Sarah Palin, “Small Town Mayor”
Those who’ve read my previous commentary on Sarah Palin, notably yesterday’s post on the announcement of Palin as McCain’s VP pick, know that I think she’s a poor choice. While she has many fans and may be possessed of some remarkable political gifts, she’s a tough sell as “Ready On Day One” and thus undercuts McCain’s best argument against Barack Obama.
On the surface, at least, she’s Dan Quayle and Harriet Miers rolled up into a single package.
That said, I’m rather baffled that the “small town mayor” meme is catching on so readily.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, “Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency.” National Review‘s David Frum, who presumably wants McCain to win, echoed this: “If anything were to happen to a President McCain, the destiny of the free world would be placed in the hands of a woman who until the day before Friday was a small-town mayor.” (In a companion piece at NR, he dropped the metaphor and simply called her “an untested small-town mayor.”) The phrase appears in dozens, if not hundreds, of newspapers. (1905 Google News references come up, although presumably a large number of those are duplicate wire service copy.)
These memes are often amusing and sometimes stick. Jimmy Carter was “the peanut farmer” long after his presidency, even though he’d 1) never farmed peanuts, 2) had been a successful naval officer, and 3) had been governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan, who spent eight years governing California, a state with a population and economy that dwarfs most countries, was always “the B-movie actor.”
Granting that Alaska has fewer people in it than quite a few American cities, the woman is in fact the governor of a state. And, goodness, until four years ago, Obama was a state legislator. Indeed, one could argue her experience and his are comparable, in that he’s spent almost the entirety of his short time in the Senate running for president.
Neither “small town mayor” nor “state legislator” are usually jobs that we bother to count when assessing presidents and one can argue which is better preparation for Chief Executive. Ordinarily, only the vice presidency, the Senate, and state governorships are considered relevant experience, although sometimes we issue a waiver for particularly important generals.
The four people on the two national tickets include two, McCain and Joe Biden, who are manifestly prepared to be president using the résumé-at-a-glance test. They’ve both spent decades at the highest levels of government service, including the making of American foreign and national security policy.
A third, Obama, has convinced the Democratic nominating electorate and roughly half the country, judging by the current polls, that he has unique gifts that make him ready despite a dearth of traditional experience. Even those of us ideologically predisposed against him acknowlege that he’s unusually bright and a quick study. And the mere fact that he’s been running for president for the last two years has sped his preparation along.
And then there’s Sarah Palin. Some smart people whose opinions I respect, including Bill Dyer and my colleagues John Burgess and Dave Schuler, are favorably impressed by her. But most of the country had never heard of her before yesterday. She doesn’t pass the résumé test. So, she’ll have to persuade the public that she’s ready on the campaign trail, the interview shows, and a debate against Joe Biden.
Photo: STEPHEN NOWERS / Anchorage Daily News file, 2007