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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why Not Vetting Sarah Palin Matters

I just want to drive this point home because I may have been a bit obtuse about it over the weekend. The simple fact of the matter is that John McCain did very little (if any) vetting on Sarah Palin before choosing her as his running mate. This is not arguable; it has been confirmed to the New York Times that vetting staff did not arrive in Alaska or conduct inquiries until late Thursday of last week (the very same day McCain made his pick and the day before he announced it to the world):

"Aides to Mr. McCain said they had a team on the ground in Alaska now to look more thoroughly into Ms. Palin’s background. A Republican with ties to the campaign said the team assigned to vet Ms. Palin in Alaska had not arrived there until Thursday, a day before Mr. McCain stunned the political world with his vice-presidential choice. The campaign was still calling Republican operatives as late as Sunday night asking them to go to Alaska to deal with the unexpected candidacy of Ms. Palin." (emphasis mine)

I don't have an enormous amount of time to go into the myriad ways this demonstrates how incomprehensibly reckless and irresponsible this decision was.

I believe any reasonably minded person out there would agree that vetting a VP candidate for potential scandals and red flags is an enormously important process to undertake.

Just imagine if the vetting team (or the media) uncovers a deal breaker -- NOW; after the choice has already been made! It would RUIN the McCain campaign by driving the final nail into the coffin of McCain's supposedly high-quality judgment and decision-making skills.

As hilzoy opines:

As far as I'm concerned, the story about Sarah Palin is what John McCain's decision to make her his running mate says about his judgment. And what this tells us is stunning. It is basic, basic politics that before you ask someone to become your running mate, you vet them thoroughly. You want to know what you're getting into, and you don't want any unfortunate surprises. Apparently, McCain didn't bother to do this. That's astonishing. It's like starting surgery before you do an initial medical workup and diagnosis, or handing all your money over to a financial advisor before you find out whether she's legitimate. In this particular case, there are two huge problems with what McCain did.

The first is the most obvious: in choosing a Vice Presidential nominee, McCain is choosing someone who might well end up taking over as President. This would be true for anyone, but it's especially true in McCain's case, since he is a 72 year old cancer survivor. Anyone who "puts country first", as McCain is fond of telling us he does, would have taken care to ensure that that person was up to the job, and had no unpleasant secrets like, oh, past membership in a fringe secessionist organization. Not bothering to do the most basic due diligence before naming her as his running mate is staggeringly irresponsible.

The second is that McCain was willing to take a huge gamble not just with our country, but with his own political interests. As I said earlier, gambling with the country is worse, but gambling with your own interests is a different kind of bad judgment, and worth noting in its own right. If you are selfish enough to put your own interests above the interests of your country, that's awful. But it doesn't move you into the realm of the wholly unpredictable, the people from whom you truly never know what to expect. (It's like being one of those dictators who are nonetheless rational enough that things like deterrence can work with them: you are bad, but bad in a way that makes it possible to anticipate what you might do next.)

Being willing to take a huge and reckless gamble with your own interests is not like that. It's not cool and collected selfishness that leaves room for some hope that if your interests and the interests of your country align, you might end up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. It's sheer impulsive stupidity: an unwillingness to think, in even the most basic ways, before you act. That's a terrible trait in a President.

Here's John Cole:
Vetting someone after you put them on the ticket [is] part of the change we can all believe in if we elect McSame.

And Ben Smith:
I can't remember the last introduction to the national scene this rocky, and it gets worse every hour — and even before the investigative reporters have settled in to Anchorage.

To Josh Marshall:

A lot of attention is being given to Gov. Palin's daughter's situation. The much bigger deal is the expanding trooper-gate investigation, the fact that Palin lied in her Friday speech about her purported opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere, her apparent former membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party, and more. Individually, you can come to your own judgment about how consequential these stories are. What they show pretty clearly now -- in addition to the news that the McCain campaign is only now sending in a vetting team -- is that John McCain didn't do any serious vetting of Palin before he invited her to join his ticket and, he hopes, become Vice President of the United States.

Fundamentally, of course, this is about John McCain. And the real issue here is what this slapdash decision says about his judgment.

And, finally, the New York Times:
While there was no sign that her formal nomination this week was in jeopardy, the questions swirling around Ms. Palin on the first day of the Republican National Convention, already disrupted by Hurricane Gustav, brought anxiety to Republicans who worried that Democrats would use the selection of Ms. Palin to question Mr. McCain’s judgment and his ability to make crucial decisions.

At the least, Republicans close to the campaign said it was increasingly apparent that Ms. Palin had been selected as Mr. McCain’s running mate with more haste than McCain advisers initially described...

Although The Washington Post quoted advisers to Mr. McCain on Sunday as saying Ms. Palin had been subjected to an F.B.I. background check, an F.B.I. official said Monday the bureau did not vet potential candidates and had not known of her selection until it was made public.

2 comments:

Jamo said...

Perhaps this is too broad an analogy here, but the thought just occurred to me that all of this 'post decision, CYA vetting' of Sarah Palin is beginning to feel a lot like the post invasion security arrangements for Iraq, or the Katrina response. IOWs, it wasn't well planned at all and now people are running around with bandaids as the proverbial dam is breaking or trying to close the ol' barn door once the horse is gone.

How can a Republican administration be trusted to plan and execute anything? Minimal governance is by definition always going to be reactive to crises when compentent governance can avoid many a crisis.

Monitor said...

Hmm, very interesting point indeed. Good analogy