the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center]). However, the Kodiak Launch complex is used for unmanned, circumpolar orbital insertion and missile testing and Palin has no duties or experience relating to it whatsoever. Additionally, Palin lacks formal education or experience in hard science research and application, which is the mainstay of NASA's overall mission. Her ability to carry out the duties as NASA's Chairman of the Board will depend entirely on her ability to listen to others. In this regard, I doubt Palin will be any better or any worse than her predecessors. 4) The VP also serves as a member of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution, and here I do have a major concern when it comes to Palin's religious and political beliefs. I find it difficult in the extreme to believe that an avowed creationist would be able to separate her beliefs from her sworn duty when when it comes to this role. Additionally, Palin lacks any kind of formal education in mainstream science, history, or culture - the very things that the Smithsonian is entrusted with preserving and extending. However the VP's role on the board is not overriding and the amount of influence she has will be limited. And finally 5) the Office of VP is often delegated to carry out the formal ceremonial duties of the Executive Office, and in this Palin has demonstrated her ability to speak publicly and well, to rally the crowd with ease and expertise and here I think she'll do exceptionally well.
Now, let's get right down to brass tacks. I said previously that I though Palin was the best choice John McCain could have made for a running mate, and I stand by that statement. McCain isn't stupid, he's an experienced and savvy political insider, this isn't the first time he's run for president - and last time he lost, and he learned from that - he chose Palin for a particular reason, to get elected. And that is the primary role of the Vice Presidential candidate, and a role Palin is exercising with confidence and enthusiasm. And the numbers reflect the soundness of McCain's tactical choice. There's no doubt she embarrassed herself and McCain with her poor performance during the Katie Couric interview, but it's important to note that she corrected that deficiency two weeks later during the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden, while her performance wasn't exactly stellar, it was far and away better than anybody expected. So much so that the GOP could claim victory, or at least not concede defeat and embarrassment. It's obvious that she crammed for that debate, and that she stuck to the approved republican talking points, but that's exactly my point here - she's a very fast learner and she's growing politically very, very quickly. Others have underestimated her to their detriment, and so has the Obama campaign. Don't make the same mistake.
Does that mean she'll make a good Vice President? Not necessarily. The ability to get elected, and the ability to carry out the duties of office are two totally different things. There are many, many folks in this country who would make better presidents or better vice presidents than any of the current candidates, but they could not possibly get elected even if they wanted the job. The best we can hope for is that if elected by popular vote, the candidates will grow into the office and execute the duties of that office in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
Based on Palin's track record, I still think that she can execute most of the duties of vice president fairly well, however as noted I think she's seriously lacking it some of the most important areas. So was Johnson, so was Ford, hell so was Teddy Roosevelt.
Palin is not my choice for Vice President and I have no intention of voting for either her or John McCain - but then I wouldn't vote for McCain no matter who he chose for his running mate. I don't like him, and I don't like his party. And I feel this way because I've examined the requirements of the office, and compared both the candidate's experience, history, and stated goals, desires, and intentions. And not just because I've had enough Republicans in the White House to last me for a while, thank you very much.
McCain, Palin, Obama, Biden, none are the anti-Christ, or evil incarnate, or the end of America as we know it, or the downfall of Western Civilization and there is no need to pretend that any of them are. Who you vote for is entirely your business, but please, break it down line by line and responsibility by responsibility, and figure out whether or not the person you vote for is truly representative of your ideals.
Bottom line, no matter who wins this election - come January one of the darkest chapters of American history will come to a close, and personally, at this point I consider that a win for all of us.