The Plank

Why Experience Matters, Cont'd


Republicans are still making the argument that Sarah Palin has the
necessary experience to serve as vice president she has spent less than
two years as governor of Alaska--er, sorry, I mean Commander-in-Chief
of the Alaska National Guard. After careful consideration, I've decided
not to rebut this argument, lest I lend it even a shred of credibilty.

I'd like to dwell on why experience matters in a vice presidential
candidate, perhaps even more than it matters in a presidential
candidate. Nate Silver made one important argument here.
When a president cannot serve out his or her term, whether because of
incapacity, scandal, or death, it is, almost by definition, a crisis.
As Nate notes, frequently "a president takes the Oath of Office under relatively calm
waters, allowing them something of a learning curve."
A crisis can stil present itself quickly--and, lord knows, presidents
of both parties have made rookie mistakes for which the country paid
dearly. But the margin for error would seem even slimmer when a vice
president assumes power.

The other reason is the timing of modern
campagins. Today, voters usually have more than a year to scrutinize
the presidential candidates--to figure out what they believe and how
they operate--before pulling the lever in November. But they don't get
the same chance to see the vice persidential candidate in action. So
it's particularly important vice presidents be known
quantities--somebody whose record on the issues is clear and whose
ability to lead is well-established.

Joe Biden fits this
definition perfectly. He's got six terms in the Senate, including
service as chairman of two high-profile committees, plus two runs at
the presidency by which to judge him.

And Palin? This is the
first time most Americans have even heard of her. Her political
identity, such that it is, remains a mystery even to most of the
political class. It seems unlikely that the McCain campaign will expose
her to much press scrutiny--and, with just two months to go before
Election Day, there won't be much chance even to see her campaign.

aside ideology for a moment. How on earth are voters supposed to make
an informed judgment here? And what does it say about McCain's fitness
for office that he'd ask the public to make such a leap of faith?

--Jonathan Cohn


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