When I was a young attorney and freshly admitted to the bar, I made the "mistake" of saying to another lawyer who I was helping to prepare for a variety of court hearings, "Is there anything else I can do?"
"Well, now that you've been sworn in, why don't you argue one of these motions?" he said. Cue stomach knot, flight instinct and nausea. I wasn't ready.
I had no experience in a real courtroom and I knew my opposing counsel had been around in the legal world for many years. Sure I had the law degree and had passed the bar exam. Yes, I had done moot court and trial practice classes in law school. But I'd never stood up in an honest-to-goodness court in front of a real judge to make legal arguments that would impact someone's life, ones that were sure to be challenged by the much more experienced attorney on the opposing side.
Once I had passed the bar and had that law license and could put "Esq." behind my name on official law firm letterhead, I was a lawyer, for better or worse, who would be expected to be as prepared and ready on all oral argument topics as any other lawyer, even if they had 30 years experience and I had less than one.
When I finally stood up in the courtroom weeks later, I was as prepared as I could be. But I knew that there was one thing I could not say.
"Your honor, please don't ask me as many questions about this motion as the other lawyers, because I'm not as experienced in the law as they are."
The John McCain campaign, however, thinks that Sarah Palin ought to be able to make the political equivalent of that statement in her upcoming debate with Joe Biden.
Several articles are reporting that McCain spokesperson Nancy Pfotenhauer has been calling on Gwen Ifill, the debate moderator, to cut back on the number of questions she asks Palin about foreign policy. It wouldn't be fair to Palin, they say, since Biden is so much more experienced, claiming that questions on the economy and foreign affairs should be "evenly balanced."
I have no doubt that Gwen Ifill will be fair and even-handed (notwithstanding what some on the right are saying). I know she will ask the right mix of questions that need to be asked so we can take a better measure of the the vice-presidential candidates and the experience and knowledge they bring (or don't bring) to the table.
But to have a campaign spokesperson start banging the drum to try to keep a candidate who clearly doesn't know much about foreign affairs away from those topics, well, all I can say is this -- Sarah, when you said you didn't blink when you accepted the assignment and decided you were ready to stand at the podium next to the guy with 30 years experience, you were also expected to be ready to answer the hard questions. By yourself. Without McCain there to intercede.
Sarah, you have an obligation to make yourself ready, especially when the "clients" you're representing are about 305 million Americans and the "case" is the one about our future that could be your sole responsibility at a moment's notice.
I know the McCain campaign is probably force feeding Sarah Palin Red Bull and the last few seasons of the West Wing between now and Thursday night to see if she can manage to put together a few coherent sentences on foreign policy. But now's not the time to be taking a chance on an "associate" who is as inexperienced in the politics of the world as I was about statutes and case law on that day in a Maryland courthouse 20 years ago.
Joanne Bamberger is sometimes better known around the blogosphere as PunditMom, which is also the name of the blog she writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics. Her political commentary has appeared on CNN, Fox News, XM Radio POTUS '08, and ABC.com, among others.
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