“Mr. McCain’s judgment”

The WaPo asks the obvious question: WTF was McCain thinking?

The WaPo, which I’ve come to think of as pretty much a Republican paper editorially (though solid on its news pages) ever since Bush v. Gore, makes point I was hoping to see become the conventional wisdom about the Palin selection. Two different correspondents independently have dubbed it “the WTF question”:

The most important question Mr. McCain should have asked himself about Ms. Palin was not whether she could help him win the presidency. It was whether she is qualified and prepared to serve as president should anything prevent him from doing so. This would have been true for any presidential nominee, and it was especially crucial that Mr. McCain — who turns 72 today — get this choice right. If he is elected, he will be the oldest man ever to serve a first term in the White House.

In this regard, count us among the puzzled and the skeptical. Not long ago, no less a Republican strategist than Karl Rove belittled Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as a potential running mate for Barack Obama, noting that picking him would appear “intensely political” because Mr. Kaine’s experience consisted of only three years as governor preceded by the mayoralty of Richmond, which Mr. Rove called “not a big town.”

Using Mr. Rove’s criteria, Ms. Palin would not fare well. Her executive experience consists of less than two years as governor of her sparsely populated state, plus six years as mayor of Wasilla (pop. 8,471). Absorbed in Alaska’s unique energy and natural resource issues, she has barely been heard from in the broader national debates over economic policy and health care. Above all, she has no record on foreign policy and national security &#8212 including terrorism, which Mr. McCain posits as the top challenge facing America and the world. Once the buzz over Ms. Palin’s nomination dies down, the hard questions about her will begin. The answers will reflect on her qualifications &#8212 and on Mr. McCain’s judgment as well.

[empasis added]

And if that weren’t bad enough for McCain, Mark Halperin &#8212 Mark Halperin! &#8212 is piling on:

On the face of it, McCain has failed the ultimate test that any presidential candidate must face in picking a running mate: selecting someone who is unambiguously qualified to be president.

If McCain has lost the WaPo editorial board and Halperin, it’s fair to say this choice is not going down well. And today is just Day 1. Atrios loves to sneer at the Very Serious People, and not without reason. But supporting Palin may turn out to be, even in HalperinWorld, inconsistent with Seriousness. Once you step back from the meta-questions “Can the Republicans make this look good, and will the Democrats get caught in a trap by reacting to it?” to the root question “Is there any conceivable justification for this choice?” the answer isn’t hard to find.

Some of my friends this morning were in despair at the capacity of Fox News and the hate-talkers to stay “on message” and in the tank for the GOP while the other cable nets, partly influenced by the new Republican-themed AP, more or less swallowed the spin. Yes, that Republican structural advantage matters.

But our side is not without resources, and the Intertubes give the truth a somewhat better starting position in its old footrace with falsehood. Right now, the Red Team can still out-market us; but nothing kills a bad product faster than great marketing.

Update Add David Frum to the mix.

The longer I think about it, the less well this selection sits with me. And I increasingly doubt that it will prove good politics. The Palin choice looks cynical. The wires are showing.

John McCain wanted a woman: good.

He wanted to keep conservatives and pro-lifers happy: naturally.

He wanted someone who looked young and dynamic: smart.

And he discovered that he could not reconcile all these imperatives with the stated goal of finding a running mate qualified to assume the duties of the presidency “on day one.”


It’s a wild gamble, undertaken by our oldest ever first-time candidate for president in hopes of changing the board of this election campaign. Maybe it will work. But maybe (and at least as likely) it will reinforce a theme that I’d be pounding home if I were the Obama campaign: that it’s John McCain for all his white hair who represents the risky choice, while it is Barack Obama who offers cautious, steady, predictable governance.


If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?

And now Krauthammer, too.

And James Joyner:

I’d never heard of Palin before the VP buzz started on the blogs a while back. She’s supposedly an excellent campaigner. And, obviously, her youth and gender make her a bold pick. Ultimately, though, I think she doesn’t make sense. If you’re running on “the country’s security is too important to be run by neophytes,” you can’t have one as next in line. … While Joe Biden was, twice, an awful presidential candidate, he’s a plausible president. Sarah Palin is not. …Obama went traditional but steady in Biden. It wasn’t a bold pick but it was one that butressed his claim that he has judgment even though he lacks experience. McCain has done the opposite here.

It looks to me as if the grown-ups on the Red Team are embarrassed by Palin, and those who defend this choice are going to look like hacks, even to one another. Moreover, and more than the Blue Team, the Red Team has caught the essence of the problem: not Palin herself &#8212 though that 15% cumulative mortality risk over four years is pretty scary &#8212 but what teh choice of Palin says about McCain.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com