I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can. Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.
Words spoken by someone whose background is that of a fighter pilot—a special and essential quality where your life depends on an unconscious ability to react in the blink of an eye.
Words spoken by John McCain, in his 2002 book, Worth the Fighting For: The Education of an American Maverick, and the Heroes Who Inspired Him.
Words spoken by someone who, by temperament, training, and experience is uniquely unqualified to be president of the United States.
Much has been written and debated about the qualifications of Sarah Palin to be vice president, let alone step into the Oval Office should John McCain become president and then have to leave the stage. It’s an unwinnable argument; people’s assessment of her is filtered through their own biases, beliefs, and values. But the decision to select Palin as his VP demonstrates without question a quality in McCain that should give everyone pause. It’s best stated in his own words—the above quote.
It’s reflected in the process undertaken to choose Palin. “Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate, and she did not disclose the fact that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant until that meeting, two knowledgeable McCain officials acknowledged Tuesday,” writes Dan Balz in a front-page article in today’s Washington Post.
Balz quotes McCain officials who argue that the decision wasn’t rushed, that a thorough investigation of Palin had taken place. “Aides had said earlier that Palin was invited to meet McCain in Arizona only after she appeared to be a likely choice, barring something unforeseen in her interview with the candidate. But what they had not said was that [former White House counsel Arthur] Culvahouse had not yet conducted his interview until that time as well.”
Friday, McCain announced her as his “soul mate.” It was a rushed judgment based on his assessment of his candidacy after witnessing the Democratic convention.
The Republican strategy to focus on experience, now foundering on the rocks of Palin’s very thin public resume, has always been a smoke screen. Lincoln, Truman, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II, all had negligible experience. One could argue that the job of president is so incomprehensibly complex that literally no one except someone running for a second term has the vaguest idea what they’re getting into or has had the experience to prepare them for the job.
The CEO of a Fortune 500 company once told me that the hardest transition he’d ever faced in his career was moving from President and COO to President and CEO. One of the most brilliant, arrogant, and ruthless men I’d ever met, he said that he was completely unprepared for the feeling of suddenly having no one on whom to lean. There was no one above him to whom he could turn for guidance.
Such is the fate of anyone who takes the oath of office to become president of the United States.
The real issue is judgment—how well does one make decisions under pressure so intense that after eight years in office, virtually every president (save Reagan who slept through most of his term) looks 20 years older and, should they be fortunate enough to have hair, leaves with a full head of gray or white hair.
Palin is not the only reason to question McCain’s ability to make decisions under pressure. John McCain is proud of his maverick status, and it’s one of the reasons he’s been a great senator. That body needs mavericks, people who buck the system and stir the pot, who are unafraid to take unpopular stances, issue bold and provocative statements, the consequences be damned. But these are not qualities that one wants in a president, whose every word, gesture, and glance are scrutinized not only by the media, but by the people around him and people around the world.