Palin as Quayle (or, why Palin is nothing like Obama)
In an article posted at TNR yesterday, Jon Chait draws stark and disturbing parallels between Sarah Palin and Dan Quayle. With Palin's record, her alleged "experience," revealed as the facade of lies and deceptions it really is -- as governor of Alaska, "[s]he appointed unqualified cronies, abused her power to punish personal enemies, and has displayed a Cheney-esque passion for government secrecy -- what remains is, in essense, a right-wing tabula rasa open to further right-wing indoctrination.
Quayle, lest we forget, had significantly more experience than Palin, however, notably on the national stage, both in the House and Senate, at the time he was tapped by Bush I as his 1988 running mate. Still, as Chait points out, what Palin's defenders are saying about her now sounds a lot like what Quayle's defenders were saying about him back then. What's more, Quayle, like Palin now, played the all-American populist card against so-called elites on the other side:
Questions about Quayle's readiness remained, but he did his best to turn them into elite condescension toward small town America. Quayle, in his acceptance speech, spoke movingly about the small towns in Indiana where he had grown up, and later disparaged Dukakis for "sneer[ing] at common sense advice, Midwestern advice."
And, also like Palin now, the Quayle pick was celebrated by the right:
Conservatives received Quayle's selection rapturously. L. Brent Bozell pronounced himself "ecstatic," and Jerry Falwell called the surprise pick "a stroke of genius." After a media frenzy, Quayle's speech was well-received. The convention hall burst into cheers of "We want Dan!" NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said that Quayle executed "flawlessly," and CBS's Bruce Morton called it "a good speech."
Sound familiar? It's like 1988 all over again. To a point.
While Biden is very much like Lloyd Bentsen -- both elder statesmen of the Democratic Party -- Biden is by far the better and more accomplished pick. Furthermore, while McCain, like Bush I before him, has a good deal of experience, particularly in terms of foreign policy and national security, the Republican brand is not what it was in 1988, when two Reagan terms and Reagan's own personal popularity created a fertile climate for Bush I's run for the presidency. He was Reagan's vice president, after all. For his part, McCain, also a decorated veteran, enjoys a long history of delusionally positive coverage by the national media, along with the unearned reputation for being some sort of moderate maverick, but, with two wars going on, and with the economy already melting down, and with McCain-Palin running on an extremist social conservative (domestic policy) and neoconservative (foreign policy) platform, and with two Bush II terms creating not a fertile climate but a huge obstacle for McCain's run, the differences between 1988 and 2008 are stark.
And there is another enormous difference: Obama is no Dukakis. Enough said.
But back to Chait's article:
Palin is like Quayle but unlike Obama. Actually, she is worse than Quayle, who had been in the Senate for almost eight years by the time he was elected vice president in 1988. Obama has been in the Senate, too, of course, for less time, but Chait makes the excellent point that it is engagement, not experience, that matters:
The main complaint against Palin has been her lack of experience. That's fortunate for her, since "experience" -- especially measured in a linear way -- fails to capture exactly what Palin lacks. Yes, two years as governor is less than you'd like, as is four years as senator. The real problem, though, is that Palin has no record of thinking about national or international policy. Bobby Jindal, another Republican veep contender, has barely more experience than Palin, but he is a respected policy intellectual. Pat Buchanan ran for president without ever having served in elective office, but he had engaged more deeply than most presidential candidates in policy questions.
Engagement, not experience, is the difference between Palin's qualifications and Obama's. Obama has a longstanding interest in national and (to a lesser extent) international issues, and has answered questions on all those issues in extensive detail. Palin has dealt almost exclusively with parochial issues in a wildly atypical state. (Her fiscal experience, which consists of divvying up oil lucre, offers better preparation to serve as president of Saudi Arabia than the United States.) It's possible Palin has harbored a long-standing, secret passion for policy wonkery, but the few signs available thus far -- her convention speech that spelled out "new-clear weapons," her evident lack of familiarity with the term "Bush Doctrine" -- suggest otherwise. The Republican intelligentsia is frantically tutoring her while they run out the clock until November 4.
What Obama has shown throughout this long campaign is that he has not just multifaceted experience -- lawyer, community activist, state legislator, senator -- but a long history of engagement with the major issues of the day, with the challenges facing America and the world. He has proven that he has the temperament and judgement to be president, and, on the issues, he is the right candidate at the right time, the man both America and the world need in the White House.
Palin is a lot like Quayle, and 2008 is a lot like 1988, but it is Obama who makes all the difference.