Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Palin Factor

As I noted below, Sen. Barack Obama is way ahead in endorsements by major newspapers across the country, including some big surprises such as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, both considered to be conservative in ownership and editorially, and others in regions that would be considered the bedrock of conservatism such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But what’s interesting is one of the common factors these papers noted in making their endorsements: they all see the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as the deal-breaker for John McCain.

Here’s The Los Angeles Times:

John McCain distinguished himself through much of the Bush presidency by speaking out against reckless and self-defeating policies. He earned The Times’ respect, and our endorsement in the California Republican primary, for his denunciation of torture, his readiness to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his willingness to buck his party on issues such as immigration reform. But the man known for his sense of honor and consistency has since announced that he wouldn’t vote for his own immigration bill, and he redefined “torture” in such a disingenuous way as to nearly embrace what he once abhorred.

Indeed, the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable. His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was, as a short-term political tactic, brilliant. It was also irresponsible, as Palin is the most unqualified vice presidential nominee of a major party in living memory. The decision calls into question just what kind of thinking — if that’s the appropriate word — would drive the White House in a McCain presidency. Fortunately, the public has shown more discernment, and the early enthusiasm for Palin has given way to national ridicule of her candidacy and McCain’s judgment.

The Chicago Tribune:

We might have counted on John McCain to correct his party’s course. We like McCain. We endorsed him in the Republican primary in Illinois. In part because of his persuasion and resolve, the U.S. stands to win an unconditional victory in Iraq.

It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush’s tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years. He has responded to the economic crisis with an angry, populist message and a misguided, $300 billion proposal to buy up bad mortgages.

McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate–but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin’s exposure to the public. But it’s clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment’s notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution:

…the competence of McCain’s campaign staff is itself cause to question the candidate’s executive abilities. To some degree, the rigors of creating and running a campaign organization can be a test of the skills needed to create and run an administration. And even many Republicans acknowledge that the McCain campaign has been poorly organized and erratic, lurching from one crisis to another without the sense of a strong hand at the tiller.

Columnist William Kristol, a longtime McCain backer, calls the McCain campaign “close to being out–and–out dysfunctional,” concluding that “its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic.”

And of course, the most unfortunate evidence of that “strategic incoherence and operational incompetence” was McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a person utterly unprepared for the high post in question.

The pundits are fond of saying that the voters don’t make their selection based on the vice president, and they point to Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew as examples of dubious choices for tickets that won the election. But perhaps the voters do take into consideration the process and the motives by which the presidential candidates choose their running mates, and it’s obvious to anyone — including the editorial boards of these papers — that the selection of Sarah Palin was an indicator of what kind of judgment John McCain would use in the White House. They found it disturbing, cynical, and short-sighted to the point that they saw it as one of the factors that disqualified him as their choice for president.

All three papers note the Barack Obama has his flaws; his inexperience, perhaps, or even his lack of flapability in the face of a crisis leads some to wonder if he grasps the seriousness of the duties. But no one has questioned his judgment in choosing his advisers, and the selection of Joe Biden is a testimony to that leadership. It will be interesting if the Palin factor is a common thread in subsequent endorsements from the rest of the editorial community.