Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin, part 2

As I've tried to learn more about Sarah Palin, I've learned that she does have some expertise on issues relevant to Alaska. I think she can contribute helpfully to the dialogue on some of these issues. But I'm still not persuaded she has the qualifications to be vice president--or president--of the United States. It seems a bit unfair that she's been thrown at us with only two months to get to know her. But let's do our best.

I guess it's possible McCain's choice wasn't just a political one--though it must have been at least partly that. He may sincerely believe that Palin will help shake things up in Washington. But I think we need something more than just the ability to shake things up.

The reports are that McCain really wanted to choose Joe Liebermann as running mate--but if he'd done that, he'd have lost a good part of the Republican party. Since Palin and Liebermann differ strongly on many issues--and since there's almost no common ground in the reasoning for putting one or the other on the ticket except that choosing either shakes things up--I'm wondering where McCain's heart really lies on those issues where Palin and Liebermann differ or where their expertise is vastly different.

Here are links to a couple of articles in which some Alaskans and some nationally important conservatives express their reservations:

"Two Top Alaska Newspapers Question Palin's Fitness"

"Some Conservatives Air Concerns over Palin"

On the other hand, in defense of Palin's foreign policy credentials, Cindy McCain has said that Palin understands our situation in the world because she is governor, after all, of the state located closest to Russia. Hmmm. I wonder if she's met with any of Russia's leaders.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

These are further thoughts I've had on the day McCain announced his running mate and the following morning. For my initial reaction, see "What if McCain picks Romney?" below.

As I've pondered through the day McCain's choice of Palin, it's occurred to me--at least this is how it looks to me--that this was a political decision rather than a practical one. Here's what I mean. It seems to me Palin is clearly not the most qualified person McCain could have chosen. But she has three things going for her: she's a woman, she appeals to the Republican base, and she's a governor. But he could have found a more qualified and experienced woman. He could have found someone more qualified and experienced who appeals to the base. And he could have found several more qualified and experienced governors. She is all three in one. The only problem is that McCain has had to sacrifice the experience and superior qualifications others have. Romney, for instance, has a good deal more experience as a governor and in general is more experienced and qualified than Palin. But he has two things against him--he's not a woman, and he's super-rich, which would have meant two very rich men running together. (Less relevant to the point I'm making here are Romney's other problems--bad blood between him and McCain and being Mormon, which would lose McCain votes in the Bible Belt and among evangelicals generally.)

I've also learned that Palin's position on some issues is more extreme than I had realize: her anti-abortion position allows no exceptions (including rape and incest), she favors teaching creationism in public schools, and she is sceptical about global warming. (I could give you lots of reasons why these last two positions are real problems.)

Palin seems likable and capable. She has an appealing personal story--she's the mother of five, including a Down's Syndrome baby born just a few months ago. Apparently, she's independent and reform-minded. McCain must feel comfortable with her and must feel they can work well together.

But for me, the positives are outweighed by many negatives. I'm anti-abortion, but I would definitely make exceptions for rape and incest as well as for a mother's health. (I'm talking about legal standards--individuals, of course, must make their personal decisions within the legal parameters, and those decisions will vary according to circumstances and, I hope, personal soul-searching and inspiration.) I'm entirely persuaded that global warming is a serious problem that requires our urgent attention. "Creationism" is not science and should not be taught as such in the public schools. It also (in most of its forms) happens to be inconsistent with Latter-day Saint doctrine: we do not believe in creation out of nothing; the idea of the creation of the universe within a period of seven twenty-four-hour days has not been held by most serious LDS leaders or thinkers; and the Church has clearly indicated that it does not have an official position on evolution. (I can provide links to exactly what the Church has said on that matter.)

I'm afraid the choice of Palin may revive the culture wars in the U.S. in some damaging ways. I don't agree with Obama completely on some social issues: specifically, I have a stronger position against abortion; but my position on gay marriage is basically the same as his--I don't favor the legalization of gay marriage, but I favor civil unions or other means that will allow some rights (visitation, etc.) to non-married couples. My main reason for preferring Obama on these issues, though, is that he genuinely respects those who disagree with him. He is willing and able to talk to people on both sides of the social issues and wants to find common ground where we can work together rather than draw the battle lines that will stall progress, as has been happening over the past generation. (Listen to his acceptance speech from last Thursday night for the approach I'm referring to.)

I've heard Republican spokespeople saying that Palin has more executive experience than anyone else on the tickets (that would have to include McCain, I guess). But whatever she has achieved, she's been governor for less than two years. Before that she was mayor of a city with about 9,000 inhabitants. Earlier this year, Karl Rove criticized Governor Kaine of Virginia as a possible vice president for having been governor for only three years and having been mayor before that of a city of only 200,000 or so. Hmmm.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've wondered about McCain's judgment and decision-making style. He met Palin only once before this past week. (Apparently he met her at a governors' conference in January.) He had a nice telephone conversation with her. And then they met in Arizona last week. That was it. In my opinion, that is nowhere near enough for making a decision of this magnitude. If McCain went with his gut (as apparently he did), it makes me nervous to think that as president he would "go with his gut" on foreign policy or even domestic issues with as little information as he had in this case.

Palin is currently under investigation for abuse of influence. She may very well be innocent. A staffer in her office apparently made many calls pressuring someone to fire a state trooper who was having a messy divorce with Palin's sister, and Palin's husband may also have been involved. Palin herself may have known nothing about the activities--though that shows some possible weaknesses in her administrative abilities. (By the way, if I've gotten any of these details wrong, I'll correct them as I learn more.) Again, it seems strange that McCain wouldn't have taken a further look into these problems--or if he looked adequately and felt fine about nominating someone who is being investigated, I see that as a problem of judgment as well.

So the current state of my thinking is this: I do not feel comfortable with the thought of someone so underqualified and unknown to the American public being so close to being president. (She asked a few weeks ago what exactly a vice president does, and she clearly has a very inadequate understanding of foreign policy and of how Washington works.) I'm not comfortable with her positions on a number of issues and am afraid her presence will be divisive. I also truly wonder about McCain's judgment.

There are some positives: It's great to have a woman running. She's a nice person, a mom, has a good family. But, boy, she is not qualified. And I'm not comfortable with the many other negatives I see.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What if McCain picks Romney?

I've been meaning to comment on this issue for some time. Crucial tasks related to a book I've written have been among the many reasons for delay (see for details). Now that McCain is about to pick his running mate, I thought I'd better comment before my comments are totally out of date.

What if McCain picks Romney? Like Romney, I'm a Latter-day Saint ("Mormon"). Would that lead me to reconsider my support for Obama? Not in the slightest.

I know Mitt Romney. Though he served a mission well before I did, we both served in the France Paris Mission. Like me, he was an English major at BYU. When I went to graduate school in Massachusetts (late 1970s, early 1980s), he and I were both members of the Boston Massachusetts Stake--that's a church unit that includes several congregations. He was in the Stake Presidency, and I chatted with him at least twice during temple recommend interviews. I remember vividly some of what we talked about. Since I left Massachusetts, I talked to him at least once, when he visited BYU to give an "honored alumnus" talk. Later, in 1997, while I was doing research in Massachusetts, I got to know a couple of his sons. So whether he remembers me or not (and I think he probably does, at least vaguely), I feel like I know him.

I was impressed by his moderate political stance before, during, and after his time as governor of Massachusetts and by his skill in rescuing and running the 2002 Winter Olympics. But over the past year or so, I've gotten a lot less impressed. He has shifted far to the right, and I'm convinced he's done so not just because he was converted to different opinions on social issues (I think that conversion was probably genuine) but because he wanted to get the Republican nomination. In debates he seemed to try to position himself as far to the right as he could, claiming he would double the size of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, trying to sound as grim and mean-spirited as he could in talking about foreign policy, and having no problem with treating imprisoned suspects in ways resembling torture. (By the way, if we apply the standards the Bush administration favors for such treatment, most of what the North Vietnamese did to John McCain would not count as torture. I think it should.)

In general, I have had a hard time feeling Mitt Romney is really speaking from the heart. Rather, he sounds like a politician who says and does what he thinks will work to advance his career. I'm afraid he strikes me these days as opportunistic and even shallow.

But I still like him personally. He has a wonderful family. He's a good man, with flaws, of course. And he's very bright--and an extraordinarily capable businessman. But if he were to run as a vice presidential candidate, that would emphatically not make me more likely to vote for McCain. If anything, it would make that prospect even less attractive.

On the other hand, he'd be better than some of the other people being considered: Giuliani (I'm not impressed by his character, his personal life, his positions on some issues, and his tough guy stance, something I find silly in some ways and certainly not the best way to deal with the world's problems); Tim Pawlenty (a bit thin); Sarah Palin (super thin--meaning inexperienced); Joe Lieberman (mean-spirited as well as too liberal on social issues).

At least Romney is a capable manager with a good deal of experience in both business and government. He's well spoken, though sometimes it's hard to tell how deeply he believes what he's saying.

In any case, none of those being considered by McCain seems to me a match for Joe Biden. So in short, the vice presidential dimension of this race makes me feel even more comfortable with Obama.

P.S.: While writing this, I've learned that Sarah Palin will be McCain's running mate. It's great that we'll have a woman on one of the tickets. But she's awfully inexperienced, especially on the national or international stage. Obama has lots more experience than she does, especially at those non-local levels. Especially given McCain's age, his running mate needs to be ready to be president. Palin is definitely not. But I'm sure she's a likable, good person.

P.P.S.: [Added much later, after the Republican convention:] I know Margaret wanted Romney to be the vice presidential candidate, but I'm glad he's not--for several reasons. I've been very disappointed by his continued attempt to demonize and dehumanize "our enemies." A recent example: At the Republican convention he called the current Supreme Court too liberal, because they decided that constitutional protections should be accorded to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It occurred to me that instead of reading L. Ron Hubbard (he called one of his books his favorite) he might try the classic play A Man for All Seasons, with its reminder that denying legal protection to our enemies not only is wrong but endangers us as well. (I'll provide the quotation in a comment.) The worst horrors of human history have happened when people have convinced themselves that their enemies don't deserve to be treated as fully human. And free societies have lost their freedom when fear has led them to sacrifice legal protections for the sake of safety. Ben Franklin had a good one about that: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."