I woke up this morning and realized that the most significant aspect of the Palin pick isn’t Palin–we really don’t know all that much about her yet–but the process by which she was selected. McCain really doesn’t know that much about Palin, either. He met her once in February. He interviewed her as part of the vetting process…and that’s it. He never worked with her. (It should be noted that when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who had worked with Ferraro, was not only vouching for her, but raving about her.)
All this raises again–yet again–the question of whether McCain is temperamentally suited for the presidency. As the conservative David Frum writes:
Maybe it will work. But maybe (and at least as likely) it will reinforce a theme that I’d be pounding home if I were the Obama campaign: that it’s John McCain for all his white hair who represents the risky choice, while it is Barack Obama who offers cautious, steady, predictable governance.
Indeed, the Palin pick reflects the most dangerous tendencies in McCain’s foriegn policy–the tendency to react, to overreact, to crises, without thinking it through. It also reflects a defiant, adolescent “screw you” attitude toward governance. I always thought McCain’s best choice for vice president was Rob Portman–the former Congressman and Office of Management and Budget director from Ohio. Portman is smooth, attractive, extremely smart, reliably conservative, but he also knows how the federal government works. His experience as OMB director would have enabled McCain to say, “I’ve picked a guy who knows where all the bodies are buried, where all the waste is.” The Ohio part of the program wouldn’t have hurt McCain in locking down that crucial state, either. But the pick would have been seen as safe, unexciting–and John McCain doesn’t like safe. Which is a real problem in a President.
Again, this is not to disparage Palin. Her views seem very extreme to me–teaching “intelligent design” in schools?–but she may turn out to be a invigorating public presence, with the ability to learn fast (she’s going to have to do the latter). The problem is, there is absolutely no way on earth that John McCain can know what sort of person she really is, which is why this choice–his first major presidential decision–should be a matter of real concern for all Americans. He has proven himself, yet again, ready on day one–to shoot from the hip.