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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin and the résumé test: a respectful reply to James Joyner

[Note: I'm republishing here the photo that ran with the post to which I'm replying, not because it's at all relevant to the subject matter, but because it shows Gov. Palin in 2007 in her Anchorage office in a relaxed setting that includes a bearskin (her father shot that grizzly) and an Alaskan king crab. I think it's a fetching photo. Photo credit goes to Stephen Nowers and the Anchorage Daily News. — Beldar]


Among the right-of-center pundits who remain unconvinced that the Palin nomination was a good idea, I think James Joyner at Outside the Beltway has one of the more balanced and rational arguments. He starts a post today by rejecting those Palin critics who want to categorize her as just a "small-town mayor," noting that that slights her experience as a state governor. (I'd add to that, "state energy and ethics regulator" too.) But then he concludes that Palin flunks what Dr. Joyner calls the "résumé test" (links in original):

The four people on the two national tickets include two, McCain and Joe Biden, who are manifestly prepared to be president using the résumé-at-a-glance test. They’ve both spent decades at the highest levels of government service, including the making of American foreign and national security policy.

A third, Obama, has convinced the Democratic nominating electorate and roughly half the country, judging by the current polls, that he has unique gifts that make him ready despite a dearth of traditional experience.  Even those of us ideologically predisposed against him acknowledge that he’s unusually bright and a quick study. And the mere fact that he’s been running for president for the last two years has sped his preparation along.

And then there’s Sarah Palin. Some smart people whose opinions I respect, including Bill Dyer and my colleagues John Burgess and Dave Schuler, are favorably impressed by her. But most of the country had never heard of her before yesterday.  She doesn’t pass the résumé test. So, she’ll have to persuade the public that she’s ready on the campaign trail, the interview shows, and a debate against Joe Biden.

I do agree with that final sentence: The burden of persuasion, to borrow a phrase from the law, is definitely on Gov. Palin, and that's as it should be. (As I wrote earlier this evening, I'm very confident that she'll meet that burden in the weeks ahead.)


I don't buy, however, the notion that the kind of cunning, position-shifting, puffery, and outright deception that Barack Obama has practiced during his campaign so far has "sped his preparation." It's certainly prepared him to be a more effective candidate, but that has only a partial overlap with being an effective president, and some of the non-overlapping areas are very troublesome indeed. (Thus I would argue that Bill Clinton is the best presidential candidate of my lifetime and yet, behind only Jimmy Carter, the worst president.) Maybe Dr. Joyner meant to reference the preparation of position papers, selection and vetting and interaction with advisors, and pre-election debating of issues inherent in a political campaign. I have my doubts, however, even with respect to that.

Recall (if you're old enough, or a student of history) that one of the major debates of the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon was over the so-called "Missile Gap." The Soviets seemed to be far ahead in the space race, and the western press and public were under the mistaken impression that they had far more, and far more dangerous, nuclear-tipped ICBMs than the U.S. In fact — as both candidates knew, but could not reveal — the U.S. had a multi-fold superiority over the Soviets in strategic missiles, whether measured in launchers, warheads, or accuracy. The "Missile Gap" favored our side, dramatically. Was the posturing between Kennedy and Nixon, then, over who'd be the best candidate to end the Missile Gap, useful preparation for either of them to govern? Perhaps — if you think your candidates need practice in the methodical telling and concealing of lies. (But Kennedy and Nixon were both masters at that already — as is, I respectfully submit, Barack Obama.)


More fundamentally, back on the subject of the "résumé test": Résumés can mislead, sometimes very badly. Joe Biden is the poster-child for that, actually. He's been the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Does that mean he's better at law and legal issues than his law school class rank (76th of 85) might suggest? You might think so — unless you actually watched him in any Judiciary Committee hearings on various SCOTUS nominees, during which he's consistently proved himself to be an ignorant blowhard. He's the current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Does that résumé credential mean he's a wise person on military and diplomatic matters? Well, he opposed the 1991 Gulf War, supported the Iraq War, opposed the Surge, and was the leading proponent of tri-secting Iraq into three independent countries (each of which would have been unstable, and each of which would have been guaranteed to be in thrall to its neighbors). He's widely regarded by Iraqis as the stupidest American on Middle Eastern affairs.

If one's "résumé test" is limited to one page containing nothing but dates and job titles for each candidate, then yeah, McCain and Biden look fine, and Obama and Palin don't. Now, I know Dr. Joyner is not only open to looking deeper than that, but that he's eager to do so: That's what makes him one of the pundits I most enjoy arguing with, and why I, too, respect his opinions. It would be as unfair to accuse him of being wedded exclusively to a simplistic "résumé test" as it is for other pundits to call Sarah Palin "just a small-town mayor."

So the obvious solution is: Dig deeper. Look harder and longer. In assessing experience, consider accomplishments, and consider their setting, in addition to considering job titles and tenures. When you do that, Sarah Palin becomes not only the most popular GOP governor among her own constituents, and one of the most successful in getting her programs passed into law by her state legislature, but one of the most effective political reformers in America from either party. Some conservatives would disagree with him, but McCain certainly would see himself as also being on that short list, along with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

When it comes to Sarah Palin, I've been doing that sort of analysis since June, so I have a head start. Essentially all of my blogging on her has been to help others do that kind of scrutiny. And I'm content for fair-minded critical thinkers like James Joyner to catch up on their own and in due time; I hope they'll come round to join me as one of Gov. Palin's fans.

Posted by Beldar at 09:40 PM in 2008 Election, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Palin and the résumé test: a respectful reply to James Joyner and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Boyd made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 12:07:21 AM | Permalink

You've been doing this since June? I thought it was March or April.

And I have to thank you. I seem so prescient and knowledgeable when I discuss Governor Palin with my friends and acquaintances, and that's because I've been following your posts on her.

And I've been giggling like a schoolgirl since her selection was announced on Friday. :-)

(2) Wallace made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 12:27:23 AM | Permalink

Palin: There used to be some pretense about chosing candidates based upon their qualifications for the office. But I suppose Obama set new standards there so no one should complain about a Republican candidate with no experience who might be "one heart beat away from the Presidency".

(3) Frieda made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 1:51:49 AM | Permalink

I am so excited about this pick that I started a blod just about Sarah.


Everything that Obama promised us, "change", "hope" and "reform", McCain delivered it with his VP pick.

It's unbelievable how McCain "checkmate" Obama.

(4) Sav made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 5:14:48 AM | Permalink

What do people think is going to happen if Palin does get forced into being president? Is the nation going to stop functioning? Will businesses and schools will shut down? Will police, fire fighters, doctors and nurses forget how to do their important jobs?

If the country can survive Bill Clinton "governing" it for eight years from mostly under his desk with his trousers down, I think it'll be okay with the more serious and mature Palin in charge.

(5) EW1(SG) made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 6:56:33 AM | Permalink

I'd like to add my thanks to Boyd's above, you have made me a hero in my wife's eyes...and Gov. Palin's nomination was worth hoping for just for that alone. ;)

But as slarrow mentioned in an earlier thread, her nomination does give us something to fight for, rather than just being against a pair of windbags, of playing the "our doofus is less doofusey than your doofus" game.

And for sourpusses like Wallace, all I can say is, you've never been to Alaska, have you. To be an able leader there requires somebody who knows how to do things, and that's exactly the kind of person I would prefer to have a "heart beat away from the Presidency".

(6) Dan S made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 8:28:01 AM | Permalink

And a total non sequitur...

I love women in glasses!


(7) BigFire made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 9:45:59 AM | Permalink

Lets put it this way. I'm so excited about this selection (my other choice would be Bobby Jindal, but Louisiana need him way more than the country) that for the first time in my life, I made a political donation. $500 is not much, but hey, it's a start.

(8) Dale MacInnis made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 1:28:36 PM | Permalink

Hmmm... Can't resist this one. Canada anthropomorphisizes it's national psyche in the Maple Leaf. Mexico, in the eagle and snake. The UK in St. George and the Dragon. The US - an eagle. And Russia? The Bear, of course.

And Sarah has a griz - sliced and diced - as a drape on the back of her couch.

A new direction in foreign policy for the McCain/Palin administration?

Just askin'

(9) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 1:42:14 PM | Permalink

If Palin is as qualified as Obama was two years ago, then in two years she'll be more qualified than he is now. She's not running for the top job, and for all people's talk, she's not likely to have to do the top job on day one; far more likely she'll have a year or two, in which she can pick up the foreign policy expertise that she lacks. But if Obama wins he will be doing the top job on day one, and he doesn't have what he needs for that.

(10) NGP3 made the following comment | Aug 31, 2008 5:07:12 PM | Permalink

I've seen people dismissing her "brief" time as governor. Usually, the folks who talk like that have no executive experience to speak from. When you're in charge, you're in charge from Day 1. You don't get to vote "Present" and then go home to think about it, or go to another campaign event where you can seek your next "promotion." Governor Palin has "been there/done that," and she has overwhelming approval from her constituents to show for her work. What does Obambi have? Not *one* single significant accomplishment!

(11) Jill made the following comment | Sep 1, 2008 1:20:05 PM | Permalink

Let's see: Palin has served in an executive position as a mayor and now as govenor for how many years? In these positions she is the only one who has made all the final executive decisions. She is responsible to her constituents 24/7. She has negotiated and pushed thru a ?50 Billion dollar pipe line deal that will go thru Canada. A project that has been in the works for 30 years, she did it less than 2. She has bucked big oil, yet she knows we need them as partners and negotiates accordingly. Her knowledge and experience re the US energy situation is perhaps the best of anyone in the US. She has cleaned up Alaska's corrupt government, including ousting Repulicans. Etc., etc.

Obama has been a state legislator where he voted "present" on many issues so he wouln't have to take a stand. While elected to the US Senate 4 years ago he has attended less than 150 days. He is chairman of the Subcommittee on European Affairs. Even while Obama has voiced concerns about Afaghanistan and Iraq he has neglected his duty as chairman and NEVER called a meeting for this committee which could examine urgent matters from the role of NATO in Afaghanistan and Iraq and other important issue re Europe and the US.

People who critize Palin's experience need to study just what are the many responsibilities of a mayor and a state govenor. While Alaska may be small in population the executive duties of the govenor are even more daunting in some respects because of the limited number of human resources, the vast geographical size of the state (more than twice the size of Texas Beldar) and yes the proximity to Canada and Russia due give her a perspective and responsibilty that othe govenors dont't have. Remember where that Korean missle was aimed?

(12) Jadegold made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 9:21:04 PM | Permalink

5 colleges in 6 years.

Sounds sort of like the Bluto Blutarsky resume.

(13) bg made the following comment | Oct 22, 2008 6:35:29 AM | Permalink

Kinda makes me laugh. So your definition of a reformer is someone who jumps on the bandwagon (at the tail end, I might add) of outiing a bunch of corrupt politicians as a way to further her political career? Way to dig deeper. And if you really think that the way to energy independence is by drilling for oil in areas that will provide, what is it - maybe 5% of US oil consumption, then I have a bridge I'd love to sell you. Palin is just as much as a conniving, self-centered politician as the rest of them. Don't be so easily fooled by the "gotchas" and other B.S.

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