Scholars question Palin credentials
<!-- BEGIN STORY BODY -->David Mark, Fred Barbash Sat Aug 30, 12:24 PM ET
<!-- end storyhdr -->John McCain was aiming to make history with his pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and historians say he succeeded.
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Presidential scholars say she appears to be the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era.
So unconventional was McCain’s choice that it left students of the presidency literally “stunned,” in the words of Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and scholar of the vice presidency. “Being governor of a small state for less than two years is not consistent with the normal criteria for determining who’s of presidential caliber,” said Goldstein.
“I think she is the most inexperienced person on a major party ticket in modern history,” said presidential historian Matthew Dallek.
That includes Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president, who was governor of a medium-sized state, Maryland, for two years, and before that, executive of suburban Baltimore County, the expansive jurisdiction that borders and exceeds in population the city of Baltimore.
It also includes George H.W. Bush’s vice president, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, who had served in the House and Senate for 12 years before taking office. And it also includes New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, who served three terms in the House before Walter Mondale chose her in 1984 as the first woman candidate on a major party ticket.
“It would be one thing if she had only been governor for a year and a half, but prior to that she had not had major experience in public life,” said Dallek of Palin. “The fact that he would have to go to somebody who is clearly unqualified to be president makes Obama look like an elder statesman.”
And Alaska is a much smaller state than Illinois, the political base of Barack Obama, whom Republicans have repeatedly criticized for being inexperienced, having served nearly four years in the U.S. Senate after eight in the Illinois state Senate.
“Not to belittle Alaska, but it’s different than the basket of issues you deal with in big, dynamic states.” Dallek said.
Palin has no experience in national office. Before becoming governor in December 2006, she served as a council member and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, which had a population of slightly more than 5,000 during her time in office.
Brad Blakeman, who ran the 1988 Republican convention for GOP nominee George H.W. Bush, turned the experience question on its head, suggesting accomplishments in office mean more than time accrued.
“Here’s a governor who may have served two years, but her accomplishments are worth eight,” said Blakeman, citing Palin's work as governor on ethics reform and an Alaska oil pipeline. “She’s got as much experience for being vice president as Barack does to be president.”
But other students of presidential history said that In choosing Palin as his running mate, McCain has reached back to a time when few actually seriously contended that the vice president should be demonstrably prepared to assume the presidency from day one.
If elected vice president, Palin would appear to have the least amount of experience in federal office or as a governor since John W. Kern, Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s 1908 running mate, who had served for four years in the Indiana state Senate and then four more as city solicitor of Indianapolis. The Democratic ticket lost to Republican standard bearer William Howard Taft and running mate James S. Sherman by an Electoral College spread of 321-162.
More conventionally in modern times, running mates could boast decades of experience in Washington, from ballot box winners like Dick Cheney, Al Gore, the elder Bush and Mondale to also-rans such as Jack Kemp, Lloyd Bentsen and Joseph I. Lieberman.
These super-credentialed candidates were sometimes chosen, like Joe Biden, to shore up the resumes of candidates with little or no time in Washington, such as Jimmy Carter (Mondale) Bill Clinton (Gore) and Michael Dukakis (Bentsen.)
Palin, on the other hand, is a total “wild card,” said Stanford historian David Kennedy.
“If she had been around for two terms as governor — or been a senator — it would have been an incredible choice,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Who else could he have found who appealed to the conservative base … and as someone who was a reformer?”
That’s not to say Palin will be a dud on the campaign trail.
But out-of-the-box picks in recent years have not usually worked out too well for the top of the ticket. Consider independent candidate Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate, former Navy Adm. James Stockdale, who famously asked at the vice presidential debate with Gore and Quayle, “Who am I, why am I here?”
“He took the wind out of Perot’s sails, and Perot could have done even better” than the 19 percent he garnered, Dallek said.
A bad running mate pick can even put a successful presidential ticket in question. The 1988 Bush-Quayle victory over Dukakis and Bentsen came in spite of Quayle’s frequent campaign trail gaffes and questions about his military service in the Vietnam era and other controversies. Bush handlers largely relegated Quayle to small town audiences that would attract little media attention.
“Quayle — it threw off the momentum for some weeks,” said Goodwin. “One has to hope for McCain’s sake that [Palin] has been fully vetted.”
“The first thing that hits me,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution," is that it suggests that John McCain is a gambler. This is a high roller decision.”
“The next thing you have to ask yourself: Is it worrisome to have a gambler in the Oval Office? That’s an important question," he said, “perhaps more important than anything else today.”
Update: After reading this article, the McCain campaign issued the following statement: "The authors quote four scholars attacking Gov. Palin's fitness for the office of Vice President. Among them, David Kennedy is a maxed out Obama donor, Joel Goldstein is also an Obama donor, and Doris Kearns Goodwin has donated exclusively to Democrats this cycle. Finally, Matthew Dallek is a former speech writer for Dick Gephardt. This is not a story about scholars questioning Governor Palin's credentials so much as partisan Democrats who would find a reason to disqualify or discount any nominee put forward by Senator McCain."