In the wake of John McCain's choice of unknown Sarah Palin as his veep, there's been a spate of commentators who can't see beyond the obvious fact that she's a woman. A Baltimore Sun columnist called the pick "pandering," and two conservative pundits, Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy, were caught on NBC questioning McCain's selection motives while believing they were off mic. "The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical," Murphy said yesterday of the Palin pick.
Among the more obnoxious, however, was Tuesday's article by Sally Quinn, Georgetown doyenne and sometimes Washington Post writer.
"My first reaction was shock. Then anger," she writes of hearing about Palin:
John McCain chose a running mate simply because she is a woman and one who appealed to the Republican's conservative evangelical base.... Sarah Palin as his running mate is a cynical and calculated move. It is a choice made to try to win an election. It is a political gimmick. And it's very high risk. I find it insulting to women, to the Republican Party, and to the country.
For seasoned political hands—Quinn even proudly describes herself as a "Washington DC insider"—the cynicism charge is remarkably naive. Imagine—a presidential candidate choosing a running mate "to try to win an election." A big consideration in selecting veeps is that they correct real or perceived inadequacies of the candidate. In the case of Palin, her youth, gender, and conservatism were all factors McCain felt his ticket needed. By the same token, Obama no doubt settled on Joe Biden for the potential he brings to the ticket as a blunt-spoken white male with foreign-policy and Capitol know-how.
Pundits can splice the hairs as finely as they like, but the bottom line is that the two parties' tickets are remarkably similar: an older, Washington infighter paired with a younger, idealistic outsider. This is not a coincidence; voters want a slate that covers all the bases.
For sheer chutzpah, however, Quinn's flat dismissal of Palin's experience is not to be missed:
She has no national political experience, especially in the area of foreign policy. That fact that she is not of Washington also will be for her. Barbara Bush once told me that her husband had been a congressman, UN ambassador, ambassador to China, and head of the CIA and they thought they were prepared for the vice presidency (under President Reagan). But she said nothing can prepare you for the criticism and scrutiny of being in the White House. Sarah Palin is not prepared for that.
But then there's this delightful profile of Quinn from Time's archives. Of particular interest is a passage describing her job interview at the Post:
"Can you show me something you've written?" asked Managing Editor Benjamin Bradlee. "I've never written anything," admitted Quinn. Pause. "Well," said Bradlee, "nobody's perfect."
Quinn was given the job, and later she and Bradlee were married.
I don't think Palin's a faultless choice for McCain, and her conservatism is not across-the-board mine. But I will submit that politics is politics, whether in Washington or Alaska, and core principles are a better foundation for leadership than the easy malleability of D.C.'s career politicians. And maybe, just as Quinn struck Bradlee, there's something to Palin that can't be captured on a résumé. Last night's performance gave a strong indication that there is.