John Didn’t Get What He Wanted

From the NYT:

“A Republican with ties to the campaign said the team assigned to vet Ms. Palin in Alaska had not arrived there until Thursday, a day before Mr. McCain stunned the political world with his vice-presidential choice. The campaign was still calling Republican operatives as late as Sunday night asking them to go to Alaska to deal with the unexpected candidacy of Ms. Palin. (…)

In Alaska, several state leaders and local officials said they knew of no efforts by the McCain campaign to find out more information about Ms. Palin before the announcement of her selection, Although campaigns are typically discreet when they make inquiries into potential running mates, officials in Alaska said Monday they thought it was peculiar that no one in the state had the slightest hint that Ms. Palin might be under consideration.

“They didn’t speak to anyone in the Legislature, they didn’t speak to anyone in the business community,” said Lyda Green, the State Senate president, who lives in Wasilla, where Ms. Palin served as mayor.

Representative Gail Phillips, a Republican and former speaker of the State House, said the widespread surprise in Alaska when Ms. Palin was named to the ticket made her wonder how intensively the McCain campaign had vetted her.

“I started calling around and asking, and I have not been able to find one person that was called,” Ms. Phillips said. “I called 30 to 40 people, political leaders, business leaders, community leaders. Not one of them had heard. Alaska is a very small community, we know people all over, but I haven’t found anybody who was asked anything.”

The current mayor of Wasilla, Dianne M. Keller, said she had not heard of any efforts to look into Ms. Palin’s background. And Randy Ruedrich, the state Republican Party chairman, said he knew nothing of any vetting that had been conducted.

State Senator Hollis French, a Democrat who is directing the ethics investigation, said that no one asked him about the allegations. “I heard not a word, not a single contact,” he said.”

As far as I’m concerned, the story about Sarah Palin is what John McCain’s decision to make her his running mate says about his judgment. And what this tells us is stunning. It is basic, basic politics that before you ask someone to become your running mate, you vet them thoroughly. You want to know what you’re getting into, and you don’t want any unfortunate surprises. Apparently, McCain didn’t bother to do this. That’s astonishing. It’s like starting surgery before you do an initial medical workup and diagnosis, or handing all your money over to a financial advisor before you find out whether she’s legitimate. In this particular case, there are two huge problems with what McCain did.

The first is the most obvious: in choosing a Vice Presidential nominee, McCain is choosing someone who might well end up taking over as President. This would be true for anyone, but it’s especially true in McCain’s case, since he is a 72 year old cancer survivor. Anyone who “puts country first”, as McCain is fond of telling us he does, would have taken care to ensure that that person was up to the job, and had no unpleasant secrets like, oh, past membership in a fringe secessionist organization. Not bothering to do the most basic due diligence before naming her as his running mate is staggeringly irresponsible.

The second is that McCain was willing to take a huge gamble not just with our country, but with his own political interests. As I said earlier, gambling with the country is worse, but gambling with your own interests is a different kind of bad judgment, and worth noting in its own right. If you are selfish enough to put your own interests above the interests of your country, that’s awful. But it doesn’t move you into the realm of the wholly unpredictable, the people from whom you truly never know what to expect. (It’s like being one of those dictators who are nonetheless rational enough that things like deterrence can work with them: you are bad, but bad in a way that makes it possible to anticipate what you might do next.)

Being willing to take a huge and reckless gamble with your own interests is not like that. It’s not cool and collected selfishness that leaves room for some hope that if your interests and the interests of your country align, you might end up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. It’s sheer impulsive stupidity: an unwillingness to think, in even the most basic ways, before you act. That’s a terrible trait in a President.

Consider what one of McCain’s advisors said about how he made this decision: “This was really kind of rushed at the end, because John didn’t get what he wanted. He wanted to do Joe or Ridge.”

John didn’t get what he wanted. Right. He could have waited to make his decision until after Palin had been thoroughly vetted. That, however, would have meant giving up his clever idea of announcing his VP pick the day after Obama’s convention speech. Alternately, he could have gone with one of the people who had been thoroughly vetted: Pawlenty, for instance. But “neither was the transformative, attention-grabbing choice Mr. McCain felt he needed, top campaign advisers said”. So he decided to gamble it all on someone he barely knew and had not vetted.

Was it pique at not being able to nominate the people he really wanted? A desire to be the “attention-grabbing” maverick again, or a Norma Desmond-like urge to show the young whippersnapper who has the gall to say that he’s the agent of change how it’s done? Pushing back against the discipline of a campaign? Or just plain unadulterated idiocy? I have no idea, though I suspect it’s all of the above. What I do know, though, is that I don’t want someone who makes decisions like this to be my President.