When John McCain selected Governor Sarah Palin, as his running mate, the Democrats and their far-left constituency let out a primal scream that could be heard from sea to shining sea. How dare he choose someone that they and their pals in the media had not had a chance to vet (i.e. libel, slander, and otherwise and otherwise eviscerate). Ah, but it was not too late. These seekers of “a new kind of politics” poured torrents of malicious abuse upon her and her family.
Plane loads of scandal mongers, lawyers and other truth seekers became more numerous in Alaska than the polar bear, as they rallied local Democrats and disgruntled Republicans to their cause.
Here was a woman who chose to have children and a career. Aging Washington socialites weighed in with newly discovered sensitivity for mothers with careers outside the home. Here was a woman who became upset because her ex-brother-in-law had tasered her nephew and threatened her father. The Democrats and their friends had to save the country from a woman like this.
Governor Palin’s every comment was scrutinized by the media and judged against what Jefferson or Lincoln might have said. Never mind that her counterpart, the 30-year-Washington-veteran Joe Biden, apparently is unaware that America relies upon coal for a lot of it’s electricity or that he recently referred to a top level U.S. official’s visit to Iran that never happened. That’s just Joe being Joe – protected by the sheer number of his gaffes and the fact that he is Barack Obama’s running mate.
For a while there it seems the fact that so many uninformed yahoos (average people) love her was going to drive the main stream media nuts. They had a hard time grasping the fact that people like her because she is precisely the kind of politician that everyone has been saying they’ve wanted: Independent, not a captive of the Beltway including a Congress with a 9% approval rating, who will take on hacks of either party; who has the tenacity to win and the courage to fight for the long-term benefit of those she represents.
Apparently what no one counted on was that a politician like this would actually show up on the national scene. The media was caught by surprise. The media doesn’t like surprises.
Naturally, there was a backlash to the treatment of Governor Palin and cooler-headed critics have largely concentrated on what they claim is her lack of qualifications. Of course much of the criticism of her qualifications reveals the application of the same old double standard. Less accomplished governors in times past have been considered to be perfectly “well-qualified” as VP picks.
However, it is a legitimate issue and should be taken seriously. I especially take seriously the criticism of people such as New York Times columnist David Brooks who I consider to be an insightful analyst of the political scene.
He recently wrote that governance is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all it requires prudence. What is prudence? Among other things, it is the ability to absorb information and discern the essential current of events – the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and to understand which arguments have the most weight. How is prudence acquired? Through experience. Experience allows a leader to judge what is important and what is not. He added, “Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter.”
One can hardly disagree with the desirability of our leaders having the qualities that Brooks describes (putting aside the question of how many of our leaders who are not Sarah Palin have demonstrated these qualities). But there are other important qualifications, such as will, courage, and determination. Frankly, an infusion of these qualities into our body politic is desperately needed – not just to raise hell with the establishment, but to speak the hard truth about unpleasant choices facing our country. To push for choices that will, in the long term, benefit our country, our children and our grandchildren. In other words, things which “prudent” leaders are all too often reluctant to do.
For many years we have failed to address looming problems that will prove catastrophic to our nation. It’s not because we are bereft of leaders with great experience. And it is not because they do not understand the “essential current of events.” They know these things all too well. It is because they do not have the political courage to do anything about it.
Recently, a Washington Post editorial pointed out that even before the recent financial crisis on Wall Street, the Government Accountability Office issued a report declaring the federal government on an “unsustainable long term fiscal path.” This was primarily due to the projected cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, brought on by an aging population. We will be spending $41 trillion dollars more on these entitlements in the next 75 years than we will receive in payroll taxes and premiums, although the crunch will actually begin much sooner than that. And we already owe Japan and China about $500 billion each.
David Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States calls this problem much larger than the recent financial rescue plan. In fact he calls it the “super sub-prime crisis.” Which bring me to the current sub-prime crisis.
Wall Street and Washington were full of people who were “qualified and experienced” in the field of finance. Sen. Barack Obama, for one, has a great deal of experience in the housing field. So do many of his closest advisers. I would have traded some of that experience for a few more leaders with less experience and more courage to buck the establishment and tell the truth about what was happening.
This brings me back to Governor Sarah Palin, and why I say that courage and political will are at the very top of the “qualification” requirements for today’s leaders. So the question is, how does Sarah Palin compare on that score with Biden and Obama, for that matter? Very well, I’d say.
Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.