Forgetting Sarah Palin

10/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


That's the word I keep hearing from the TV pundits about John McCain's decision to pick someone he'd met just once to be his VP. James Carville, looking slack-faced and sincere for once, said he's just plain "vexed" trying make sense of it. Paul Begala said he wouldn't even make dinner plans with somebody he'd met just once.

To make sense of this, though, we need look no further than the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't mandate that a VP be a governing partner, as Gore was to Clinton. The Constitution doesn't mandate that a VP serve as the de facto president, as Cheney has so graciously done for Bush. No, the Constitution permits the VP to hold a gavel and to cast a tie-breaking vote on those rare occasions when the Senate is deadlocked. The job, in the words of FDR's first vice president, isn't "worth a pitcher of warm piss."

So John McCain could freeze his VP out of any meaningful governing role. Picking someone he'd only met once is the surest sign that McCain plans to do exactly that. If she were to succeed in serving McCain's electoral purposes, Vice President Sarah Palin would wield less power than Gov. Sarah Palin does.

That would stink for any women who get conned into thinking a vote for McCain is a vote to smash the glass ceiling. That would stink for the conservative Christians who've been placated by McCain's choice of a VP with radical views on abortion and evolution.

It might even stink for the whole U.S.A. From the brief glimpse we got Friday, Gov. Palin seems to have a better temperament for leading America than the ouchy John McCain does. And as Senator Obama has demonstrated, there actually are some extraordinary people in American public life -- people who apprentice themselves diligently to wise mentors as they swiftly haul themselves up the political ladder, people who relentlessly demand better and better and better of themselves, people who in much fewer years than we'd expect prove that they are blessed with exceptional judgment and know-how. Gov. Palin might be one of those people.

We don't know.

We can't know.

Neither does John McCain.

He chose not to know. He chose, in the many months that elapsed between meeting Palin and offering her the VP job, not to get to know Palin better. He chose to meet her just that once. That choice, in a very real way, is more dismissive than even the pettiest insults Palin will endure during this campaign. Because that choice telegraphs as clearly as can be imagined that McCain has no intention of governing with Palin.

We can add to this indignity. Or we can show some class.

The decent thing to do -- and the politically smart thing to do -- is to ignore Gov. Palin. It's dumb politics to ridicule the puniness of the town where Palin served as mayor. It's dumb politics to snicker about her past as a beauty-pageant contestant. It's dumb politics to condemn her choice to join a grueling national campaign at a time when her youngest child is still an infant. Such attacks only help John McCain. They give him a chance to impersonate a chivalrous defender of women. And they give him a chance to change the focus of this election.

Anyone who wants Senator Obama to become president needs to make sure the focus returns to where it belongs: to John McCain himself and his stubborn embrace of the Bush Administration's failures and fiascos. Don't distract the voters. Forget Sarah Palin.