Alaska Instead of Iraq

John McCain picked a vice-president whose foreign policy ideas are a complete mystery. His selection of Sarah Palin is one thing above all: irresponsible.

We know from his biography that John McCain is a daredevil. His mother, Roberta, assures us that rebellion and risk have been life’s elixirs to him since childhood. Even more impressive was McCain’s discipline in the recent primary campaign. As much as he may have wanted to rebel, he stuck to the script his advisors put before him. A politically right-leaning, polished Republican, McCain stayed “on message,” as it’s called in American political jargon. Journalists mourned for the old free spirit, but the polls showed the benefit of sticking to the strict campaign guidelines. Obama’s lead over him decreased and the prospect of Republican victory on November 4th began to look less illusory.

In one stroke, McCain showed last week that he was throwing caution to the wind and that gambling in a risky game would be a basic theme of his presidency. His selection of the hitherto unknown Alaskan Governor who has no foreign policy experience as his running mate was so daring that several prominent Republican commentators abandoned election year solidarity and criticized him as sharply as if he had defected to the Democrats.

With the selection of Palin, McCain cut himself off tactically from any possibility of realistically depicting Obama as politically inexperienced, a criticism that had been the core of his strategy up to that point. Instead, McCain is betting everything on winning the support of those who see Washington as a den of iniquity and who find Palin marvelous because she embodies their dream image of the hyperactive, fresh, devout, happy American wife and mother.

Palin is supposed to inspire Christians, hunters and abortion foes and, in addition, attract the votes of those disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters who have yet to get over the fact that the Democrats are once again heading into the election with two male candidates. War hero McCain, the brave Navy pilot from America’s upper crust, depicts Palin as a grass-roots icon of the American middle class. Above all, the McCain/Palin team might have an attraction for white voters similar to the never-before seen mobilization Obama has been able to achieve with black voters.

Palins’ selection isn’t without enormous risk, however, and it shows that McCain is prepared to ignore advice from experts, shock his followers, and shoot the works on the turn of a card. Election expert Charles Cook, one of the best political analysts in the U.S., summed it up thusly: “The decision for Palin was either brilliant or it was an error of gigantic proportions.” If Palin comes off second best in her television debate with opponent Joe Biden, who is well-versed in foreign policy, the result could cost McCain the election. The old rule of thumb says that the race for future Vice-President plays no great role in voter decisions. But it affords McCain little cover if the Democrats are able to show the Alaskan Governor has huge gaps in foreign policy expertise that endanger American security.

McCain’s hubris and irresponsibility are now evident. Hubris because his decision to select a Vice-President with only two years experience as a state governor and several years as mayor of a small town can only be explained by his belief that he will be immortal over the next four years. Irresponsible because American Presidents are extremely vulnerable to attack, as shown by JFK’s assassination and the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life. That attempt happened on March 30th, 1981, just 69 days after he took office and nearly cost him his life. Imagine President McCain being assassinated on the evening of March 30th, 2009, and America waking up the next day with President Palin, who less than two years ago said in an interview about the Iraq war, “I was concentrating so hard on governing the state of Alaska that I didn’t worry much about Iraq.”

One has to go back decades in American history to find a less qualified Vice-President than Palin. When the current President’s father chose Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate he was severely criticized because of Quayle’s lack of foreign policy credentials despite his twelve years in the Senate. Palin has styled herself as a corruption fighter and it’s ironic that Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, himself driven from office because of corruption, was the last Vice-President with equally inadequate qualifications for the job.

Palin’s family and personality have received more publicity in the past few days than have her views on politics and foreign policy, something that doesn’t reflect well on America’s intellectual state nor on its media. A preacher moderated the first one-on-one debate between the two candidates and they had to justify their views on faith and their dealings with biblical evil. A politician whose stance on war and peace is essentially unknown could be President five months from now and Americans are talking about the effects of her daughter’s pregnancy.

The nation where this is taking place is the mightiest on earth. But for how much longer?

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