Thoughts on Sarah Palin

Longtime readers will remember that Sarah Palin was on my early short list for McCain. I said back in June that she might be a good pick if McCain found himself behind in the polls and needed a Hail Mary pass. Now that he’s made the pick, how does it look?

First, Palin is undoubtedly qualified to be president and vice president. The Constitution sets those qualifications in Article II, Section 1. One need only be (1) a natural-born citizens; (2) at least 35 years old; and (3) a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years. There’s no question that she meets those qualifications.

There’s also no question that she has plenty of experience. As many people have pointed out since Friday, Palin has been in elected or appointed office since 1992 — a year after Obama graduated from law school. That’s nearly as much experience as John McCain himself. If you count her experience on the PTA, as McCain says we should, her experience is almost Biden-esque.

The real question is the quality of that experience. Does Palin’s experience — a city councilor and then mayor of small town, energy commissioner, and 18 months as governor — make her ready to be president? The answer to that question is largely in the eye of the beholder, but I think it’ll be a tough sell to the American public. It might have been easier to sell over time with a longer roll-out, but the surprise pick makes it particularly difficult.

There’s also Troopergate. Although the facts remain somewhat in dispute, it seems pretty clear that Palin has, on at least one occasion, abused the official power of her office to get someone fired and then lied to cover it up. The first instance happened when she was mayor of small town. The most recent incident happened this summer, when she fired the chief of the state police for refusing to fire the estranged husband of her sister-in-law who was then a state trooper. She’ll probably be deposed and possibly censured in Troopergate during the fall campaign.

And then there’s Palin’s positions on the issues. To the extent that she has positions on national issues, they’re to the right of McCain. Her positions on abortion and contraception, in particular, are closer to Mike Huckabee’s than McCain’s. (Indeed, Huckabee has released a statement praising the Palin pick.) That’s why James Dobson and the religious right are so delighted in her selection.

In the end, I think the pick is more important for what it says about John McCain than for anything it says about Sarah Palin. It showed us all that he’s ready to shoot from the hip on day one. According to recent articles in the NYT and Washington Post, he made the pick after meeting her only once last February and without vetting her at all. That’s not the kind of approach to serious issues that most Americans are going to want.

The pick also showed us, I think, that McCain put politics ahead of governing. This was a choice from identity politics, pure and simple — a big gamble that Palin’s gender and religious conservatism will attract enough votes in a few key swing states to win the election. For all the things that one can say about Sarah Palin, one thing you can’t say is that she knows how to get legislation through the U.S. congress.

And, finally, the Palin pick showed us that McCain will say anything to get elected. For the last six months, McCain has argued that Obama is dangerously unprepared. By picking someone with even less foreign policy experience than Obama, that argument now looks disingenuous in the extreme. As far as I can tell, Palin’s foreign policy experience consists entirely of a family vacation to Ireland and Alaska’s geographic proximity to Russia and Canada.

I said on Friday that I was delighted by McCain’s choice. I’m even happier now that more facts are coming out.

What are your thoughts?