October 2, 2008
Sarah Palin and the Experience FactorBy J.R. Dunn
Why is it that liberal misrepresentations are never fully addressed before they become established as received wisdom? Whatever the topic may be, the left is consistently allowed to set the terms on which the argument takes place. Opponents may then debate minor points, split hairs, and count angels, but nobody ever seems to get around to looking the basic premises over, even when they're transparently bogus.
In the past few years we've seen "WMDs were the sole reason for invading Iraq", "CO2 is the major driver of climatic trends", and "Karl Rove is the Devil Incarnate", to consider only three. Each case is demonstrably false, yet each case has been allowed to dominate the public debate.
In the 2008 election, one of these ruling myths is "Sarah Palin does not have the experience to be vice-president."
Well, let's stomp that one flat right away: out of all four candidates, Sarah Palin is the only one with any of the requisite executive experience required for office. She is the sole candidate who has ever run anything larger than a college debating society. If she is not qualified, none of them are, and we'd better dump ‘em all and start over.
A major peculiarity of this election is that three of the candidates are senators. Only two senators have been elected president in this century: Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy. (Johnson, Bush, Sr., and Truman all served as VPs before entering the Oval Office.)
Americans like governors -- somebody with hands-on experience at running a state who can demonstrate that experience. McKinley, Wilson, Coolidge, FDR, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. were all successful governors before becoming president. (We'll overlook Carter for the moment, if you don't mind.) Eisenhower, the single great exception, can be said to have run something larger than a state. Commanding the forces that booted the Nazis out of Western Europe will get you through the interview.
The value of having been a governor is obvious, the progression from there to the presidency apparent. Not so with senators. Whatever it is they do when not traipsing around Washington in their purple-trimmed togas, walking their pet ocelots while the Vestal Virgins strew rose petals in their path, it has nothing in common with executive experience. Typically they get out of law school, work awhile as lawyers, go on to local or state office, then to the House, then to the Senate. At no point do they run anything larger than their own offices. The governor of the smallest state or territory in the union easily trumps them on that score. Often, that's all that's necessary. After his Three Stooges first term, the only edge that Bill Clinton had on Robert Dole was his gubernatorial experience. That was enough.
Only one person in this race has ever held that kind of responsibility. Only one person has ever actually run a government. Only one person has the necessary experience, and that is Sarah Palin. Yet thanks to a media as obtuse as it is vicious, this undeniable record of experience has been thrust aside in favor of the myth that at least two of the senators in the race -- Obama and Biden -- possess superior experience.
Several objections to Palin's record exist, some of them unspoken.
The first is that Wasilla is a small town, and Alaska a small state, as far as population goes. As one Clintonite notable -- I forget if it was Panetta or Begala or Magilla -- put it, "the caribou outnumber the people". (Caribou, it seems, only matter to liberals when they're being frightened by drilling equipment.)
The answer to this is straightforward. The differences between running a town, a state, and a country are matters of degree, not of essence. The same skills and abilities are required in each case. An individual who has learned to run one is not likely to be overwhelmed on taking the next step up. As for the size argument, there was once a country that consisted of about three million people, only a small multiple of Alaska today, a country which in the midst of serious crisis produced several of the greatest leaders in its history. That country is, of course, the United States of the 1780s, which produced Washington, Hamilton, Gallatin, Jefferson, Madison, and Jay. This would seem to testify that numbers, per se, have little to do with anything.
Beyond that, we have the fact that Alaska, due to remoteness, climate, and sheer size, embodies a set of challenges greater than and unlike those of any other state. It is vast, spends close to half the year in a deep freeze, and requires aircraft to reach many points across the state, including Juneau, the capital, which cannot be reached by road. (Many Alaskan families, including the Palins, own light planes for this very reason.) The governor of such a state will have met and overcome challenges quite unfamiliar to continental U.S. governors, Washington senators, and East Coast pundits. This certainly has to be taken into consideration.
The last point involves the question of success. Wasilla, the town of which Palin served as mayor, increased its population by 2,000 -- nearly a full third -- under her stewardship. Not bad for a hockey mom.
A second, virtually unspoken objection is that there's something wrong with Palin's actual experience, that it's not the right kind, that in some ineffable way it fails to make the grade. It's as if she first served on the city council and then ran off to fight as a mercenary, returned to serve as mayor only to decamp with the circus, then interwove her term as governor with the sale of patent medicines.
None of this being the case, we have to ask what precisely is wrong with the progression, city council-mayor-governor-VP candidate. And the answer is -- absolutely nothing. It's as perfectly natural a progression as can be found in politics, the only remarkable element of it being the swiftness with which Palin has traversed it. This implies that she is very good at what she does. Which means, according the media and the Democrats, that we're supposed to question her skill and abilities. Everybody got that?
Which brings us to the third objection -- that she wasn't governor for long enough. Only eighteen months, according to the stopwatch. Barely a flicker of the eye, the way they judge time in Washington... Though it happens that Woodrow Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey in 1910, and went on to be elected president in 1912. Are we to take it that the extra six months make all the difference?
Experience is not simply a matter of duration, but what you do with the time you have. Palin accomplished more in that year-and-a-half than most governors do over full terms, including facing down a corrupt and entrenched old-boys network and bringing the oil companies -- the state's biggest business -- to heel.
And finally, there's the fact that she has no foreign policy experience. None. Zero. Why, no less than Charles Gibson clearly demonstrated that on the tube, with plenty in the way of sighs and head shakes, too.
...except for the easily demonstrated fact that Governor Palin, on August 27th of this year, completed a pipeline agreement with Canada, which is a foreign country. The agreement had been stymied for over two decades by various interests in Alaskan state government. Palin got it wrapped up in that busy eighteen months.
Now, anyone present who has ever successfully concluded an agreement with a foreign country please raise their hands. Uhh... not you, Sen. Obama? Or you either, Sen. Biden? Hmm... I see.
I can't think of any other objections, but if they exist they'd drop as swiftly and completely as these. But that's not what we've been told and are still being told. Gibson is supposed to have demonstrated the case through asking questions about matters that he himself does not understand. Most irritating are the conservative writers wailing counterpoint to this melody.
They may be right. But as we've seen, it's not likely. Palin has gained her experience where it counts. Not in the Ivy League, not at the think tanks, not in the Senate. But down in the trenches, where life is for real, and the work gets done because it must be done. There is no more common figure in American history than the "unprepared" backwoods politician who steps forward in the midst of crisis. From Lincoln through Truman, there is no end of them, at all levels of the political sphere. Palin may be the next in that long and impressive line. Or she may serve a quiet term or two as a ceremonial vice-president before returning home to hunt moose and raise grandchildren. She will unquestionably be tempted, and who can blame her?
But she may turn out to be very different. To be exactly what the GOP rank and file believe her to be: a woman who will go on to make fools out of all the doubters and questioners and agonizers. One thing for certain: she has no end of experience in that.