Kicking the Palin “Experience” Meme Around (Again)

As we march on through day nine of the Sarah Palin Cone of Silence Watch, my old friend Ed Morrissey has offered to share a recent Fox News piece, featuring Greta van Susteren, which purports to highlight a few of the various aspects of Palin’s background which speak to her experience and readiness to possibly lead our nation. I dislike nitpicking with Ed, but we do it enough over the body politic that I’ve learned to live with the occasional eye-twitching and skin rashes which sometimes result. In any case, be sure to read Ed’s analysis and take a look at the video below, then we’ll try to make some sense of it.

[Editor's Note: Due to problems with embedding the video, we are providing a link instead: here.]

There are three general themes to the experience argument in this piece. First there is her time at the helm serving as Mayor of Wasilla. Next up is her service as the Governor of Alaska, managing their budget and economy. And last is her position as the Commander in Chief of her state’s National Guard. We’ll take a brief look at each of these in order.

First, as to Mayor Palin, while her successor has some very pleasant things to say about her, we don’t need to dwell on it for too terribly long. (Particularly since we covered a lot of her history of change in Wasilla this morning.) Ed mentions that Wasilla is – “surprise” – the fifth largest city in Alaska. True enough, but this hardly changes the fact that it was a town of five or six thousand souls during her stewardship. Granted, by Alaskan standards I’m sure that makes it a metropolis compared to, for example, False Pass, (pop: 64!) but it still has less people in it than your average parking garage in Staten Island on any given Friday night. Comparing the state Wasilla was left in to its condition when she arrived, this certainly does technically count as “experience” but I’m not sure I’d be trumpeting it.

As to being the Governor of Alaska, this is certainly the strongest case and it absolutely does count as experience, though roughly one and a half years of a first term still fails to impress. The specifics under discussion, though, speak to handling the budget and economic affairs of the state and its citizens. It’s a job that has to be done, and it seems clear that she did it, so let’s not take that away from her. But at the same time, we can also fairly keep in mind that this is Alaska we’re talking about. It’s the only state in the union with zero sales tax and zero income tax, as they fund themselves largely on the profits of the oil industry. (Boosted in part, we must recognize, by the windfall profits tax on the oil companies unreasonable revenues which Palin helped drive through. Say… isn’t that a proposal of her running mate also? Oh wait… no… it’s the other guy.) The bottom line here is that she most certainly did that job for eighteen or twenty months, but when it comes to a scale of difficulty in managing a state budget, Alaska has to be on par with getting a job as the weatherman in San Diego, California.

What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow, Jazz?”

Errr… nice. Back to you!”

Come out to the Empire State and wrestle this dysfunctional state government into a balanced budget and we’ll really be impressed.

The last point is perhaps the most puzzling, that being Palin’s position as the official Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard. On its face, this an undeniably true claim. But what does it really mean? Ed makes note of the Governor’s visit overseas to check on her National Guard troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. An admirable action, no question, and I salute it just as I admire all of the entertainers, politicians and volunteers who take the risk of visiting the troops. In fact, Kathy Griffin has made twice as many trips over to both theaters to entertain our troops, as well as performing at Walter Reed Medical Center for the injured upon their return. Extremely admirable, but I can’t see McCain tapping her for veep over it. Are we meant to infer from Ed’s story that Palin is somehow responsible for decisions regarding the deployment, combat plans, daily operations and on the ground training of those Guardsmen while they are overseas? I hope that wasn’t the intent of the piece, as it would seem to fail the smell test.

It is also noted that she deployed troops recently to assist with possible hurricane damage from Gustav. That’s great, and I love seeing the states work together in times of crisis. We sent some from New York, also. But was there really much more going on there than signing a piece of paper authorizing the deployment? Those troops arrive and are put under the high level command of the State Government that they are assisting and the direct command of FEMA and the military officials on the scene. It’s not as if Palin was donning a flight suit and leading patrols through the flooded streets or even issuing orders as to which section of town they would be guarding. So, yes, Palin is the titular head (Settle down, you!) of the Alaska National Guard, but it might be a bit premature to begin comparing her to David Petraeus.

At the end of our analysis, it is clear that Sarah Palin has some, limited experience in matters of governance, and it will be up to each of us to decide if that amounts to a lot or a little. But if you have made your bones in political analysis for months on end leading the call of how inexperienced Barack Obama is, (which I maintain is a fair charge to level against the Democratic nominee) I still find that it requires a rather large pillar of salt to turn around and stake Palin’s claim to being a heartbeat away from the presidency based on her own length and breadth of service.

As a closing note, I’ll simply say, “See? We can still disagree without being disagreeable.”

EDIT: Ed responds.

And since Obama has no experience at all in governance, and since he’s running for the Presidency itself, what exactly does that say for Obama? He won’t be a heartbeat away from the highest executive office in American politics, he’ll be in the White House if he wins. Attacking Palin’s “limited” executive experience boomerangs directly on Obama’s complete lack of same. Also, the longer this goes as a debate between Obama and Palin, the stronger it makes John McCain.

I happen to agree with Ed. If I were here trying to make a case for Barack Obama, I’d feel rather silly. The point is, I’m not. As I said in the comments below, I still feel that neither Palin nor Obama could carry Bob Barr’s spikes to a golf match. McCain and Biden, on the other hand, have more than sufficient experience to inspire confidence at least in terms of the experience question. None of this, however, has yet changed my considered opinion that McCain made, at a minimum, a very questionable decision in going with Palin and I would not be comfortable with her as the VP. Both of these campaigns continue to push me further and further toward Bob Barr.