Sarah Palin, meet G. Harold Carswell and Roman Hruska, men you may never have heard of; and while we're at it, John McCain, meet Richard Nixon.
Carswell, as those among us with long memories or an interest in historical esoterica will recall, was the wholly undistinguished Federal Court of Appeals Judge from Florida whom President Nixon wanted to place on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1970 after his first choice, Judge Clement Haynsworth, had been rejected by the Senate. Most of the criticism of Carswell, who was eventually also rejected, centered on the fact that he was widely considered to be a mediocre judge. This led Republican Senator Roman Hruska from Nebraska to give his now classic defense of mediocrity: "Even if he [Carswell, that is] were mediocre," Hruska said, "there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos."
Why does this apply to Sarah Palin? Because a few days ago she described herself to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt as a "Joe six-pack," and, apparently channeling Senator Hruska, declared that "It's time that normal Joe six-pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency."
I have nothing against Joe six-pack. I just don't think that being Joe six-pack qualifies one to be President of the United States. And the only qualification a U.S. Vice President needs to have is the ability to assume the Presidency if need be.
A credible candidate for President or Vice President must have a demonstrated grasp of domestic and international issues. If a senator misspeaks, he or she is one of 100. If a governor makes a mistake, it affects his or her state alone. A President of the United States who pushes the proverbial button out of ignorance or by mistake could blow up the world.
Even if Sarah Palin does well in tomorrow night's Vice Presidential debate, as she probably will, she has already demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that she is not up to the task of being President. This is not being condescending, just realistic. Just listen to or read the transcript of any of her Katie Couric interviews. The people of Alaska have the right to elect anyone they want as their governor, but the rest of the country should give her a good second and third look. Here, as told to Katie Couric, is her non-scripted analysis of the bailout crisis:
"That's why I say, I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in, where it is the taxpayers looking to bailout. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the--oh, it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So, healthcare reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we have--we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that."
These are the actual words of the person to whom John McCain is prepared to entrust our economy if anything were to happen to him (not a Tina Fey parody on Saturday Night Live). If you contemplate voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin this year, if this is even a remote possibility, read this last paragraph very carefully, please. And reread it. If you understand what she said or meant to say, please explain it to the rest of us. If, on the other hand, you don't have a clue either, just imagine these words spoken during a White House press conference, and their impact on the international financial markets.
And if you have relatives, friends, neighbors or acquaintances who may be thinking of voting Republican, send them Sarah Palin's commentary on the bailout and ask them if they are as flummoxed by it as everyone else.
In 1970, the U.S. Senate rejected the proposition that a mediocrity should be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court. In 2008, it's up to the country as a whole to make sure that the individual we elect as our next Vice President is qualified to be President.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City
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