My turn: Palin qualified in Dan Quayle style

Posted: Monday, September 08, 2008

There has been much talk about Gov. Sarah Palin's qualifications to be vice president since John McCain selected her as his running mate.

Much of that commentary has really addressed the degree to which she is or is not qualified to be president in the event that McCain is unable to serve.

In that respect, McCain's choice of Palin is truly frightening. Whatever her qualities as Alaska's governor, she is so profoundly unqualified to be president that McCain's selection of her raises genuine and disturbing questions about him.

However, regarding the question of whether or not Palin is qualified to be vice president, there is no question she is.

The constitutional duty assigned to the vice president is ... nothing. The traditional duty vice presidents assume is representing the president and the country at the funerals of foreign heads of state.

Palin is entirely qualified. I'm sure she (like anyone else) can fritter away a day doing nothing. And presumably she owns, or could obtain between election day and inauguration day, a black dress.

This all raises the question: What do you really think Palin would be called on to do in a hypothetical McCain administration?

There are vice presidents and there are vice presidents. There are Dick Cheney and Al Gore vice presidents - deeply involved in policy making and execution. And there are Dan Quayle vice presidents. Quayle did essentially nothing from January 1989 to January 1993, other than formulate the George H. W. Bush administration's official position on Murphy Brown (a sitcom character, for those of you too young to know) deciding to deliberately have a baby out of wedlock.

Palin - I regret to be the one to break the news - would probably be the latter type.

As a nonpartisan and well-informed citizen, I can tell you that John McCain, like all politicians of national stature, trusts those who have been around him for years or decades. He just met Palin, and chose her only for perceived electoral advantages.

She will perform no meaningful tasks in a McCain administration. She'll fly to funerals on Air Force Two (assuming she doesn't sell it on eBay and get around in a single engine Bush plane - just to keep up the image). On really slow afternoons she'll play cribbage in her office with her chief of staff. McCain will name her perhaps his Special Liaison to the Evangelical Community or his Blue Ribbon Coordinator with the Caribou, or to some other function he doesn't want to bother his real staff with, doesn't care about, and doesn't want to know about. They'll have a (very) brief breakfast once a month and share pleasantries and croissants.

To me the most surprising aspect of this whole episode is that Palin was willing to be considered or accepted when asked. She seems an intelligent woman. If we are to believe what she says about herself - that she likes the executive challenge of running the big electric train set of government - then why she would choose to be a bored non-entity in Washington, D.C., rather than the governor of Alaska is beyond me.

I suppose it could be personal political ambition trumping her responsibility to Alaska. Maybe she just wants her 15 minutes in the national spotlight. But I think that if she wins her election, she will come to regret her choice.

So rest assured (sort of). The thought of Palin in the Oval Office and the catastrophic damage her inexperience could do there is as truly frightening as the thought of Dan Quayle in the same situation 20 years ago. But as vice president really the only thing she can screw up is wearing a midnight blue dress to the funeral of some foreign country's president-for-life rather than black.

• Donald R. Douglas is a Juneau resident.

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