Sarah Palin: John McCain’s Political Hail Mary Pass

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If John McCain’s decision to pick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate works out, it’s likely to be seen as a political masterstroke. Here’s a young, attractive, successful Governor, definitely an outsider, and someone who can definitely help bring along those parts of the Republican base that continue to have second thoughts about the idea of John McCain as President. And, as a woman, she’s someone who might be able to tap into some of the same sentiment that Hillary Clinton did during her run for the Democratic nomination.

It’s a daring decision in many respects, but, as with all daring decisions, it comes with risks.

For one thing, she’s a relative unknown who has only held the office of Governor for two years. Before that, she was Mayor of the town of Wasilla from 1996 to 2006 after having served on the City Council there for four years. Wasilla, in case you’ve never heard of it, is a town of less than 6,000 people.

That’s not saying that she’s not qualified, but it is saying that she is an unknown with a relative lack of political experience — both compared to the GOP Nominee for President and the Democratic nominee for Vice-President. The last person that fit that bill was a guy named Dan Quayle.

But Dan Quayle isn’t the only past candidate for Vice-Preisdent that Palin may eventually be compared to. Like the 1984 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee, there may be a potential ethics problem:

Lawmakers will hire someone within a week to investigate whether Governor Sarah Palin abused her power in firing Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. The legislative council approved 100,000 dollars for the investigation that will find out whether Palin was angry at Monegan for not firing an Alaska State Trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin’s sister.

On Monday afternoon, the Joint Legislative Council, filled with Republicans and Democrats, voted 12 to 0 to formally call for an investigation against Governor Palin in a manner—that they are stressing—will be unbiased and done in a timely fashion.

Legislators approved hiring a special investigator to look into the controversial firing of former Public

Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan was fired two weeks ago without explanation and has said he was pressured by the governor and her staff to fire a trooper who was once married to Palin’s sister.

Accusations have risen that Monegan was fired for his refusal to fire trooper Michael Wooten. The council’s intent is to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of Monegan and potential abuses of power and improper action by the Governor and her administration.

Now, there may be nothing to this story, but you can’t bet that it will come out over the next day or two if Palin is, in fact, the nominee and there may not be enough time between now and Election Day to set the record straight.

Here’s a question that is going to have to be answered by the McCain/Palin ticket, quickly, if this choice is going to work.

Is Sarah Palin ready to be President ?

Because of McCain’s age, it’s an inevitable question. When Ronald Reagan faced it back in 1980, he handled it deftly by picking George H.W. Bush, a man with an incredibly impressive resume whom nobody could tag with the “not ready on day one” criticism. For whatever reason, Bush himself forgot that lesson from the Gipper when he picked Dan Quayle, a move that could have cost him the election if he had been running against a competent opponent.

Has John McCain made Bush’s mistake, or did he learn Regan’s lesson ?

Andrew Sullivan raises some doubt:

The first criterion for a veep – and I’m simply repeating a truism here – is that they are ready to take over at a moment’s notice. That’s especially true when you have a candidate as old as McCain. That’s more than especially true when we are at war, in an era of astonishingly difficult challenges, when the next president could be grappling with war in the Middle East or a catastrophic terror attack at home. Under those circumstances, we could have a former Miss Alaska with two terms under her belt as governor. Now compare McCain’s pick with Obama’s: a man with solid foreign policy experience, six terms in Washington and real relationships with leaders across the globe.

One pick is by a man of judgment; the other is by a man of vanity.

She may be a fine person, but she’s my age, she has zero Washington experience, and no foreign policy expertise whatsoever.

McCain has just told us how seriously he takes the war we are in. Not seriously at all.

Granted, Sully is hardly an unbiased observer in this race. He’s cast his lot with Obama/Biden despite the fact that he readily admits that he pretty much disagrees with every domestic policy position that Obama takes. But that doesn’t mean that the criticism isn’t valid.

Eldrod at The Moderate Voice makes a similar point:

Think about the VP’s job. It’s to step into office on a moment’s notice in case the President pulls a William Henry Harrison and days a month after taking office. This is always a real possibility, but with McCain’s advanced age and prior health issues, the succession issue is even more important this year. It was especially incumbent upon McCain to pick somebody who would be ready to serve in a moment’s notice.

Is that Sarah Palin? She was elected Governor 18 months ago. Before that, she was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. She is 43 years old and has served a fraction of even Barack Obama’s time in non-local political office. Despite her longtime support for ethics reform, she is under state investigation right now for abuse of power in the dismissal of the Commissioner of Public Safety.

The centerpiece to John McCain’s argument against Barack Obama is that he is too inexperienced to lead right now. That he is unprepared for the Presidency of the United States. Agree or disagree, that’s McCain argument.

This VP completely undercuts that argument. If McCain is unable to serve in his first term, a woman with 18 months of experience beyond the Mayoral level (and this ain’t NYC) will have to step in and serve as leader of the free world. She has virtually no public profile outside the state of Alaska and carries no major message or agenda that makes up for her lack of experience.

Just as Obama needed to pick a candidate to help with gaps in his experience, McCain needed to pick someone who he could credibly point to and say “this person is qualified to become President of the United States if something happens to me.”

Has he done that with the Palin pick, or has he picked someone that, like Dan Quayle, the public will come to perceive as a lightweight ?

We don’t know yet, because essentially what McCain has done is close his eyes, throw the football, and hope that Sarah Palin can run it into the end zone.