Think of an American president being inaugurated. What image comes to mind?
Almost certainly this one, eh?
This picture embodies what is perhaps the essential difference between the qualifications for the presidency and the qualifications for the vice presidency. In a perfect world, we would all like a president who is Ready on Day One (TM); it is not uncommon for a newly-elected president to face a major crisis almost immediately upon taking office. But more commonly, a president takes the Oath of Office under relatively calm waters, allowing them something of a learning curve.
On the other hand, when a vice president takes over for a president, the nation is necessarily undergoing a crisis, because the death (or resignation) of a president is perhaps as traumatic an event as can reasonably be imagined (in the “best” case resulting from a slowly-developing illness, and the worst, an attack by terrorists or foreign adversaries).
From Lincoln though Clinton, Americans have frequently been willing to gamble on a relatively inexperienced President, exchanging some assurances of near-term readiness for longer-term upside (what might be described as “vision”). But the optimal skill set for a vice president is somewhat different. “Vision” hardly matters; a vice president taking over for a president will not get to name his own cabinet, and will initially at least be left to execute upon somebody else’s agenda. Instead, the readiness component is rendered more important.
I suspect most Americans grasp this on a gut level, even if they aren’t quite able to articulate it. Which is why, to my gut instinct, I think Americans can feel sympathy for Sarah Palin, can believe she’s the sort of person they’d want to have a beer with — and still find her a detriment to McCain’s case for the White House.
Article Washington Post>
Palin’s Pregnancy Problem
My first reaction was shock. Then anger. John McCain chose a running mate simply because she is a woman and one who appealed to the Republican’s conservative evangelical base. Now, with news that Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant, McCain’s pick may not even find support among “family values” voters.
It has happened before, of course. Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984 because she was a woman, but that was 24 years ago. I thought we were past this. Apparently not. McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate is a cynical and calculated move. It is a choice made to try to win an election. It is a political gimmick. And it’s very high risk. I find it insulting to women, to the Republican party, and to the country.
This is nothing against Palin. From what little we know about her, she seems to be a bright, attractive, impressive person. She certainly has been successful in her 44 years. But is she ready to be president?
And now we learn the 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. She and the father of the child plan to marry. This may be a hard one for the Republican conservative family-values crowd to swallow. Of course, this can happen in any family. But it must certainly raise the question among the evangelical base about whether Sarah Palin has been enough of a hands-on mother.
McCain claims he knew about the pregnancy, and was not at all concerned. Why not? Not only do we have a woman with five children, including an infant with special needs, but a woman whose 17-year-old child will need her even more in the coming months. Not to mention the grandchild. This would inevitably be an enormous distraction for a new vice president (or president) in a time of global turmoil. Not only in terms of her job, but from a media standpoint as well.
McCain’s cynical choice has created a dilemma for many women. For still-angry Hillary Clinton voters, they will have to decide if they want to vote against their concscience and political interests by voting to elect a Republican woman who’s even more conservative than McCain.
Evangelical women also will have to decide if they will vote against their conscience by voting to put the mother of young children in a job outside the home that will demand so much of her time and energy.
Southern Baptist leaders like Richard Land and Al Mohler have praised McCain’s choice. But these are the same men who support this statement from the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message:
“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
Palin’s lack of experience and her family situation are both valid and vital considerations here, especially when she will be running with a 72-year-old presidential candidate who has suffered four bouts of a deadly cancer.
And by the way, how can McCain call Barack Obama unqualified, inexperienced, not ready from Day One, not able to be commander in chief, and then put someone like Palin in a position that is a heartbeat away from the pesidency?
I don’t blame Palin for accepting the position. How could she or anyone turn down such an opportunity? I was once in a similar position. After four years of reporting at the Washington Post, I was chosen by CBS to be the first network anchorwoman in America, to co-anchor their Morning News. I had never been on TV a day in my life. I was 32. There were women at CBS who were much more qualified than I was and certainly other men. They chose me because they wanted a woman. I didn’t even want the job, but I didn’t feel I could turn it down. Of course it was a disaster. I lasted four months. I wasn’t ready for Network TV. Palin isn’t ready to be leader of the free world.
The calculation on the part of the McCain people is clear. Palin’s candidacy could draw some of the 18-million Hillary Clinton voters who are not happy she lost and who want to vote for a woman on a national ticket. Palin is not of Washington and that will be appealing to some. Most importantly for McCain, Palin is decidedly anti-abortion and that will keep the Republican base under control and appeal to some evangelicals who might be considering Obama. She has a son who is headed to Iraq.
Those are positives for a McCain-Palin ticket, but what about the negatives?
She has no national political experience, especially in the area of foreign policy. That fact that she is not of Washington also will be difficult for her. Barbara Bush once told me that her husband had been a congressman, UN ambassador, ambassador to China, and head of the CIA and they thought they were prepared for the vice presidency (under President Reagan). But she said nothing can prepare you for the criticism and scrutiny of being in the White House. Sarah Palin is not prepared for that.
Is she prepared for the all-consuming nature of the job? She is the mother of five children, one of them a four-month-old with Down Syndrome. Her first priority has to be her children. When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick what choice will she make? I’m the mother of only one child, a special needs child who is grown now. I know how much of my time and energy I devoted to his care. He always had to be my first priority. Of course women can be good mothers and have careers at the same time. I’ve done both. Yes, other women in public office have children. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has five children, but she didn’t get heavily involved in politics until they were older. A mother’s role is different from a father’s.
These are dangerous and trying times for the entire world. This is no time to to play gender politics. The stakes are too high. And given McCain’s age and history of health issues, the stakes for choosing a qualified vice presidential candidate have never been higher.
Maybe this will work. Maybe McCain will win with Sarah Palin as his running mate. But if he does, it will be for all the wrong reasons.