“Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.”
It doesn’t get better in context.
“I continue to think that the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate represents the breaking of a consensual cultural barrier far more fundamental than most people realize. It’s not just that she was inexperienced (Spiro Agnew and John Edwards weren’t much more experienced than Palin when they ran for VP) but that she was — obviously, transparently, completely — uninterested in and uninformed about national policy at nearly every level. We’ve simply never seen someone so completely unmoored from the normal requirements of national office before. She was chosen purely at the level of celebrity, and an awful lot of people seemed to be just fine with that.
Unfortunately, I’ve never really been able to find the words to describe just how corrosive I think her choice was. The whole affair just left me gobsmacked.”
People who don’t follow politics closely often assume that candidates meet some basic level of competence. They have to, right? Otherwise, wouldn’t someone have said something, or somehow stopped them?
As far as the Republican Party is concerned, the answer is clearly ‘no’. It’s not that no one has the power to keep obviously incompetent candidates from being nominated. Obviously, John McCain could easily have not nominated Sarah Palin. But other people could have blocked her as well — recall that McCain supposedly wanted to nominate Joe Lieberman, but was told that the party would not accept it. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a Lieberman fan, but the idea that there is some standard for Vice Presidential nominees that Sarah Palin meets but Lieberman does not, and that enough people accept that standard that Lieberman could not be nominated but Palin could, is frightening.
Someone should have said: no, this is just unacceptable, and if you nominate her, I will say so publicly, and oppose her nomination on the convention floor. Apparently, people said this about Lieberman. But no one said it about Sarah Palin. And that’s just astonishingly irresponsible.
But it was clear back in 1999 that Republican elites were irresponsible in just this way. Until recently, Presidential campaigns have always had (at least) one ineliminable role for political elites, namely: winnowing down the large list of people who might want to run for President to a more manageable number who have enough support and enough money to be taken seriously. I hope the internet is changing this, but back in 1999, the kind of early fundraising and support that moves a candidate onto what is, for most voters, the initial list of serious candidates involved a small number of well-connected (and generally wealthy) people.
A number of those people knew George W. Bush. His father, for one; his father’s friends, for another. They must have known that he had neither the character, the temperament, nor the basic competence to be President. They could have put the word out. They could have let people know that Bush was not a person who should ever become President. But they didn’t. Whether they kept silent because they thought Bush could win and winning was all that mattered to them, or because (in some cases) of their friendship with Bush’s father, or for some other reason, they did not put the interests of the country first.
They let their party nominate Bush. They let McCain nominate Palin. Who knows who they’ll try to foist off on us next time: Joe the Plumber? The latest winner of American Idol? Fred Flintstone?