RU Experienced?

I am kind of amazed that the Democrats have decided to directly attack Governor Palin’s experience. Someone should remind them who they nominated for President.

In fact, I can see the GOP cutting an ad talking about how Sarah Palin made a difference in changing Alaska, and asking Barack Obama whether he’s done as much to change Illinois. The answer might well be: no.

I realize, of course, that she’s totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President, on the understanding that she would then resign and be appointed Vice President by her successor. (Lest anyone say that this is an absurd, unconstitutional or undemocratic scenario, recognize that this is pretty much what would happen in a Parliamentary system where, if the head of government dies, a successor is chosen by the party.) Palin is absolutely not ready to be President now, but that is a problem that is very easily dealt with if she is and the governing party want to do so.

And if McCain dies in February, 2012, who’s to say she won’t be ready by then? She’ll have had three years of being Vice President under her belt. She’ll have been a close observer of national governance and will be pretty familiar with the issues of the day. I think a very good case can be made that after three years as McCain’s VP, she’ll be substantially more qualified to be President than Barack Obama is now.

What’s the Vice Presidency for, anyhow? Arguably, it’s not for anything at all. There’s no need for a specific officer to be “President in waiting” without official duties; we could perfectly well have a system where, when the President dies in office, his party picks a successor, or the House elects a successor, or some other selection process, with the Secretary of State serving as interim President until the successor is chosen. In practice, the Vice President is usually selected for political purposes: to unite a divided party (Johnson, Bush Sr), to placate a particular faction unhappy with the nominee (Nixon, Kemp), to extend the reach of the ticket geographically or demographically (Bentsen, Edwards), and so forth.

The worst VP choice in recent memory was Dick Cheney, a man with enormous experience, fully qualified to be President – indeed, so much more qualified than the Presidential nominee that he was able to exert an undue degree of control over the Administration’s actions without due accountability.

Now, I’m not saying the Palin model is the best one. The best VP choice in recent memory was Al Gore, a great choice both politically and in terms of governance. He was fully qualified to be President, but was tempermentally suited to an advisory and advocacy role more than for the top spot. He both reinforced the narrative of the campaign and complemented Clinton in crucial ways. He was a good surrogate on the campaign trail and a good representative of the Clinton Administration when used as such, and he was an excellent advisor to the President. That combination is hard to come by, though, and most Veeps don’t fit that mold.

Palin fits a different model. She’s not a President-in-waiting; she’s a President-in-training. That’s what Quayle was supposed to be, and to the extent he failed it was mostly because of his own personal qualities. Based on what I know of Palin, she doesn’t have that kind of problem. President-in-training is also what Nixon tried to be (he was also clearly unqualified to be President when nominated for Veep), though I don’t know that Ike saw it that way. I don’t think Palin has his problems, either.

Bottom line: the Presidency is no place for on-the-job training. But the Vice Presidency certainly can be.

She’s an excellent choice. If McCain wins, he’ll have a whole cabinet of officials to help him run the government and advise him on vital decisions. That’s not what he’ll be using Palin for. And as a political matter, if the Democrats lead with the inexperience argument against Palin, they’ll be committing suicide.

UPDATE: A couple of additional points.

First, a qualified choice who placates a particular faction while being unsuited to the Presidency is manifestly worse than an unqualified nominee who seems to have the right temperament. It is a very good thing indeed Truman was Vice President when FDR died rather than Wallace, even though Wallace was clearly more qualified to be President in terms of his experience.

Second: Ramesh Ponnuru raises the issue of tokenism. Palin would not have been picked if she were a man. But some form of tokenism is the norm rather than the exception in VP picks. Most VPs are picked for political reasons, not because they would be good potential Presidents. Why is carrying a key state a better qualification than being a member of a key demographic group?

I don’t want to overstate my enthusiasm, by the way. I am, in fact, still undecided in this election (and at some point I’ll outline the basis for my indecision). But this is a good pick.