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Alaska paper on Palin


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Palin has much to prove

Alaskans can cheer even while wondering

Published Friday, August 29, 2008

Sen. John McCain’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate was a stunning decision that should make Alaskans proud, even while we wonder about the actual merits of the choice.

No Alaskan politician has risen to such national prominence before. The closest was former Gov. Wally Hickel, who President Nixon chose as Interior secretary in 1969. Palin is truly a remarkable figure, a person carried forward to enormous fame by the times and her personal charm and principles.

Alaskans and Americans must ask, though, whether she should become vice president and, more importantly, be placed first in line to become president.

When a candidate for president picks a vice presidential running mate, that partner ought to have more qualifications than this: “She’s not from Washington.”

McCain offered that justification this morning for his decision. There was a lot more, of course, about the governor’s “grit, integrity and devotion to the common good.” But after cataloging her basic decency and compassion for the common man, what was there? “She’s not from Washington.”

No doubt about it. In fact, as the governor herself acknowledged in her acceptance speech, she never set out to be involved in public affairs. She has never publicly demonstrated the kind of interest, much less expertise, in federal issues and foreign affairs that should mark a candidate for the second-highest office in the land. Republicans rightfully have criticized the Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, for his lack of experience, but Palin is a neophyte in comparison; how will Republicans reconcile the criticism of Obama with the obligatory cheering for Palin? Or will everyone just be forced to drop the subject? That’s not a comforting possibility. Although no one has the perfect resume and experience isn't everything, it is an important quality to weigh. Palin, if elected vice president, would ascend to the presidency if anything should happen to McCain, who turned 72 today.

Most people would acknowledge that, regardless of her charm and good intentions, Palin is not ready for the top job. McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation’s when he created the possibility that she might fill it.

It’s clear that McCain picked Palin for reasons of image, not substance. She’s a woman. She has fought corruption. She has fought the oil companies. She’s married to a union member. These are portrayals for campaign speeches; they are not policy positions.

There was also some pandering right from the start. “I told Congress `Thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere,’ ” Palin reported to the crowd in Dayton, Ohio. “If our state wanted a bridge, I said, we’d build it ourselves.”

But the state kept the bridge money. That’s because Alaskans pay federal gas taxes and they expect a good share to come back, just like people do in every other state. We build very little by ourselves, and any governor who would turn that tax money down likely would be turned out of office.

Palin’s image as a fresh reformer works on some level, for the moment. The governor, as she is quite able to do, delivered a good speech in a strong voice. The crowd cheered her enthusiastically, only occasionally fading into the “huh?” mode during the presentation. The televised punditry followed up with mostly positive comments, calling Palin’s selection a clever “chess move” by McCain.

The chess analogy offers some caution. Gov. Palin, while extending her amazing adventure in politics, must prove she is more than a pawn.


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