Last week's Democratic National Convention was interesting, with a fairly good, historically outstanding performance by Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton spoke well, as did her husband.
I wondered last Thursday night whom Sen. John McCain would choose as running mate, and was stunned when my telephone started ringing early Friday morning with the news that it was Alaska's very own Gov. Sarah Palin. My amazement evolved into a strong sense of pride for various reasons, but more than anything as an Alaskan.
As the day unfolded I spoke to other Alaskans, many excited and proud like me, and others concerned that Palin wouldn't be up to the task at hand. I headed south to Seattle for the weekend, and heard how non-Alaskans were reacting to the news. It was a mixed bag. A few recognizable themes helped me figure out how I really feel about this extraordinary development in American and Alaskan politics.
On Friday morning many questioned whether Palin is qualified to be vice president. These critical questions were strikingly similar to those asked when she ran for and became the governor of Alaska. Palin has easily proved herself eminently qualified to lead our state, winning enormous victories in her battle to get Alaskans a fair share of our hydrocarbon wealth, and moving the gas pipeline project farther along the spectrum toward reality. Palin accomplished two huge successes by persevering, working with members of both parties, and simply believing that it could be done.
Palin has presided over fiscally responsible budgets in times of great wealth, resisting the temptation to fritter away one-time earnings.
The biggest misstep of which she's accused is dismissing her former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan because he wouldn't sack rogue Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten. No amount of investigating this matter will change the fact that cabinet members are completely exempt and have no right to serve absent the support of governor who appointed them.
The Alaska Personnel Act protects classified employees, but what reasonable Alaskan wants to be "protected" by a trooper who "Tasers" his children as a disciplinary technique? The Monegan-Wooten matter will in time be judged as a tempest in a teapot; completely irrelevant to Palin's vice-presidential candidacy.
I knew about the trooper story before Friday's news but it was only at the weekend that the news of the Palins' oldest daughter's pregnancy came to light.
I was at Sea-Tac watching CNN, and the tone of many of the pundits about this piece of information really offended me as an Alaskan. The clear subtext was that merely being governor of Alaska could never prepare a person for the White House, and that release of details of this particular family matter just drove a nail in that coffin. This is cosmopolitan snobbery at its very worst, which flies in the face of presidency's history.
In two years as Alaska's executive leader, Palin has demonstrated true political skill and the inherent talents of a real stateswoman.
Bill Clinton governed Arkansas, and Jimmy Carter governed Georgia, and both went on to serve the country as president without being accused of inherent unsuitability for the job.
Can anyone say with a straight face that governing Arkansas or Georgia is any more inherently complicated or challenging than having the top job on the Last Frontier? Such an argument does not pass the laugh test.
Sen. Obama has never held executive, only legislative office. He is, like Palin, relatively inexperienced, but he has shown the ability to learn as he goes, and to listen to others to maximize his potential. In this way Obama and Palin are a lot alike.
Another trait shared by the governor of Alaska and the junior senator from Illinois is that they're not white men like every other person to serve as president or vice president. That alone is a huge step forward by the American electorate toward a more diverse future.
Instead of carping on their alleged defects, I urge my fellow Alaskans and Americans to give each of these relatively inexperienced candidates -and their vastly more experienced running mates - a chance to prove themselves between now and the 4th of November. Whether it be McCain and Palin, or Obama and Biden, the world is not going to start spinning in reverse depending on the outcome of this election.
These are all hard-working, intelligent individuals; their energy, ideas and visions for the country, not preconceived notions about their suitability for the jobs they seek, ought to influences voters' decisions.
Ben Brown is a Juneau resident and a life-long Alaskan.
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