Senator McCain selected Governor Palin because she is a 44-year-old attractive woman with a thin paper trail and an appealing personal story. And because unlike Tom Ridge and Joe Lieberman, she is acceptable to the Christian right.
His selection of a manifestly under-qualified running-mate provides an opportunity to talk directly and fairly about the realities of a 72-year-old man running for the nation’s highest office. Many of us have written about the age issue, and about Senator McCain’s incredibly poor judgment in his vice-presidential pick.
I’m agnostic about whether a 72-year-old should run for president. Demography being what it is, others will attempt the same feat in both parties. I myself would have supported Ted Kennedy in a heads-up context against George W. Bush in 2004. Ted Kennedy’s poignant struggle with brain cancer reminds us that there are no guarantees against what can happen, indeed what always eventually does happen, to the human mind and body.
If Ted Kennedy were President right now, his illness would create a serious governing challenge. I suspect America would have weathered it because of two simple virtues Ted Kennedy brings to the table that McCain does not: The ability to delegate and (of-late) the ability to control his own ego when it otherwise would damage his own treasured causes. For decades, Kennedy hired, relied upon, and effectively managed a wonderful staff of aides and policy analysts who made him one of the best legislators in American history. Many senators are smarter and more eloquent. Few accomplished as much, in large part because few have delegated as well, or have modified their game as wisely over time.
Although Senator Kennedy is seriously ailing, his staff is already working hard on health reform legislation and on other matters important to the next president. If health reform passes, he will have put his stamp on it, even if he does not live to witness its passage. If he were an ailing President today, he would have Vice President Clinton or someone else of similar national stature with whom he had worked with for years to help him, or, God forbid, to succeed him.
This is important, in part for this specific important election, in part for more human reasons. As we get older, our children and grandchildren look to us. They want to see how we responsibly navigate life’s most basic realities. In selecting Governor Palin, Senator McCain is not showing them the way.