Sarah Palin, Worst Veep Pick Ever? Not So Fast.

Sarah Palin's book tour has aroused the ire of McCain staffers and everyone who thinks she is utterly unqualified to be president or to have been selected as the vice presidential nominee by the septuagenarian candidate of the Republican Party. They point to her minuscule tenure in the Alaska governor's office, fumbled interviews and seeming lack of knowledge about much having to do with running the country. But if you think about the vice presidential selections since World War II began, is Sarah Palin even the worst? A quick review of contenders:

1. Spiro Agnew. Driven from office for bribery charges, he resigned in 1973. Before that, Agnew had been the governor of Maryland for less than two years when Richard Nixon plucked him from obscurity--the same amount of time that Palin was in office. Sure, Agnew had been Baltimore County executive and not mayor of Wasilla, but in terms of corruption and temperament, has there been anyone worse in memory? And he wasn't really qualified either.

2. Richard Nixon. Before Watergate, before the invasion of Cambodia, before the Disraeli-like expansion of government under his tenure--EPA, OSHA, affirmative action--there was Richard Nixon, the vice president. Qualified? Sure, he'd been a senator and a congressman and a McCarthyite witch hunter. Suppose, given what we know now about Nixon's paranoia, Eisenhower had died in office. Would you have wanted Nixon dealing with Stalin? Khrushchev during the height of the Cold War? Leaving aside how he might have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis had he beaten John Kennedy in 1960, was the Tricky Dick of the '50s really someone you wanted to see in the Oval Office? You can say some good things about his presidential tenure, but the combination of his personality and the '50s and him as commander in chief is a frightening thought.

3. Henry Wallace. I hate to speak ill of a former editor of my alma mater, The New Republic. But Wallace, FDR's second vice president, after John Nance Garner and before Harry Truman, had a long history as being a naif about Soviet expansionism and dreamy notions of one-world government. Thank God FDR dumped him from the ticket in 1944 and his 1948 third-party progressive candidacy didn't derail Harry Truman's reelection. 

4. Geraldine Ferraro. The third term congresswoman from Queens and favorite of the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill was a bold choice for Walter Mondale in 1984. But was the first woman to be selected as vice presidential nominee by a major party really ready for office? Her husband skated past corruption charges. Her hapless 1998 Senate bid ended with defeat by Chuck Schumer and her career as a prosecutor, while admirable, wasn't the best Oval Office prep.

5. John Edwards. We now know what a rapscallion and liar Edwards was. A few thousand votes different in Ohio and he would have been President John Kerry's vice president. The thought is not deeply comforting. He had a trial lawyer's facility with words and a genuine compassion for the poor, but was he so much more qualified than Sarah Palin after four years in the U.S. Senate?

I'm leaving out some picks that I think get a bad rap. Dan Quayle was qualified to be veep. So was Thomas Eagleton, the senator from Missouri whose nomination was pulled after it emerged that he'd undergone electroshock therapy. Most have been more than qualified: George H.W. Bush, Henry Cabot Lodge. You could argue that the worst pick of all was the one with the longest resume: Dick Cheney. In other words, the doubts about Palin are justified, but some historical perspective is important, too. We've seen worse.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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