10/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's Flawed Judgment

The past two weeks in election year politics resemble a script that might have been written by Woody Allen or the late Peter Sellers. But the story has lent itself more to tragedy than comedy. What was on John McCain's mind except his own desperate need to be president when he chose a gun-toting radical like Sarah Palin as his running mate? Increasingly, looks like not much else. That accounts for the fact that McCain hardly knew Palin before anointing her as his savior to energize the so-called social conservatives who were slipping away from him. In solidifying his Republican base, he betrayed the cynicism that smacks like a page right out of Karl Rove's playbook.

So much fiction about who's up and who's down has emerged in this campaign it is no wonder that the confusion is widespread. The public is subject to every shred of speculation and rumor their eyes and ears can pick up. Newspapers don't count anymore, we're told. But I suspect the numbers are changing rapidly. It's a matter of survival. An increasing number of newspapers are online these days. The original reporting from their print versions are reaching larger audiences via websites and blogs than ever before. But the problem is readership. Whatever the format, are the majority of Americans reading anything? If they're blogging or tapping the internet, are they actually digesting politics? There's so much information available, it's hard to know to what extent the media mouths on cable television and the incessant polling shape public opinion. What's troubling is that the pollsters seem obsessed by a tight horse race.

By the time the first Palin debate with Joe Biden is history, we will know just about all that needs to be known about the gun-toting governor of Alaska, and we can then focus on what should be the gut issue of this election. That is the judgment of John Sidney McCain and his qualifications to be president of the United States.

With a number of prominent Republican women on the landscape, was Palin the best he could do? It truly is mind-boggling to hear and see McCain campaign, attacking the U.S. Congress and just about everyone in Washington with a straight face. As a pal, not only of fellow legislators but capital lobbyists as well for more than a quarter of a century, he and his robotic running mate claim they are going to get rid of the people and problems that he helped to perpetuate. You don't have to read his lips or hers, to realize that McCain has sided with George Bush at least 90% of the time on every important issue that required his vote.

McCain clearly has contributed as much as any of his Republican colleagues to the economic problems confronting the nation, beginning with the deregulation of banks and moneylenders. He may prattle on about his maverick-like qualities and the issues on which he may have differed with Bush and/or the Republican majority. But noble as it is, campaign finance reform, which he co-authored, is not going to affect the fate of the republic or the daily lives of the American people.

Except for speeches filled with platitudes, McCain has yet to tell us how his Administration plans to fund a continuation of the Bush's war in Iraq that has cost $10 billion so far. Palin's simplistic take on Iraq in her interview with Charlie Gibson on the ABC Evening News last evening was to describe the mission in Iraq not only as a defense of America and a righteous one at that.

But what undoubtedly is the single most important issue facing the nation's voters in November is McCain's demonstrated willingness to go before the American people and tell them that Sarah Palin is qualified, not only to succeed him as president of the United States, but also to be the person who can go before the entire world and honestly expect to be recognized as a woman with the intelligence, the knowledge and flexibility; an image to be recognized by allies and adversaries as the best our nation has to offer.

As a man who has been happily married for 47 years and has lived to see at least one highly qualified woman almost make it to the top this time around, my views are hardly sexist. I strongly believe the momentum is upon us so that a woman will soon be on the Capitol steps, taking the oath of office as president of these United States. But hopefully, not Palin.

But McCain's lack of judgment in choosing a running mate should weigh heavily on the minds of every American who goes to the poll in November. He knows, as the nation does by now, that if elected, he would be the oldest president in history. Having confronted cancer on at least two occasions, he knows he could not get odds in Las Vegas on the actuarial likelihood of his surviving four years in office, let alone eight. Yet, with these factors in mind, he willingly has chosen a candidate to succeed him who may be the most unqualified in memory. That is just plain shocking and irresponsible.

Don't be fooled by that interview with Charlie Gibson. Stay tuned for the first spontaneous encounter with the press when she will have to answer questions in detail about national security, relations with Russia and Iran. Clearly, McCain and the Republican Party have made a bonehead decision they will be forced to confront soon enough. In effect, what McCain has said with his choice is that he does not give a damn about the atrocious views Palin holds on a range of subjects that would be anathema to the majority of the American people. What McCain seems to be saying to us is, "don't worry. we'll get used to her." Yah sure, with the control of nuclear weapons in her hands? He certainly doesn't seem sensitive to the fact that America's reputation around the world is in free fall.

We've had some mediocre people as vice presidential running mates in the past century to be sure, but few quite as unqualified and sloppy with her facts as Sarah Palin. Read Thursday's front page story in the New York Times about the governor's misleading statements concerning her alleged accomplishments in moving ahead with the construction of a 1700-mile pipeline that would transmit natural gas from the north slope of Alaska to the continental United States.

It would be, she claimed, a major step toward assuring America's energy independence. But despite her glowing assertions of what the pipeline could accomplish, the Times reported that "Ms. Palin has overstated both the progress that has been made and the certainty of its success...The pipeline exists only on paper The first section has yet to be laid, federal approvals are years away and the pipeline would not be built for at least a decade...and it may never be built."

But it is Palin's social agenda that may make most Americans uneasy. Personally, as a parent and a human being, I fail to understand the sensitivity of a mother who can expose with pride, yes pride, her 17-year-old unmarried daughter to a nationwide television audience, virtually congratulating her for an out of wedlock pregnancy. Moreover, I am troubled by the decision she and her husband made in advance of Palin's own pregnancy, knowing from pre-testing that her baby would be the tragic victim of Down's Syndrome. I have had two friends who were forced to confront that tragedy after births and then chose to institutionalize their infants rather than face the agony of a lifetime. I also have befriended a 38-year-old man at my local gym who was similarly afflicted. He is treated with great understanding by all of us in the gym, but we will never know how much his pride has been damaged. He is unable to articulate it.

These decisions taken by parents are both personal and understandable. But to make either situation a matter of national spectacle at best strikes me as bizarre, especially from a woman who could one day assume the nation's highest office. To allow that pregnancy to go forward in these times is not a matter of religious faith. It is a capitulation to religious extremism that thankfully is still a minority in this country. The choice for Palin is hers and her husband's alone. But the choice Senator McCain has made willingly is to put Sarah Palin within a breath of the presidency. These, among so many others, are questions voters will have to consider seriously before they cast their ballots seven weeks from now.