Michael Kinsley is of course right to say that conservatives who assailed Barack Obama’s lack of experience now look silly and disingenuous defending Sarah Palin’s. However, the corollary is also true: Those who defended or downplayed Obama’s inexperience have no intellectually honest cause for complaint about the GOP’s second-in-line. Already there are supposed gotchas circulating, for instance that Palin confessed in 2006 to not having given much thought to the merits of the troop surge in Iraq. Is this really more worrisome than the fact that Obama was not just wrong about that policy, but presented the Democratic case against it on the night of its televised announcement by President Bush?
Short though Palin’s gubernatorial run has been, it still counts as an executive position and the traditional training seminar for the presidency. (The last senator sent to the White House by voters was John F. Kennedy.) Those who say Palin is too unknown and unvetted to be a mere “heartbeat” away from the most important job in the world have to consider that Joe Biden, who is known and vetted, was explicitly found unworthy for that job by a majority of Democrats only a few months ago. How has he suddenly become fit to be commander in chief? Ah, his foreign policy savvy and his longevity in Washington, D.C. That sounds familiar, as does Biden’s touted interventionism.
He was also a “risky” choice for vice president because he’s got a big mouth and penchant for sticking his foot in it. Contrast the working-class Catholic bruiser who threatens to shove his rosary beads down the throat of any evangelical who doubts his fideism to the mannered and prescripted style of Obama. Biden infamously borrowed the British Labor Party leader Neal Kinnock’s eccentric and unmistakably Welsh biography in 1988 in an act of plagiarism that made him seem almost mentally unsound. (My friend Daniel Koffler, an ardent Obama supporter, puts it like this: “How does an American talk about the ‘1,000 generations’ of his family, when maybe 15 generations ago his ancestral homeland of Scranton was inhabited by the Lenape?”) Biden also boasted during the primary that Dixiecrats would support him because his home state of Delaware “was a slave state.” How much more appalling that comment now seems. So why is it that only Palin’s “gaffes” are being eagerly anticipated for the VP debate cycle?
From what little we know of her, her personality seems rather closely attuned to McCain’s, and it surely weighed in his decision to select her. Both have challenged establishment elements in their own party. Both have demonstrated an ability to work well with members of the opposition. Both have acted, somewhat ostentatiously, as if the very job title “politician” was something they held in contempt. And both seem to thrive by being sneered at and written off prematurely as losers. Even Palin’s ethics scandal has a slightly interesting twist that someone like McCain probably found endearing: When was the last time you heard of a politician being investigated for trying to fire her own relatives?