At this perilous juncture, America needs boldness. But it does not need to take unnecessary risks. The distinction between boldness and riskiness is critical, as evidenced by the events of the last two days.
Barack Obama has laid out a bold plan for reforming the economy and redirecting foreign policy — a plan whose boldness is directly proportional to the scale of the problems we face. On Thursday night he restated it in detail. As someone who has had a very modest role in developing it, and who served as a cabinet officer under Bill Clinton and therefore knows something about public policy and about the challenges we face, I can attest to the appropriateness and boldness of Obama’s plan.
John McCain’s plan, on the other hand, is the reverse of boldness. Whatever you think of it, there is little disputing that McCain would continue Bush’s economic and foreign policies and even enlarge upon them – adding even more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, injecting even more belligerence into foreign policy.
McCain’s choice of vice president is termed “bold” in today’s headlines but it is not at all bold, if we understand boldness to be the equivalent of courageous and appropriate to the times. To the contrary, the choice suggests that McCain caved to the religious right within the Republican Party, using his pick as a political ploy to
stir their enthusiasm while perhaps attracting a few women who are attracted to a female on a ticket regardless of her views.
Yet his choice is risky – not just for McCain’s campaign but for America’s future. Yesterday McCain celebrated his 72nd birthday; he has a history of skin cancer; if elected, he would be the oldest American ever to serve. Hence, his choice of vice president is critically important because the odds are much higher than normal that such a person would have to assume the office of the presidency.
Sarah Palin has been a governor of state inhabited by more moose than people for twenty months, and before that mayor of a town with a population smaller than two blocks of downtown Manhattan. Although she has barely exercised power, she is already under federal investigation for abuse of it. And while Ms. Palin is perfectly entitled to believe that evolution is a myth, that women should be barred from choosing to have abortions, and that global warming has yet to be proven, these views all run counter to the views of mainstream America.
Palin’s defenders say that she is no less experienced than Obama, but that is false. Barack Obama has served as a United States Senator and an Illinois state legislator; he has also been a community organizer in Chicago. He knows how Washington works and does not work; he knows the ways our cities and metropolitan regions function and do not; his breadth and depth of experience around the world – both personally and officially – is impressive. Obama can lead the nation at a time of crisis; Sarah Palin cannot. Until very recently she did not even know what a vice president does. (Last month, on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC program – a predictable den of conservative Republican thought on which I am a token Democrat – Palin asked “what is it exactly that the V.P. does every day?”)
In choosing Sarah Palin, John McCain has subjected the nation to an unnecessary risk, at the very time when America can least afford to take unnecessary risks. His choice of vice president should not be mistaken for boldness. It is irresponsible.