Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Should Palin stay on ticket?

John McCain flunked his first test as the Republican nominee for president, and it was not a pop quiz. He had a long time to reflect upon the best candidate for vice president, which he had said should be the person best qualified in the United States to become president should something happen to him soon after he takes office.

He chose an obscure governor from one of the least populated states whose cumulative experience even in state governance is a mere 20 months. Before she became governor last year her experience amounted to two terms as mayor of a suburban town that was a few hundred souls smaller than Beebe, Ark.

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska seems to be a loving mother and wife, bright and charming. She was a good high school athlete and a beauty queen. She is solidly against abortion. When her high school daughter turned up pregnant the other day, she told us that she loved and supported the girl. When a raft of state and federal investigations were raining indictments upon Alaska Republican officeholders in 2006 and 2007, she had the gumption to come out against them when the normal party impulse is to circle the wagons. Alaskans rewarded her by electing her governor.

We like most of that, but all those characteristics do not make the case that she is even minimally qualified to be the leader of the free world. She might be an extraordinary leader, but American voters have no way to know that, and it is clear that Sen.

McCain had little clue about it. He seems to have picked her on a gamble that the lovely and charming woman would attract millions of women voters who were mad that Hillary Clinton was not nominated for president or chosen as Sen. Barack Obamaís running mate. She is only 44, balancing his 72. McCain would be the oldest person ever elected president for a first time, and he has had two bouts with cancer. He knew that even his most devoted fans would be anxious about the person he would put a heartbeat away from the most demanding and perilous job in the world.

He seems to have given little reflection to the issue and less investigation, and that does not speak well of his own capabilities.

Would he make rash and uninformed judgments when the safety and health of the nation were in the balance?

But let us put aside questions about the knowledge, experience and wisdom that Sarah Palin would bring to the job. Was it a wise political move?

Instantly, her selection voided the Republicanís main issue, which is that Obama has only four years of experience on the national stage and so is not prepared to step in as president on day one.

She neutralizes McCain on many other issues. Her main achievement as governor was to work with Democrats in the Alaska legislature to raise production taxes ó what we call severance taxes in Arkansas ó on oil and gas, dramatically. Alaska already levied the highest energy taxes in the country ó production taxes and royalties account for 85 percent of the stateís revenues ó but Palinís taxes were staggering, far exceeding the severance tax that Gov. Beebe and the legislature imposed on natural gas earlier in Arkansas this year. The new Alaska taxes are graduated according to energy company profits.

McCain has condemned Obama and Democrats for proposing even a modest windfall profits tax on big oil companies and vowed never to raise taxes on any corporation. Can he do that if his running mate is far to the left of the Democrats on that issue? She and the Democrats used the huge windfall in tax receipts to give every Alaskan a $1,200 check this fall, which makes her very popular in Alaska.

She and McCain have opposite views on big environmental issues, which she of course will now adjust to fit his.

McCain touted her record as a warrior for honesty and ethical conduct. She did sign a bill passed unanimously by the legislature to require rigorous disclosures of lobbying and gifts. But Palin is deeply immersed in an ugly investigation of her own conduct. She fired the director of public safety after he refused to fire a state trooper who is involved in a messy custody battle with his ex-wife, Gov. Palinís sister.

Palin assured McCain that she did nothing wrong, and that was good enough for McCain. It turns out that the special prosecutor has documented two dozen contacts with the department by Palinís husband and 14 aides of the governor seeking to have the trooper fired.

Her patronage assistant was recorded as telling a police official that the governor and her husband could not understand why her ex-brother-in-law was still on the job. Palin says she didnít personally demand that the guy be fired. As everyone knows, that is rarely how it is done.

If McCain wanted someone young and conservative with executive experience, he could have tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or our own former governor, Mike Huckabee, who has a far more accomplished record as governor.

Huckabee raised many more taxes than Palin did, but his total volume was smaller and he had 10 years, and his numerous ethical slips were never so serious as the abuse of power. We are pretty sure he could identify Iran on an outline map of the Middle East.

It is not too late for McCain to reverse the error, though he cannot erase the doubts now about his judgment.