Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tea/No Tea '08

The Republican race this year has begun to remind me of a point in the old Infocom text adventure Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

In that game, you are making your way through a spaceship when you find an object called tea on the ground. You can pick it up by typing "TAKE TEA." There is also an object called no tea which you can pick up: "TAKE NO TEA." But you cannot pick up one while holding the other, since you cannot be simultaneously holding tea and no tea.

The problem is, you have to do just that in order to access the ship's computer. To make this seemingly illogical act possible, you must temporarily become a microscopic entity inside your own brain and remove the Common Sense Particle. Once it is removed, you are free to hold tea and no tea at the same time.

After campaigning on experience and deriding his opponent for a lack of it, John McCain has now selected an inexperienced running mate. She not only lacks foreign policy experience, she has virtually no record of even expressing foreign policy views. In an interview from last month, she didn't even recognize that we have an exit plan for Iraq!

The hypocrisy was so transparent it even caught the attention of many conservatives, including David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Ben Stein (who called her "the most peculiar vice-presidential choice there has ever been"), and former McCain strategist Mike Murphy. Others did 180-degree turns on things they had said, prompting a great bit on The Daily Show.

But those who thought McCain could no longer invoke the experience argument were quickly rebuffed by the RNC, which flaunted McCain's experience and Palin's non-Washington status. Somewhere along the line, he removed the Common Sense Particle, figuring he could convince voters to elect tea and no tea at the same time. The odd thing is, he may be right.

While I'm too much of a wimp to make any definitive predictions, I see Democrats falling into a trap. It's the same trap they fell into with Bush in 2000, setting the expectations so low that very little was needed to exceed expectations. You know something's seriously out-of-whack when all a candidate must do to quell many people's doubts about her readiness is capably deliver a speech she didn't write.

I won't go into a detailed refutation of the RNC's attempts to puff up Palin's record while tearing down Obama's. Many other sites have already taken up the task. What's telling is the unstated assumption that her experience must be measured against Obama's. Obama never ran on experience; McCain did. Had Palin been a presidential candidate earlier this year, McCain would almost certainly have assailed her lack of experience, as he in fact did against Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson, all of whom have considerably more experience than Palin.
"We don't have time or opportunity for on-the-job training, and the other candidates for president I don't believe have the qualifications that I do to hit the ground running and immediately address these serious challenges," the four-term Arizona senator and Vietnam veteran told reporters following a speech on the military.

"The country would be safer with me as its leader," McCain added. He said that while he respects his opponents, "this is all about who is best equipped to take on the challenge of radical Islamic extremism."
The selection of a running mate is important not just because of who gets picked, but because it tells us something about how the person at the top of the ticket makes decisions. Obama made a pragmatic if unexciting choice. McCain made a political choice. If experience matters to him as much as he has claimed, what does his selection tell us about his commitment to putting "country first"?

At the convention, Republicans adopted the Lloyd Bentsen strategy. Their message was, "We know Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a friend of ours. Senator Obama, you're no Sarah Palin." The trouble is, that first sentence is a lie, and anyone who's been paying attention realizes it.

No comments: