POST HOC VETTING…. After having watched John McCain for many years, I don’t hold him in the highest regard. But even I, in my heart of hearts, never expected him to invite a total stranger onto the national ticket, and possibly put this stranger one heartbeat from the presidency of the United States, without a thorough vetting.

But that is precisely what’s happened. John McCain’s operation is not only reckless and irresponsible, it’s backwards — McCain picked Sarah Palin and then decided to vet her. MSNBC reported yesterday that Republican lawyers are now in Alaska looking into Palin’s background; ABC News reported the same thing; and the New York Times ties it together.

Aides to Mr. McCain said they had a team on the ground in Alaska now to look more thoroughly into Ms. Palin’s background. 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. […]

At the least, Republicans close to the campaign said it was increasingly apparent that Ms. Palin had been selected as Mr. McCain’s running mate with more haste than McCain advisers initially described.

As the Times explained, McCain hoped to get Lieberman or Ridge on the ticket, but was told the party would never stand for it. Pawlenty and Romney were deemed “too predictable.” Scrambling, they decided to gamble on Palin, before they knew anything about her.

The McCain campaign did not conduct an FBI background check, did not talk to Republican officials in Alaska, and didn’t even talk to Palin’s next-door neighbors.

As ridiculous a choice as Palin is for national office, let’s not lose sight of the real scandal here — John McCain has the judgment of a small child. Tasked with the most important decision of his presidential campaign, McCain has managed to demonstrate incompetence, cynicism, and recklessness, all at the same time.

“[W]e are reminded,” Eugene Robinson writes today, “if we did not realize it before, that the three things not to expect from a McCain presidency are caution, prudence and a willingness to always put the nation’s interests above his own.”

Those fundamentally unsuited for the presidency do things like this.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.