Vice-President: How much experience is necessary?

Moderate David Brooks takes on the issue of Sarah Palin’s experience in Monday’s New York Times. He raises the question of whether or not Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice-President without raising the more important question of whether Barack Obama is qualified enough to be President.

He writes:

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.

So what is our alternative, Mr. Brooks? A half-term Senator has prudence? I suppose one could make the case that Palin and Obama are about the same in the experience category, but I think this misses two points. The first easy point is that Palin is the running mate and not at the top of ticket. A corollary is that past Vice-Presidents have been relatively inexperienced but gone on to serve quite well (e.g., Harry Truman).

Would Brooks suggest Republicans and moderates vote for someone at the top of the other ticket who has only a bit more time in public life? Second, questions of how much experience is necessary are hopelessly confounded by policy positions and ideological commitments. To many voters, where people stand on the issues that matter to them will influence (bias?) how much experience is deemed necessary.

It is one thing to raise a point and it another to make a point. I am not sure what David Brooks is advocating. Given where he ends his op-ed, perhaps he would like a reduction in smugness. My perception is that this election presents many voters with a compromise choice. They can easily find fault with aspects of both tickets but what would he advocate given the choices available? By raising Palin’s experience as inadequate, he also raises the question of Obama’s experience which is left unexamined.

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  • Legolas

    I’m certainly not going to try to defend David Brooks on the issue of consistency, but I think there is another key sentence to consider alongside the ones you quoted:

    She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

    Both McCain and Obama have shown themselves to be engaged in national issues. Although Obama has only been in the US Senate since 2005, he clearly showed an interest in national issues long before then, publicly opposing the Iraq War from the very beginning, whereas Sarah Palin apparently wasn’t even clear on the rationale used to justify the Iraq War as of last week.

    Obama is also anything but brash or excessively decisive. I think that if there is an unspoken item here on whether Barack Obama is qualified enough to be president, there is also an unspoken item here on whether John McCain is qualified enough to be president. Is John McCain a model of prudence? There’s definitely a narrative out there that suggests otherwise – that he is compulsive and temper-prone. If Biden provides the heft of an experienced advisor to a man who is already thought of as deliberative and fair-minded, Palin piles weakness upon weakness. That’s what I would read between Brooks’ lines.

  • mary

    Many are viewing Palin at the top of the ticket since McCain is old and in poor health.

  • Margie

    John McCain, 72, has had 2 bouts of INVASIVE melanoma (google it — not pretty), was a 2-pack-a-day smoker for 25 years, and is currently on no less than 6 prescription medicines. Never mind getting the hell beat out of him for 5 years in Hanoi. Yes, his mother is in her 90′s — but his father died at age 70. McCain’s health and age are major issues. His VP will most certainly ascend to the Oval Office if he is elected. THAT is why Sarah Palin’s selection is so reckless and irresponsible.


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