I read a significant number of blogs and magazines, both in regular print editions and online. I read publications from the political left and the political right, and things in between. I try to major on reading as much biographical material on the candidates as I can find and then study their decision making skills and personal character. Experience, as it is presently being argued, is not all it is cracked up to be for me. What experience did Abe Lincoln have? For that matter how do you get foreign policy experience? Not by sitting on a senate committee. Any freshmen student of history ought to see this argument for what it is, from the left or the right. Obama could become a great president, regardless of his lack of experience. And Saran Palin could become a great vice-president regardless of the same. This "experience" debate goes no where with me. (And the gossip stuff is just totally useless. I am grateful that Senator Obama has handled the Sarah Palin flack about personal family matters with real grace. I wish his friends in the media would follow suit.)

I may be an amateur at this but then so are all who study these kinds of things and sound impressive in their columns. In reality, this is just democracy at work—people trying to understand their leaders and then voting as they believe best for their community or nation.

Like you I am fascinated by the choice of Governor Sarah Palin to be McCain’s running mate. It will likely be one that either proves to be a big winner or a huge disaster but McCain has always been a political gambler. I admit that I will watch her speech tonight with profound interest. I will not be one bit surprised if she comes across as very tough and extremely capable in every way. She is smart in a way that the talking heads seem not to recognize. She already seems far more capable than George Bush did in 2000. Some of you are saying, "So what." But the point is still valid.

One person who shared the perspective that Palin would be a drag on McCain admits that he was inclined to take her too lightly until a friend who knew her in Alaska corrected him. This writer, Christopher Orr, tells this story in a post from a September 2 blog on The New Republic, which is no right wing publication at all. This is the kind of information that makes this story all the more intriguing. I thought you might like to read it since many of you are not likely to read The New Republic online.

The Case Against Sarah Palin

Christopher Orr

A very good friend, who is a lifelong Alaskan and one of the smartest people I know, offers this word of caution to those (yes, like me) inclined to take Sarah Palin lightly:

At the end of 2005, a close friend called to say that he begun writing speeches and talking points for a certain gubernatorial candidate.
"Remind me," I asked. "Who is Sarah Palin?"

I was dismayed at my friend’s choice of political entree. Why was he wasting his time on a relative nobody, trying to beat an incumbent governor (and former three term senator) in the Republican primary? It was utter folly. "Wait until the big money starts coming in for Murkowski," I said. "Wait until the party machinery goes to work on Palin. They will eat her for lunch."

Murkowski, for his part, expressed a similar view. "If I decide to," he said, "I will run and I will win. It’s that simple."

The folly, of course, turned out to be my own (and Murkowski’s), as Palin slaughtered the incumbent in the primary–posting a 30 point margin of victory–and went on to win the general (over a former Democratic governor) without seeming to break a sweat. She then quickly fulfilled an implicit campaign promise by slapping down ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips in negotiations over a proposed Alaska natural gas pipeline, even though they, too, by all accounts, were well prepared to dine on her tender little frame. Not bad for a lightweight.

Listening to the Democratic leadership respond to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, one hears echoes of the Alaska Republican leadership from just a few years ago. Barack Obama’s spokesman, Bill Burton, put it this way: "Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Former mayor? If you’re going to skip over her job as governor and, before that, her job heading the commission that oversees production of the largest petroleum reserves in America, why not "former high school student"? Bah, what does it matter: She’s just a small town mayor, just a hockey mom, just a beauty pageant queen.

Palin has never shunned these belittling monikers, in part, I imagine, because the camouflage has served her so well. Soothed by the litany, her opponents tend to sleep too late, sneer too much, and forget who it is that hires them.

Watching Palin operate over the past few years has been like witnessing a dramatic reading of All the King’s Men. In 2002, Murkowski had interviewed but passed over Palin in selecting a replacement for the senate seat he vacated to become governor. In a grand act of nepotism, he chose his own daughter instead. Palin was tossed a bone: She chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees the production of petroleum in Alaska. When she reported conflicts of interest and other ethical violations by another commissioner, she was ignored by Murkowski’s chief of staff and ultimately resigned in frustration. One can imagine how the quick double dose of corruption–insiders having their way with the polity and its resources–sickened the young Palin. It also fired a savage competitiveness that is not, perhaps, apparent at first glance.

What the Republicans missed about Sarah Palin then–and what the Democrats seem poised to miss now–is that she is a true political savant; a candidate with a knack for identifying the key gripes of the populace and packaging herself as the solution. That keen political nose has enabled her to routinely outperform her resume. Nearly two years into her administration, she still racks up approval ratings of 80 per cent or better.

One might reasonably ask to what extent her local popularity is buoyed by the high price of oil (and thus, a budget surplus, and thus, the ability to carry a stick into meetings with big oil). One might speculate about the durability of her anti-corruption stance in light of her conflict of interest in the dismissal of her director of public safety. And only the truly feckless would not concern themselves about her dearth of foreign policy experience. But in probing this candidate, it would behoove the Democrats and the pundits to shed the notion that they are dealing with some dimwitted bumpkin (Dan Quayle seems to come up a lot lately) who’s going to start crying when they ask her to name the president of Azerbaijan; or that Palin is the townie who was brought into the Skull & Bones initiation night for the amusement of all; or that somehow the prom queen ballots got mixed up with the Alaska gubernatorial poll. Trivialize her at your own peril.

Sarah Palin is a living reminder that the ultimate source of political power in this country is not the Kennedy School or the Davos Summit or an Ariana Huffington salon; even now, power emanates from the electorate itself. More precisely, power in 2008 emanates from the working class electorates of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Sooner or later, the Obama camp will realize that the beauty pageant queen is an enormously talented populist in a year that is ripe for populism. For their own sake, it had better be sooner.

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  1. Jack Isaacson September 4, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Experience is gained on the job. Harry S Truman knew NOTHING of the Manhattan project when he became President in April 1945. The Democrat leadership kept it from him,even though he was the Vice President of the USA. He did a pretty good job I would say.

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