McCain needs more than a vice president

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008

Across the partisan divide, people everywhere are arguing whether or not Gov. Sarah Palin is ready for Washington, D.C.

Given John McCain's age and health history, it's important voters consider whether Palin's really qualified to assume the presidency if tragedy were to strike a McCain White House.

Yet a more relevant question is, if McCain is elected, who will be his national security adviser, attorney general and secretaries of state, defense and homeland security? After all, McCain's cabinet and chief advisers are the people Palin would turn to if she unexpectedly became president.

We expect either candidate to choose a solid team of advisers if elected. The men and women who serve the American people as members of a president's cabinet should bring to Washington a resume that includes many years of successful public or private sector experience. It's in our best interest that they be highly intelligent and dedicated to public service.

However, the American people don't get to choose a candidate with the knowledge of who will fill the cabinet and other positions of significant influence. That's because election campaigns aren't about governing. A candidate has to get elected first, and the race to the White House is more about images than substance.

McCain furthered his reputation as a party maverick by surprising the country with Palin's nomination. Her record of fighting corruption in Alaska's Republican Party complemented McCain's legislative attempts to curb the influence of special interests in Washington. Together they offer a good sound bite that they're the best ticket to change the way Washington operates.

Barack Obama also speaks about bringing change to our national government. His message is partly anchored to the fact that he's only served five years in the Senate, and he's not a long-term resident of the Washington establishment.

But would we expect or even want either of these candidates to choose people for their cabinet who have less experience than Palin?

It was only eight years ago when George W. Bush campaigned as a Washington outsider. But look at who came to the White House with him. Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense and Paul O'Neil in treasury go all the way to back to Gerald Ford's administration. And then there is Elliott Abrams, who Bush appointed to the National Security Council despite the fact he had pleaded guilty to withholding evidence from Congress over his role in the Iran-Contra affair.

On the other side, one newcomer to Washington was Donald Evans, who headed the Commerce Department until 2005. But being Bush's best friend didn't mean Evans was the best person for that position.

Bush also appointed a political rookie to head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had been a cabinet level agency until it was absorbed by Homeland Security. Unfortunately for the country, Michael D. Brown will best be remembered for his miserable leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"I will fight to restore the pride and principles of our party" McCain said in his acceptance speech.

It's Bush's record of failure, aided by trusting the wrong people, which allows McCain to tell us it's time for change.

If there's one constant we can count on, it's that campaign rhetoric won't change anything. But if McCain wins the election, one change we better hope for is that our new vice president won't be consulted as routinely as her predecessors, Dick Cheney and Al Gore. A McCain presidency could be a disaster if his closest advisers are less knowledgeable about the economy and foreign affairs than Alaska's governor.

Palin and Joe Biden tell us little about how either Obama or McCain will govern, and that is what the election should be about. But as long as we're appeased with the stories surrounding these four candidates, we are essentially enabling a celebrity battle of photo-ops and empty speeches to be played out on the stage of the national news media.

Americans need to insist upon change before the election, not afterwards. We might do well to begin by calling upon the candidates to reveal their short list of prospective presidential cabinet members so we can be more informed of the true nature of government we're electing.



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