I meant to be one of the 4 million bloggers commenting yesterday on John McCain's nomination of Sarah Palin as vice president, but my head wouldn't quit spinning. On Thursday night, I was somberly sitting through Barack Obama's acceptance speech, warning myself not to get caught up in his soaring rhetoric. As good Republicans have repeatedly warned me, these are serious times, the front lines of an international struggle against Islamofascism, a time when sober reflection and serious military, foreign policy and diplomatic experience were vitally needed. Obama didn't stack up, no matter how pretty his words.
Friday morning, all of that changed. It wasn't experience we needed, I learned, it was an authentic American biography, a feisty political history, a deep pro-life commitment. Foreign policy experience? Hey, she lives just across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Legislative experience? Hey, she was ordering potholes fixed in Alaska before Obama ever ran for office. Washington experience? Hey, haven't you heard that politics is the only profession in which experience counts against you?
I couldn't keep up. Old political pros like Sean Hannity can shift with the political winds at the drop of a hat in the ring, but it takes some of the rest of us time to shift gears. I was amazed at the speed with which much of the right-wing blogosphere, including in Montana, fell into line (for an honorable exception, go here).
Not that I'm complaining. If experience is no longer a qualification for president, then fine. I've always thought experience in presidential candidates was overrated. The job is just too different from every other job in the world for any experience to be truly relevant. And the job is so wide-ranging and complex that even the best candidates have to rely heavily on the advice and wisdom of others. So how much candidates know is less important than how well they listen to and evaluate what other people tell them. Admit it: If you had known in 1860 what was about to happen to the country, would you have voted for Abe Lincoln as commander in chief? Pretty words: That's all he had to offer.
But some aspects of experience are relevant. One is how well the candidate can perform on a national stage. Palin? No clue. Another is that it takes years to absorb all the policy minutiae that experienced politicians keep in their heads. I've seen a lot of smart challengers have their heads handed to them in political debates, even at city council level, by incumbents whose only real advantage was that they understood how stuff worked.
Exceptions are awfully rare, in my experience. One of the few I can recall was when Rick Hill went up against Bill Yellowtail in a debate at the Alberta Bair Theater. Yellowtail had legislative and federal administrative experience, and I had heard him give a pretty good speech. I figured he would blow Hill away. But Hill, in my view, not only held his own but actually won the debate and went on to win the election. But as I say, that comes to mind only because it was so rare.
Is Palin one of those rare exceptions? Lord knows, I have no idea. But I do know this: I'm not betting on it. And to those who say that Palin actually has more executive experience than the other candidates, I can only offer this advice: Please get some therapy.
I have no doubt that it takes every bit as much talent, persistence and intelligence to serve well as mayor of a small town as it does to serve as mayor of Detroit. Issues that roil small towns may look tiny from a distance, but they matter to people who live there. The problem is that lots of small towns just don't have good mayors. There aren't enough good mayors to go around, and a lot of people who might be good mayors won't take the job because the ratio of grief and effort so far outweighs the rewards. Since Palin advanced to governor from mayor, it's a fair guess that she was good at it, but I don't know that for a fact, and I doubt that any of the bloggers applauding her selection have pored through city council minutes and records to find out for themselves.
Besides, if serving as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, counts as presidential-level executive experience, then I have more executive experience than everybody in the race combined. Plus, my experience is in the private sector, where results count. And in my mind, less than two years of gubernatorial experience is almost equal to zero. The whole point of getting experience is that it allows you to get stupid mistakes out of your system at a level where the damage can be contained. If you don't make stupid mistakes, you don't need experience. If you don't learn from mistakes, experience is of no value to you. But in two years, a governor has barely had time to make all of the mistakes most rookies make, much less absorb and learn lessons from them.
Yes, I know it's only vice president. But I've always thought a vote for McCain is a vote for his vice president. Heck, I'm a decade and a half younger than he is and in almost ridiculously good health (knock on wood). But, like him, I work too many hours under too much stress, and I don't like my odds of getting through the next eight years without a serious health problem.
The way I see it, the maverick just bet the ranch, the farm, the cattle and the whole country. I'm not taking that bet.