I've read a lot of the coverage of the Palin nomination, and it seems to me that both sides are missing something--the Democrats intentionally and the Republicans unintentionally. Palin's weakness may be her lack of experience, but it is also her strength. The Democrats, while trying to downplay their own nominee's similar shortcoming, argue that she doesn't have enough experience to handle the job of chief executive.
In what world is a first term senator, whose chief responsibilities are showing up for committee meetings and making earnest sounding speeches, considered more qualified than a first term governor, whose responsibilities include actually running a state--particularly when the only piece of successful legislation of which the senator in question was the primary sponsor was a bill that promoted relief, security, and democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Democrats specifically point to Palin's lack of Washington experience, a qualification that one would think would be a detriment to changing the Washington, but has suddenly become a sine qua non for changing it.
First, there are plenty of successful presidents who had no Washington experience: Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Theodore Roosevelt. Likewise there are those presidents who are considered stinkers by many who had plenty of it: Richard Nixon had plenty of Washington experience. So did Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, and Herbert Hoover.
Washington experience before their presidency has earned many a darkly lit and inconspicuous place in the hall of presidents: Warren Harding, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor. We could list more.
If Washington experience was good enough for Chester Arthur...
Grover Cleveland had no Washington experience, but, like Palin, he was a mayor and then a governor, in quick succession, and then became president, in the middle of his first term as governor of New York. He was controversial in his own party because of his reform-mindedness and took office when he was only 47. Oh, and then he became president again when he was 55.
Another fabled reformer, Theodore Roosevelt, was from outside Washington too. Like Palin, he had a familiarity with moose. He not only hunted them, but had a party named for the animal after he was asked once how he felt, and responded, "I feel as strong as a bull moose."
Washington experience, apparently, is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to be a good president, and would appear to be a positive detriment to real reform.
Oh, and notice that the founders did not include "Washington experience" in the constitutional qualifications for vice presidents.
In fact, the Democrats are now in the unenviable position of fielding two establishment candidates who drone on about change against two Republican candidates, one of whom is from as far away from the beltway as it is possible to get, and both of whom are proven reformers.
Palin possesses other advantages as a potential vice president. First, the gun-wielding scourge of caribou will have little need for the "Former Vice President Protection Act of 2008" now being considered by Congress. Second, she apparently has better aim with a hunting rifle than current vice president Dick Cheney.
The importance of the vice president is, of course, a recent phenomenon, as witnessed by the widespread knowledge of names like George Dallas, Hannibal Hamlin, Garrett Hobart, and Elbridge Gerry. The vice presidency, said former vice president John Nance Gardner, "isn't worth a pitcher of warm piss." The concern for being "a heartbeat away" from the presidency is, in fact, something anyone before about 1940, before which the presidential candidate wasn't even consulted by the party bosses who made the selection, would think strange.
The fact is, the qualifications for the vice presidency have never been very high. The people complaining about how young Palin is have apparently forgotten about John C. Breckinridge, who was 36 when tapped for the post. And the chief qualification for William R. King, who liked to wear scarves and wigs and who, at the time of his selection was recuperating from tuberculosis and severe alcoholism in Cuba, seems to be that he had lived with the bachelor President James Buchanan for 15 years before Buchanan became president.
You do the math.
And then there was Andrew Johnson, who, drunk and belligerent at his inauguration, gave new meaning to the expression "swearing in" when he used the occasion to excoriate the members of the Supreme Court and Senate. The most unfortunate thing about the incident, however, is that it never became a tradition.
But the best response to the Democratic indignation over Palin is simply to throw a spotlight on who Sarah Palin is and what she has done. Ironically, the media seem to be doing a lot of this for them.
Sarah Palin combines two things that you seldom see in politics anymore: first, she is normal, second, she has led an exciting life. On the one hand, she is a middle class mother of five with a husband who works drilling for oil. On the other hand she played basketball, hunted moose and caribou, likes snowmobiling, and has worked, with her husband, a world champion snowmobiler, on a fishing trawler in the north Pacific. She is also attractive, well-spoken, and by all accounts intelligent.
Obama never did anything as remotely exciting on his wildest day as a community organizer.
If the Republicans are smart, they'll rely on Palin's story, not her resume. Don't hide her youth and inexperience--things once the dream of Democrats and now their nightmare, advertise them.