Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sipping the Kool Aid

David Brooks has some reservations about Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate.

My worry about Palin is that she shares McCain’s primary weakness — that she has a tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political philosophy.

There are some issues where the most important job is to rally the armies of decency against the armies of corruption: Confronting Putin, tackling earmarks and reforming the process of government.

But most issues are not confrontations between virtue and vice. Most problems — the ones Barack Obama is sure to focus on like health care reform and economic anxiety — are the product of complex conditions. They require trade-offs and policy expertise. They are not solvable through the mere assertion of sterling character.


If McCain is elected, he will face conditions tailor-made to foster disorder. He will be leading a divided and philosophically exhausted party. There simply aren’t enough Republican experts left to staff an administration, so he will have to throw together a hodgepodge with independents and Democrats. He will confront Democratic majorities that will be enraged and recriminatory.


Rob Portman or Bob Gates wouldn’t have been politically exciting, but they are capable of performing those tasks. Palin, for all her gifts, is not. She underlines McCain’s strength without compensating for his weaknesses. The real second fiddle job is still unfilled.

And he’s not the only one. Ross Douthat, who was a Palin backer as long ago as last winter, is beginning to see cracks in the facade.

My guess is that the conservatives are doing the sensible thing: making plans for a CYA scenario in case Palin craters. They can then point to these misgivings and say that they had concerns about the pick right out of the box. And if McCain loses, they can blame it on the Palin selection and, depending on how much loyalty they have to McCain, they can say that he had no choice in choosing her if he wanted to win the support of the Republican base, or, if they have some animosity towards him, they can say that his off-the-wall selection of a little-known and inexperienced ideologue was a sign that he was not the right man to run for president in the first place.

It’s very important to them that they win, but it’s more important to them that they don’t look like they were wrong.