Sunday, September 07, 2008

Festina Lente

Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain admitted in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

Certainly that's laudable. It's annoying as hell when people make rash, hasty choices and then whine and complain about the consequences. I've listened to a couple people who made those kinds of choices about cars (big gas guzzlers that they didn't need, but liked for some reason... and now complain, just a few years later, about the cost of filling the tank. The only thing that wasn't utterly predictable was the actual date that would happen... rash, hasty choice).

But there's a vast difference between a hasty decision that saddles you with a gas guzzler or a too-large mortgage, or even a bad marriage, and one that affects others more than it affects you.

This, in the end, is the reason that the whole vetting (or not) of Sarah Palin issue is such a big concern. As long as Governor Mooseburger never has to do anything but preside over the Senate (when it pleases her to condescend to do so*), hide out in an undisclosed location**, and shoot lawyers, her being VP is really a fairly minor thing for the country. It won't really matter that much; the observation that the post of vice president isn't worth a bucket of warm spit*** is pretty apt, historically. It's only the most recent Veeps who've managed to make their roles signficant, and in each case that's entirely the result of the willingness of the president to let them do more. It's entirely plausible that a hypothetical Vice President Palin would be little more than a spokesmodel for the McCain Administration.

It's what happens if the McCain Administration turns into the Palin Administration for any reason (death, resignation, impeachment or a longer term invocation of sections three or four of the 25th Amendment) that matters. Who Sarah Palin is, what she thinks and believes, what she'd like to do, and how she's likely to act in regards to the Constitution, the law, etc. is what really matters.

That, in fact, is one of the two reasons for vetting a VP pick. The first, of course, is to put all the cards on the table for the presidential nominee--so he or she knows what scandals and skeletons might arise in the campaign. We've pretty much already seen that John McCain isn't complaining about his decision there (about other people's questioning the hastiness and the nominees credentials, that's another story). But John's not the one who would really suffer the consequences of a hasty decision on his part, in this case. After all, if Sarah Palin becomes president, and there's anything to regret... the suffering would befall the American people, not John McCain. Vetting thus becomes a fiduciary responsibility, really. Picking someone well grounded, informed, and capable of doing the job well is the real obligation.

Given the vetting process, and what we already know didn't happen (no one appears to have gone to Alaska first, and really gone through the records and asked the questions, and worse, the McCain campaign has simply lied about the thoroughness of its process--which it won't discuss the specifics of--claiming that the FBI investigation cleared her. Only the FBI doesn't do that, and says it didn't do that for this campaign or candidate...).

Is Sarah Palin ready to be Vice President?

The campaign has touted her security credentials--the governor of the only state that borders Russia, and commander of the AK National Guard. The threat of a Russian invasion of Alaska has never been significant, and barely imagined since the collapse of the USSR (long before Palin became governor). In fact, a major rail line connecting Alaska to Russian Asia (and thus to the rest of the Old World) has been talked about repeatedly in recent years. That's hardly the stuff one mulls over when a nation is a military threat. Further, Gov. Palin is reported to have never given any order to the AK National Guard. Apparently military credentials can be acquired by osmosis, simply by holding a titular military post.

The campaign likes the story of her fighting Republican corruption in AK--as a way of suggesting she's even handed and full of mavericky goodness. But the truth is that in Palin's time, the State of Alaska has been essentially a Republican preserve, and the opportunities for Democratic politicians there to be corrupt have been few. And, as any observer of Alaskan politics can tell you, going after corrupt Republican politicians there is sort fo like going after salmon in spawning season; it's hard to miss. It is, in fact, hard to find a significant Republican Alaskan politician not mired in at least one serious scandal, and in fact, Palin has her own (abuse of power--a case which is serious enough and inescapably substantial enough that the GOP controlled legislature demanded an investigation of it. The McCain campaign says it knew about it and accepted the governor's assertion that it wouldn't matter (insert raised eyebrow here).

Then there are Governor Palin's lies. She appears to suffer the same blindspot that John McCain does--not understanding that the past is there to be examined, and that in the age of "the google" it's terribly easy to test the veracity of many statements. There's the Bridge to Nowhere; she presented herself as a bold opponent of it who wrote to Congress, shot it down and saved the nation all that money. The truth? The truth is that there's extensive evidence, including media reports and phtographs, that show Palin actively supported it. The truth is that she wrote to Congress against it after the earmark was already dead, in Congress. The truth is that the Bridge to Egg-On-Your-Face wasn't built... but Alaska got all that money anyway, helping it maintain its status as the welfareearmark dollar per citizen queen status it's long held. There's the governor's luxury plane that she campaigned against--and, she or McCain or the campaign claim, sold on eBay and made a profit. The truth? The truth is she put it on eBay, and it didn't sell. After it failed to sell, it was sold through conventional used plane channels and was sold at a loss.

There's her performance as mayor of Wasilla, which reveals her to have an expectation of personal loyalty and support from government employees. Those who didn't support her election were fired. The town librarian was asked to let Palin know how she could ban books--and on rejecting the notion, Palin tried to fire her. That firing was blocked by the city council, and limitations were imposed on Palin.

Then there's her involvement with the Alaska Independence Party (a party her husband was a member of until Palin ran for governor, in 2002), which advocates the secession of Alaska from the USA. Palin herself may not have been a member of the party in the past (that's murky; the chair of the party affirmed she had been, but is now uncertain), but she's certainly been cozy with them, attending at least one convention and sending supportive messages by video as governor. Since the party's talked of "infiltrating" major parties as a means fo gaining influence, that's all rather unsettling.

Does that all sound like the kind of president for all Americans that we might want? Does it sound like the kind of issues that should have been caught in vetting, and dealt with, prepared for? Yet none of that seems to have been dealt with proactively; each thing's been something that the campaign has dealt with in a very reactive mode. That's not what one would expect of an organization that had thoroughly vetted a candidate.

That doesn't just speak to Palin's inappropriateness as a candidate, it speaks to McCain's. It's one thing to make hasty decisions and to grit one's teeth and take the consequences. It's another to foist the consequences off on others.

* Perhaps Palin would be more hands-on than Dick Cheney, but that is a perfectly accurate description of his attitude about his only constitutional obligation. Given that McCain seems to be affirming most of the current administration's policies and behaviors, I'm inclined to assume things will stay the same except where they're explicitly not going to be.

** Again, Dick Cheney's modus operandi; he's been harder to find than Waldo for the last eight years. Given Palin's being kept away from the press since her selection, which is a very strange behavior in a campaign for office, one is hard put not to be reminded of Cheney's behavior.

*** The notorious characterization of the post by the 32nd vice president (for FDR's first two terms), John "Cactus Jack" Nance Garner IV. That's what he said, and he called a writer who quoted it as "warm spit" a "pantywaist" for doing so.

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