Debating hypotheticals is what political nerds do when they’re sitting at a bar since they’re too shy to talk to women. Such debates are always an asinine waste of time. Except when they’re not. On rare occasions they’re necessary. Today is such an occasion.
The prospect of a John McCain presidency – less and less likely, but a prospect nonetheless – now means the prospect of a Sarah Palin presidency. As has been repeated ad nauseum, Palin would be a mere “heartbeat away” from the White House daddy chair. Since McCain is 72 and a four-time survivor of skin cancer, the hypothetical seems less hypothetical.
How would this hockey mom, grandmother, and newbie governor of our 47th most sparsely populated state handle herself when confronted with, oh, let’s just pick something wild and crazy out of a hat: a testosterone-mad Russia invading one of her neighbors? Call it Sarah Palin vs. Vlad “the Impaler” Putin.
We hear that a good portion of the Republican base – the gun nuts, the Jesusheads, maybe even a part of the “Remember Ruby Ridge” camp – find Palin irresistible and even sexy. A true VPILF. She’s tough, they say, strong, intrepid, principled. Indeed, comes off that way. Exxon, BP, et al got their asses handed to them when Palin was chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. . Stories of how her the bodies of her political enemies litter the Alaskan landscape have filled the airwaves of conservative talk shows. Even The New Republic has published a piece calling her “a true political savant” whose accomplishments in office “routinely outperform her resume.”
We can have little doubt that Sarah Palin is a tough woman, even an admirable woman. In fact, if you’re of her political bent, she may even make an excellent president one day. But not today.
China is ambitious and growing, Russia is resurgent, the EU presents complicated problems for our own economy, and the Middle East is, well, the Middle East is as it always is. These problems are intertwined and pose grave strategic risks; move a pawn there and your knight may be in jeopardy; don’t move the pawn and you risk your bishop. The calculus involved requires experience and training as well as a lifetime of study. Is Sarah Palin prepared to play at this level? No.
Then again, few presidents in recent history have entered the office with the sort of foreign policy experience that would seem to be a prerequisite for the job. Neither Bush nor Clinton nor Reagan had much besides their wits, their advisors, and, yes, their experience as governors to inform their decisions. Only George H. W. Bush could brag of having the home numbers of princes and prime ministers in his Rolodex before setting foot in the White House. In short, nobody can really have what it takes to be president until, gray and haggard, their term is up and they slink off to write their memoirs.