On Sarah Palin (Part Deux)

In the immediate aftermath of the Palin selection, I wrote that Governor Palin has been a reformer and a change agent in Alaska, has helped clean up politics substantially in the state and could–if mainstream theories concerning the electoral appeal of Vice Presidential candidates are to be believed–tip a close race in John McCain’s favor.

But the judgment of the efficacy of a Vice Presidential pick does not, of course, end with electoral considerations. More pertinently, it does not even begin there. Rather, the efficacy of a Vice Presidential pick needs to be judged ultimately by examining the policy stances of a Vice Presidential candidate and by determining whether a Vice Presidential candidate is prepared to be President of the United States on a moment’s notice.

I stand by all that I wrote concerning Sarah Palin’s record in Alaska and the potential that she might be an electoral force to be reckoned with. But careful readers of my previous post will note that I wrote nothing about Governor Palin’s policy stances or her preparedness for the Presidency. I break my silence on those topics with this post.

Three issues are of concern when it comes to free market/small-government types like me. The first is the issue of free trade, regarding which, I am a passionate supporter of trade liberalization. Governor Palin has no record on free trade. Now, of course, “no record” does not mean “a bad record,” but in a day and age in which it increasingly–and depressingly–appears that protectionism is on the march anew, it behooves a Vice Presidential candidate of the major American political party most associated with free markets and trade liberalization to ally herself closely and completely with the free trade movement. This is particularly the case given that John McCain is an instinctive free trader and that his record on trade issues is nothing short of outstanding.

Governor Palin, therefore, owes it to McCain supporters to state her unqualified support for enhancing free trade in general, preserving NAFTA, augmenting CAFTA by pursuing free trade agreements with countries like Chile, Panama, Peru, Bolivia (I know that Evo Morales will be an obstacle but a free trade agreement with Bolivia ought to be pursued nonetheless) and Ecuador. Governor Palin should also state her support for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which Democrats are inexcusably holding up in Congress. She should speak to the need for the United States to do whatever it can to revive the dormant Doha Round negotiations and to thus strengthen the forces of trade liberalization worldwide.

On the issue of windfall profits taxes, Governor Palin does indeed have a record. And it is not a good one:

Republicans in Congress this June united to defeat a proposed windfall tax on oil companies, deriding it as a bad idea that would discourage investment in U.S. oil exploration.

Things worked out far differently in the GOP stronghold of Alaska, a state whose economic fate is closely tied to the oil industry.

Over the opposition of oil companies, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and Alaska’s Legislature last year approved a major increase in taxes on the oil industry — a step that has generated stunning new wealth for the state as oil prices soared.

“Stunning new wealth” may be a lovely thing in the short term. In the long term, however, it will serve to discourage oil exploration in Alaska, as the article mentions, and will impose costs on oil exploration that will only be transferred down to the consumer by oil companies seeking to ensure (rationally and predictably, of course) that their profits remain as high as possible in what is a much more difficult business than many people think, and thus ensure shareholder value. In addition to the deleterious consequences that arise concerning future oil exploration, there is the fact that Governor Palin’s windfall profits tax was not offset by any major tax cuts.

The imposition of a windfall profits tax on oil companies was a bad idea when Jimmy Carter tried it. It is a bad idea when Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama proposes it, as both have. And it does not get any better as an idea when a Republican Governor of the state of Alaska–the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for Vice President of the United States–adopts it as a part of her tax policy in Alaska.

Governor Palin should recognize publicly that the imposition of a windfall profits tax was ill-considered public policy that should not have been tried in Alaska and should not be tried on the national stage either. Absent such a declaration, small-government and free market advocates will have every reason to question her sincerity and her devotion to the policies of economic liberalization that the Republican Party has properly sought to implement for so many years and has made part and parcel of its brand.

Equally disturbing is Governor Palin’s position on the issue of school choice. Put bluntly, she is on the wrong side:

“The 3.2 million members of the National Education Association are pleasantly surprised by Senator John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to join his ticket as the Republican nominee for vice president.

“While she is only in her second year as Alaska’s Governor, she has thus far shown herself to be a supporter of children and public education. She comes from a family of educators. Her father was a teacher, her brother is a teacher, and her mother was an education support professional.

“In her less than two years as the state’s chief executive officer, she was able to increase per-pupil education spending, and she is opposed to sending public money to support private schools through political schemes like vouchers.

(Emphasis mine.) When the NEA thinks that you have done a good job on the issue of education policy, chances are that you haven’t. By denying parents and children the many benefits of school choice, Governor Palin betrayed–yes, that is the proper word–the people of Alaska and their efforts to seek either for themselves or for their children the best education possible. The United States spends more per capita on education than any other country on Earth and has the least to show for it. Education can only get better if competition is introduced into the mix and if parents are able not only to select the best public school for their children but also, if necessary, to pull their children out of the public school system and enroll them in private or charter schools. Such competition is what the free market is built on and it shows itself to work time after time after time.

Governor Palin should pledge that as Vice President, she will work to persuade as many people as possible of the need to adopt and embrace free market competition in the education system. She should renounce and repudiate any and all policies she implemented as Governor of Alaska that sought to deny or bar such competition from entering into the educational equation and from bettering the educational establishment in Alaska. The effort to implement school choice–especially at the state and local level–should be a sine qua non of the educational platform of the Republican Party. If Governor Palin does not endorse and enlist in that effort, she should be considered an unworthy Vice Presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

Finally, there is the issue of experience. Governor Palin’s record has opened her to attack on this matter. As I mentioned in my previous writing, much of these attacks are hypocritical. When the equally experienced–or inexperienced, however you want to phrase it–Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia was being considered for the Vice Presidency, talk about his resume was kept at a minimum. Instead, we heard countless stories about how Governor Kaine went to Harvard Law School (just like Barack Obama), how he took time off to do missionary work and how he speaks Spanish and has integrated a discussion of his faith in his stump speeches. Additionally, arguments that the nomination of Governor Palin should render discussions concerning Senator Obama’s inexperience as moot are laughable. One can walk and chew gum at the same time; it is possible to discuss both the level of experience that Governor Palin would bring to the Vice Presidency and the level that Senator Obama would bring to the Presidency. And since Senator Obama–unlike Governor Palin–seeks the highest office in the land–questions concerning his experience (or lack thereof) are more pressing than questions concerning Governor Palin’s resume.

That does not mean, however, that Governor Palin is off the hook when it comes to this issue. Fair or not, there will be plenty of people who question her experience and who will charge that she is not prepared to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

As such, Governor Palin needs to ensure that she is entirely and completely prepared to discuss scenarios and hypotheticals–which will inevitably be thrown at her–in which a President McCain dies in office or is incapacitated and in which a Vice President Palin will have to assume the office of the Presidency. How will a President Palin ensure that order remains here at home in such a circumstance? What specific demands will she make of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other governmental agencies to make certain that a sense of calm prevails in what may well be a chaotic political situation? How will she work with her Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ensure that America’s military posture will allow it to deter and repel threats that may materialize during such a scenario, threats that seek to take advantage of what enemies of the United States might perceive as a moment of confusion concerning American security policy and American politics in general? How would a President Palin work with her Secretary of State and the diplomatic corps to convince allies, enemies and neutrals that the goal of continuity of government will be met in such circumstances?

Closely associated with these matters, of course, is the need for Governor Palin to demonstrate a comprehensive mastery of defense and foreign policy issues–especially given the presence of Senator Joseph Biden, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the Democratic ticket. To be sure, Senator Biden’s reputation as a foreign policy savant is dramatically overblown, but again, this will not prevent the questions from being asked of Governor Palin. She will have to make sure that she is well versed on the foreign policy and national security policy issues of the day–especially when it comes time to debate Joe Biden during the course of the fall campaign. Slip ups will be judged harshly. That may be unfair but that is a fact of life; because Governor Palin is a blank slate when it comes to foreign and national security policy, she will repeatedly be tested on these matters. She will have to surprise and impress to pass the tests that are placed before her and she and the McCain campaign in general will have to understand and accept the inevitability of those tests coming down the pipeline.

I write all of this with the hope that Governor Palin will impress and capture the respect of the free market/small-government community and that her stance on foreign and national security policy will show her to be both highly informed and well-prepared to take on the duties of the Vice Presidency. In addition, I write all of this with the hope that Governor Palin will eliminate and remove all doubts concerning her ability to assume the office of the Presidency on a moment’s notice.

Governor Palin’s candidacy has the biggest upside to it of all of the other Vice Presidential candidates. But it also has the biggest downside as well. If she ensures that she is right on the issues and if she shows herself prepared for the responsibilities that will lay before her in the event that she and Senator McCain are elected, then she will have merited the trust that has been placed in her.

If not, then speaking for myself, this will be the first Presidential election in which I do not vote for the Republican Presidential candidate. Oh, I won’t vote for Barack Obama and/or Joe Biden and to be sure, any decision I might make not to vote for John McCain and/or Sarah Palin will not matter much in my home state of Illinois; it is a safe bet that the junior Senator from Illinois will win this state’s electoral votes.

But the issue is not electoral strategizing. The issue is good governance. John McCain and Sarah Palin have a responsibility to live up to the standards of good governance. Unless they do, they will not merit my vote. And unless they do, they will not merit the votes of others.