I was asked twice in the days leading up to Senator John McCain's selection of his running mate who I thought he would pick. I had two answers - who I thought he would pick and who I wanted him to pick. With today's announcement, I'm happy to say he went with who I wanted him to pick. I'm a big fan of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and what she brings to a Republican Party desperately in need of fresh faces and an injection of youth and vitality. By now, I'm sure you've read her bio because it's been all over the place today as people scrambled to find out exactly who she is. She's a self-described "hockey mom" of five, ranging from a son who's scheduled to deploy to Iraq in a month to a newborn boy diagnosed with Down Syndrome prior to birth but in whom she sees "perfection," with three girls in between. Her husband is a native Eskimo, commercial fisherman, oil pipeline worker and card-carrying member of the United Steelworkers Union. She is a lifetime member of the NRA, enjoys hunting and fishing, and is a former high school basketball star whose tough play earned her the nickname "Sarah Barracuda." She's also a former Miss Alaska runner-up who won "Miss Congeniality," an honor that McCain says continues to elude him in the U.S. Senate.
She is pro-life in principle and practice, having given birth to her youngest son, Trig, in an age when 80 to 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome before birth are murdered through abortion. She is a reformer who has taken on corruption in Alaska, instituted a major overhaul of ethics laws, and riled the state GOP with her uncompromising stand on public ethics. While serving as ethics commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she resigned in protest after filing a complaint against a fellow commissioner, the state GOP party chairman, for raising money for the GOP from the oil companies they were supposed to be regulating. He eventually resigned and paid a hefty fine for conflicts of interest. She is the steward of Alaska's vast oil and natural gas resources and believes in responsible exploration and extraction as a major contributor to energy independence, one of her signature issues. All in all, she's an impressive and accomplished woman.
I thought McCain should choose her because he needed to do something dramatic to inject some excitement into his campaign. Selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate was a home run with social conservatives, who were beginning to warm to him because of his performance at the Saddleback Civil Forum. I've personally received numerous phone calls and e-mails from conservative friends who are positively ecstatic over the choice. Democrats had better not underestimate the impact of this decision; the social conservatives who have been the foot soldiers for the GOP since Ronald Reagan are now energized and ready to march on behalf of the McCain-Palin ticket. They will knock on doors, stuff envelopes, make phone calls and mobilize their like-minded friends to vote for McCain-Palin; that level of commitment wasn't a guarantee beforehand.
I also felt that McCain needed to pick a running mate who looked like the future of the GOP rather than the past. The GOP can't continue to relive the Reagan years; the 21st century demands new ideas from up-and-coming conservative leaders like Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele of Maryland - and Sarah Palin.
With this choice, McCain has created a buzz around his campaign that wasn't there before and introduced the next generation of GOP leadership. What about her experience? Frankly, I've never been a fan of lengthy political resumes; I believe we need more people in public service who know what it's like to make a living and build a life in the real world rather than the surreal world of Washington, DC. Sarah Palin has a compelling life story and succeeded more than once in beating the political odds in one of America's last great frontiers. Her reputation as a no-nonsense reformer and pork-buster led her opponents whose sacred cows were being gored to revive the "Sarah Barracuda" nickname from her high school basketball days. No shrinking violet is she.
If one wants to talk resumes, however, hers shows she has nearly 13 years experience as a public official in Alaska, including four years as a city councilwoman, six years as a mayor, a year as ethics commissioner for a major state board, and nearly two years as governor. Senator Obama heads his party's ticket but has less than 12 years of experience in elected office as a state legislator and U.S. Senator. Neither of those positions required him to manage a $6.6 billion operating budget, implement and enforce public policy for 680,000 people in a state over 11 times the size of Illinois with a $39.9 billion economy, or serve as commander-in-chief of a 3,700+ man army and air force, many of them deployed to Iraq. Come to think of it, Senator Joe Biden, his running mate, was never required to do those things in his 35 years as a U.S. Senator from Delaware. As for her limited foreign policy experience, she's made as many overseas trips as Senator Obama, visiting Alaska National Guard troops in Kuwait and wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Hospital in Germany. I would advise the Democrats not to get into a debate over experience; at least the Republicans put their most experienced person at the top of the ticket.
Moreover, experience means nothing if you do nothing with it. During her nearly two years as governor, she reformed state ethics laws and enacted legislation to build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the "Lower 48," standing up to the "Big Oil" companies who wanted to build their own pipeline on their terms and refused her proposal for open bids on the project. The pipeline will not only benefit the Alaskan economy by allowing the provision of billions of dollars worth of natural gas to the United States, but it will be built without the major concessions that oil companies wanted from the state before they would build one. She slashed the state's construction budget, typically a source of pork-barrel projects, by $237 million, the second largest cuts of the construction budget in the state's history. She has demonstrated time and again her ability to make tough decisions and take on powerful interests, even her own party, in order to do the right thing.
All things considered, McCain made a bold move that I think will jump-start his campaign and make the next 60 days or so much more interesting. Bravo, Senator McCain! Welcome to the ticket, Governor Palin!