October 7, 2008

Sarah Palin is John McCain's Harriet Miers

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25:  Republican vice-pres...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeNobody can predict precisely what sort of crises a president may face during his or her administration. Thus, judgment becomes an essential attribute for one to be effective in such a position. When still President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court, America was puzzled. Surely there was someone with Miers' conservative credentials who was vastly more qualified for the bench. Bush was resoundingly scolded for his nomination and withdrew it under pressure. The American people told him clearly, "We expect our Supreme Court justices to be qualified for the position, regardless of their ideological views." America now confronts a similar situation with Sen. John McCain's choice of Gov. Sarah Palin for his vice president.

Bush's motives for the Miers nomination have been analyzed extensively. What would become painfully clear during his presidency was that he deemed blind loyalty more important than competence. Miers provided a dramatic example of this, but there would be many others.

Bush developed a "siege mentality" with which he struggled to cope. He convinced himself that anyone who disagreed with him was a terrorist ally and found it necessary to wage war against an imaginary "liberal media." It became important to surround himself with those who would not disagree, and in rewarding loyalty, competence would be overlooked. The ideological bubble was complete.

By cutting himself off from reality and functioning in a protective sphere of his own making, Bush could weather his plummeting approval rating, even as he inflicted one catastrophe after another on those he once sought to govern. Against the backdrop of ignoring the pre-9/11 warnings, invading Iraq under false pretenses, thoroughly botching the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and leading us to the brink of economic disaster, Bush's nomination Harriet Miers doesn't seem that bad. But it was a symptom of poor judgment and ineffective leadership.

Harriet Miers, Take 2: Sarah Palin as VP

I do not doubt that Bush liked Harriet Miers and that other administration officials found her likable. But this, much like her religious beliefs, was irrelevant to her qualifications, experience, or competence. The same could be (and indeed, has been) said of Sarah Palin.

When McCain initially chose Palin, most of the outrage came from women who had supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. They found McCain's pick insulting because it communicated that they would be appeased by a female candidate, regardless of her qualifications. "Surely he could have found a far more qualified woman!"

As the nation learned more about Palin, concerns about her qualifications, experience, and competence became widespread. When each of the few media interviews she agreed to give proved disastrous, many conservatives jumped ship. Prominent conservatives with impeccable Republican credentials expressed concern and eventually called for Palin's ouster. It became eerily reminiscent of Harriet Miers.

Growing numbers of voters, both Democratic and Republican, agree that Sarah Palin is not qualified for the vice presidency. Aside from her experience, she has repeatedly demonstrated a surprising lack of knowledge for the important events of our day, a psychopathic comfort with lying, and a deeply disturbing lack of curiosity about the world. She has gone beyond simple inexperience and entered the realm where voters are actually frightened about what she could do to the country.

Many Americans like their politicians folksy. It worked for Clinton and certainly for Bush. But folksy is most effective when voters can trust the competence underneath it. A candidate who can genuinely connect with the people is great, but not at the expense of effective leadership and sound judgment. We know the stakes, and we demand better.

By stubbornly refusing to heed the growing chorus calling for Palin's removal from the GOP ticket, McCain makes his own judgment and character central issues in this election. That he chose her in the first place already speaks volumes, much as nominating Miers did for Bush. But by pressing forward with Palin, McCain shows that he is no longer fit to lead.

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