By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-26-08
The “experience” argument has had a funny track record this campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to float her way to the White House based on her supposedly considerable experience – and lost. Barack Obama may be one of the least politically experienced politicians since that other Illinois pol, Abraham Lincoln, captured the White House, but most voters don’t seem to mind. In fact, the candidate who has been repeatedly denounced as inexperienced and unqualified to be president is the only national candidate with actual executive experience in the race, the former mayor and current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.
All this goes to show that a resume only tells part of the story. Any fair observer who has watched Palin’s interview with Katie Couric should admit to some reservations about Sarah Palin’s readiness to lead. Couric asked fair questions in a straightforward manner, and Palin often responded like an unprepared undergraduate who tries to reframe a question or sling broad generalizations about America to substitute for specific answers. Similarly, in her debate with Joe Biden, Palin came on strong but by mid-debate was sidestepping too much and repeatedly invoking her McCain-and-me-are-Mavericks mantra.
Most disturbing of all, Sarah Palin seems singularly unqualified in the field of foreign affairs, even though John McCain’s candidacy rode – and seems to be falling – on the argument of its primacy during these touchy times. I have no problem with Republicans who say “yes, she’s unqualified but I’m still voting for president and McCain is my choice.” I can even accept Republicans who argue that the media has been particularly tough on Palin and soft on Joe Biden, who has made a number of unacceptable factual errors on the campaign trail in addition to his role as gaffe-master general. But I have a hard time accepting those who claim that they have no concerns about Palin’s limited national experience and superficial understanding of foreign affairs.
At the same time, it is extremely disturbing that most polls suggest that Al Franken is about to be elected Senator from Minnesota. Franken is not only unqualified, he has been a destructive force in American politics for years. That Minnesota, a state once known for its calm, constructive, progressive politics, could take this aggressive, mean-spirited, Democratic clown at all seriously shows how far American politics have fallen. We all know that we live in an age of celebrity and that stardom in one field transfers over to another arena far too easily. Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been equally unqualified when they won their respective gubernatorial seats, but at least they had not been harming the system with harsh rhetoric and buffoonery for years. Al Franken is no better than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, who also should – by now — have talked their way out of being taken seriously by voters.
It is fashionable to lament that partisanship is blind. Actually, partisanship is myopic. Partisans have a distorted view of the world, wherein they are able to see the flaws in a rival party’s candidate while overlooking similar flaws in a candidate from their own camp. So here is my test for 2008. How many people are willing to denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as unqualified for the respective positions they seek? Even at this late date, it is important to test ourselves and each other for consistency, to see if we have any objective standards – or it is all a matter of partisan positioning.
Parties serve an important role in American democracy, as do hard fought campaigns. But politics is about governing not just winning. Occasionally acknowledging your own party’s missteps is an important step in building those bridges of civility and mutuality that are essential for going forward the day after Election Day, a day that is rapidly approaching.