I didn't vote in 1984 -- I turned 18 a couple of days before the election and didn't meet the deadline for voter registration. I mean, I'm sure there was a way I could have pre-registered or something, but I didn't get around to figuring out how. So my first Presidential vote came in 1988. My choices?
George Bush the elder. Michael Dukakis.
You're kidding me, right?
Maybe things would get better next time around...
George Bush the elder, having spent four years proving that everything I'd feared about the spineless, lying jerk was true. But the alternatives? Bill Clinton. And one of the few demonstrably insane men ever to get a significant number of votes for President, Ross Perot.
Maybe 1996 would be better?
Bill Clinton, Bob Dole. (And Ross Perot, too, though most of the country had finally figured out that Perot had more ears than sanity; so he wasn't nearly as much of a factor.)
2000? Dubya, and Al Gore. We were getting worse instead of better.
In 2004? Dubya, and John Kerry. [sigh of horror]
And it was obvious months ago that 2008 was going to be more of the same: either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, versus John What First Amendment? McCain. Two more choices drawn from the same political elite classes that have misgoverned our country throughout my political adulthood.
I am unduly prone to pessimism and cynicism -- this is something I know about myself -- and so as a corrective I went hunting for some politician -- any politician -- whom I could respect. I actually found two: Sarah Palin of Alaska, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Maybe someday, I told myself, I'll have a chance to vote for one of those two people. Didn't talk the possibility all that seriously because the Republican Party is, generally speaking, run by fools; and I'll admit that, what with the stuff that's been going on in my personal life, I haven't paid all that much attention and haven't really done a ton of research, leaving open the possibility that upon closer inspection they too would turn out to be typical politicians, just with slightly better up-front P.R. But still, from what I could see, here were two people who seemed to have a basic attitude toward government that was a lot closer to mine than one would expect a professional politician to have, and who seemed to actually get results. Jindal had his drawbacks (I'm no fan of teaching "intelligent design" in public schools, for example, but then I think the government ought to get out of the education business entirely and no politician is going to propose that). But Palin in particular was purely delightful: the scourge of career politicians in her own party, a free-spirited, blue-collar, down-to-earth lady who clearly had a great deal of personal character and a great deal of personal charm and also the same ruthless stubbornness I remembered in my own grandmother.
So I figured, nah, neither of these two will be get the nod. It'll probably be Romney or Guliani or some other standard-issue politician who has paid his party dues...
And then it was Palin. And to my own astonishment I've been absolutely giddy ever since.
For the past twenty years I've been telling people that for somebody like me, politics is a purely spectator sport, because nobody I would approve of really has much of a chance to survive the party politics that have to be played in order to get the nomination. But I forgot something very important about my Republican friends: the rank and file genuinely hate politics. When professional Democratic politicians play politics, it doesn't appear to bother their supporters much, because if you didn't approve at a fundamental level of politics-as-a-way-to-get-what-you-want, you wouldn't be a Democrat. Nobody becomes a Democrat because they want the government to just leave them alone and stay out of as many aspects of life as possible so that they won't screw up anything more than is absolutely necessary. A Democrat who is represented by a professional politician is a Democrat represented by somebody who shares the fundamental Democratic belief that political action is an intrinsically good thing.
But Republicans? A great big slice of the Republican coalition is made up of people who believe that the government that governs best is the government that governs least -- but they have no option but to be represented by professional politicians. All you have to do is look at how thoroughly and enthusiastically the professional Republican politicians reneged on every promise they made in their Contract With America to see the dilemma limited-government Republicans face.
And so I forgot something critically important. I forgot that there actually are literally millions of Republicans who would look at Sarah Palin's cheerful disembowelment of the Republican party machine in Alaska and think, "Hey, whaddaya know, there's actually a Republican politician out there who really believes what the rest of them tell us just because they know it's what we want to hear." And, too, I forgot that McCain loves to tell himself that he's a Reform Guy, so that McCain is probably the one career politician in either party who would actually place value on Palin's having played whack-the-establishment. I'm used to having a low opinion of Republicans because of the people they keep nominating, and while I had fought off my cynicism enough to recognize that it was possible to find, here and there, a Republican politician who appeared to live out the best aspects of what Republicans tell me they believe, I had not believed that any such Republican could actually find his or her way onto a national Republican ticket.
To my Republican friends: I apologize. In fact, I'm sufficiently grateful to you for nominating Palin that I will do my very best to forget that a bunch of you actually wanted to nominate [shudder of horror] Huckabee. Won't mention it again. If I can help it. Really, will do my best to pretend it never almost happened.
Now, I don't get to vote for Sarah Palin as President in 2008. But that's okay, because I don't think she's ready yet -- although, considering that my other choices are McCain, Obama and Biden, she might already be better than those three lifetime Senators. (The historical record says that if you want a disaster of a President, then by far your best bet is to elect somebody whose only life experience involves the legislature, as life in the legislature inflates the ego of the legislator while being nothing like life in executive office. The two jobs are not remotely similar, but nobody in the world has a bigger ego than a guy who has spent his life in the legislature -- and there's no worse combination than a guy who isn't qualified but think's he's God's gift. The one saving grace at the top of either ticket this year, is that John McCain at least had a life before politics and may possibly have learned something about real leadership before he entered the environment of corporate pathology that is the United States Senate.)
However, I'm looking to the future. If Palin stays in Alaska, then every time her name comes up, the same media commentators who think Obama is the salvation of the nation will complain that Palin doesn't have the right experience. I want Sarah Palin ready to go in 2012, and by far the best place for her to serve her apprenticeship is in the Vice-Presidency. Furthermore, all the talk about the "heartbeat away from the Presidency" is largely irrational since it pays no attention to probabilities, and any decision made without reference to probability-weighted risks and rewards is a foolish decision. The most likely outcome of a McCain/Palin Presidency would be that McCain, with the benefits of modern medicine, serves out his full term in full health. The second most likely outcome is that McCain will serve most of his term before going down. As you move the date of the proverbial heartbeat closer and closer to the present, the odds of its actually happining shrink ever smaller and smaller, until you get to the all but infinitesimal odds that McCain will, like the Harrison of popular myth, give his inauguration speech and then promptly die. (Don't give me Harrison as an example of, "See, it's possible!" by the way; in the age of antibiotics Harrison would have been fine and literally nobody would remember that he got a cold three weeks after his inauguration.)
So the odds are against Palin's succeeding to the Presidency without being elected to it, and even if she does, it's more likely to be late in McCain's term than early.
Now, if Palin runs for office four years from now, after four years as Vice President, will you still say that she is too inexperienced (especially if you are one of the people who has been slobbering in adoration of the Obamessiah)? I won't, at least; I'll consider her ready, and certainly vastly more likely to be a President of whom I approve than is McCain or Biden or Obama, or than was Dubya, or Clinton (either one), or Dole, or Dukakis, or Perot. But what if McCain goes down with six months left to go on his term? Will three and a half years be enough? I would think so, given Palin's proven ability to excel faster than the old pros expect her to. How about two years? Hm...well, I would imagine two years would be enough to make her the best available option. One year? After one year I don't think she'll be ready to be President by the standards I think the country ought to follow -- but by the standards I think the country ought to follow, neither Obama nor Biden would be taken seriously as a candidate, and McCain would be fairly far down on any rational person's list. Personally, I think one year as Vice President would be enough to get the Barracuda past the very low bar that is set at "better than John McCain" (who, let it be said at once, I expect to be a poor President, though not the epochally disastrous President that either Obama or Biden would be).
And if McCain pulls a Harrison and goes down minutes after taking the oath of office?
Well, at least we'll have a candidate who's more prepared than Obama is, and who has accomplished more in two years as governor than Obama's record gives us any reason to think he will accomplish if he stays in the Senate another twenty years. I think Palin's speech on Tuesday night (it is Tuesday night, right?) should include the following words:
"I think the Democrats should stop worrying about what will happen if John McCain dies and Sarah Palin has to run the country, and should instead start figuring out what they're going to do if Joe Biden dies and Barack Obama has to run the country."
I also think, given the Democrats' odd insistence on comparing their candidate of "reconciliation" to the one President in all of American history who was most spectacularly unsuccessful at bringing reconciliation to America (unless by "reconciliation" one means "civil war"), that it would be hilarious to have Palin poke fun at both the age issue and the absurdly over-the-top Obamessiah hype by saying something along these lines:
"I was talking to John yesterday about the Democrats' belief that Obama is the next Abraham Lincoln, and he answered, 'Sarah, I knew Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama is no Abraham Lincoln.'" But that one, of course, isn't going to happen. [sigh of cheerful resignation]
Back to seriousness: I think that no matter how this election turns out, I'll suffer under a bad President throughout at least 2009, whether that President is McCain, or Obama, or a post-assassination Biden, or a post-medical-crisis Palin. But McCain is a much better bet than Obama. And every day that McCain's collapse is delayed and Palin accumulates the experience that is, right now, the only thing she seems to me to lack, is a day that gets us closer to what I have long thought was an impossible dream:
The day in which America's President is a President who I think actually is worthy of the office.
So for the first time in my life, my vote in this year's Presidential election is going to be a vote for somebody I believe in (even though it's strictly speaking a vote for Palin in '12), rather than a vote for the guy I think will screw up the country less than my other choice. A week ago I was prepared, reluctantly, to vote for McCain as the least repulsive Democrat running. But, unless I find out something about Palin in the next few months that belies everything I've read and seen in her over the past year, this November I'll walk into the booth and for for Sarah Palin, as the Vice President whom I actually would be delighted to see serving the people in Washington D.C.
It's a bizarre feeling. Never had it before. Kinda like it, though...