Palin and McCain's Judgment

Andrew's more substantive attacks on the Palin pick have circled around the idea that this is a devastating indictment of McCain's judgment, since even if Palin helps put him over the top in November McCain will have triumphed by putting his own short-term political interests over the country's need for a steady hand on the tiller should he keel over during his first year in office. Well, maybe. Another way to look at it, though, is that Palin will only help McCain politically if she shows herself to be a quick study and a plausible vice president over the next sixty-six days; if she's as ludicrous a pick as Andrew thinks she is, then McCain will look like a fool and his already none-too-high chances of winning this election will drop lower still. If she's a Quayle-type choice or worse, the odds are good that she'll never occupy the Naval Observatory: She only helps him (and he needs help!) if she turns out to be a case study in his ability to size up political talent on the fly, and if that's how things shake out, nobody will be talking about how McCain put "country last" with his VP pick.

I would add, too, that there's a lot more to running a successful administration than having a President with decades of foreign policy experience. You wouldn't know it from listening to John McCain of late, admittedly, but that's because foreign policy experience is his trump card against Barack Obama, so he's playing it as often as he can. But an effective administration needs to be able to communicate and charm and finesse its way through difficulties, to appease its base and reach out to the middle, to talk fluently about kitchen-table issues and appear in touch with the hopes and fears of the average voter. This is not, to put it mildly, the sort of politics and governance that John McCain excels at. And consider, for a moment, the political landscape that he wakes up to every morning. He's running for the Presidency at a time when the Republican brand is in the toilet, with a party that seems unable to excite its hard-core supporters or woo swing voters, and a leadership - McCain included - that gets the heebie-jeebies when called upon to discuss any topic save terrorism, 9/11 and the Surge. Even if by some Jeremiah Wright-aided miracle he edges out Barack Obama, he'll limp into the White House as a John Major-in-the-making - an aging politician who won an election that belonged by rights to the other party, facing Democratic majorities in both houses, a media that will be primed to treat Senators Obama and Clinton as the default co-Presidents for the next four years, and a conservative base that's just waiting for an opportunity to turn on him. Does this sound like a recipe for a successful Presidency? And if it isn't, wouldn't it be better for McCain, who at present seems like the last candidate of a fading party and a dying generation, to sweep into Washington with a popular, dynamic, female politician as his junior partner, rather than a dull white male like Ridge or a Romney or a Pawlenty? And wouldn't it be better, frankly, for America as well?

Now maybe Palin isn't a dynamic leader in the making. Maybe she's Quayle meets Eagleton meets Geraldine Ferraro - the last gamble of a reckless politician who cares more about winning the news cycle than keeping his country safe. But I think it's worth reserving judgment, both about her and about what she says about McCain's judgment, until we've seen how she performs on the national stage.