I listened to the Senatorial debate last night, and expected that most of the questions and answers I’d heard before. But Stevens’ recent conviction, I thought, might engender some interesting conversation. The thing I didn’t expect was the two candidates’ take on Sarah Palin.
Remember, Sarah Palin, who launched her political career at the feet of Ted Stevens, and served as the Director of his 527 group “Excellence in Public Service, Inc” which could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors, has recently turned on her former mentor. At first she was lukewarm in her condemnation suggesting that he “do the right thing.” But 24 hours later, after her running-mate asked him to step down, Palin fell in line. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s other Type-A red-suited political woman of power, and Junior Senator for the state, is standing by her man. She was even one of the speakers at Ted’s recent Welcome Home rally, urging Alaskans to vote for Stevens and give him a “hero’s welcome.” And our other congressional delegate, Representative Don Young is saying that Ted didn’t get a fair trial. So, although Palin fell in line with national Republicans, she went out on a Republican limb in the state of Alaska when she threw Stevens under the bus.
Apparently Stevens didn’t get the memo. After endorsing her candidacy, and waiting unsuccessfully for Palin’s endorsement of his senate campaign, he had this to say about whether he thought she was qualified to be Vice President:
Tracy (moderator): Is Gov. Palin qualified, sir, as president?
Stevens: Yes she is. Yes she is. I think she is. She’s had experience as a mayor. She’s had experience, really, as a governor. And she is what I think the American women have sought for a long time, she’s another candidate for a presence of a woman in our national leadership. So I think she’s qualified and I think our people would like to see her become president… vice president.
I’d like to see her become president, as a matter of fact.
So, she’s qualified to be President of the United States because she’s had “experience as a mayor”, “experience, really, as a governor” and she is a “candidate for a presence of a woman in our national leadership.” After a few moments of stunned silence, I started thinking about why Stevens said that. To quote Dr. Seuss, “And I puzzled and puzzled, til my puzzler was sore.”
The only answer is that Stevens isn’t taking it personally. He knows that Palin had no option with the national Republicans, and he’s willing to take one on the chin and still support his party. He’s been around the block enough times in 40 years to know she’s not even close to being qualified. But what’s the alternative – say she’s not qualified and risk his endorsement being the thing that makes Alaska go blue in the Presidential race? He’d never live it down. He’s a Republican through and through, even from the pavement under the bus, and even if it means Palin being President of the United States.
Mark Begich had the opportunity to answer the same question. Actually he had an opportunity before Stevens did. Here’s how it went.
Moderator John Tracy: If elected, and if it becomes necessary, is Gov. Sarah Palin qualified to serve as president of the United States?
Begich: I’ve answered this question a lot of times. And my view is, the voters are going to make that decision. If she wins her election as the vice presidential nominee, as she is now, wins as vice president, come Nov. 4, that tells us she’s qualified.
Tracy: I’m going to come back. Sen. Stevens?
Stevens: Well I don’t understand your question in relation to his answer.
Tracy: Yeah, well I said I’m going to come back. But I’m going to give you a chance first.
You saw Stevens’ response above. After he had his say (and left me slackjawed for a minute), Tracy came back to Begich.
Tracy: Mr. Mayor, I’m going to insist on a yes or no answer.
Begich: Well John, on this one I think, again, the voters are going to make this decision. I think she has proven that she has some strong mettle out there. She’s been out there on the campaign trail. I think that the issue that I have not heard a lot about is where she stands on a lot of foreign policy issues, domestic policy.
I’ve heard her repeat more of the McCain line, but I’m interested in what she’s about. I’ve seen some interviews with her, but they’re not in depth and so I can’t judge that at this point. What I can tell you is, she has made the nomination. She will be there on the ticket on Nov. 4. If she wins, I guarantee you that she’s going to have to be ready.
… Your theory there is something’s going to happen to Sen. John McCain if he’s president.
Carey: It’s not my theory. I simply asked you if you thought she was qualified to be president.
Begich: The President. Well, she’s running for vice president, and she’s on the ticket.
That was Mark Begich’s 162 word response to a yes or no question. Now, I like Mark Begich, and I’m going to vote for him. But, he’s not doing himself any favors with answers like this. Mark Begich can’t really come out and say Palin is an incompetent and unqualified candidate in a state where 62% of the population still thinks she’s doing a good job. And he can’t do what Stevens did and say she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread because everyone who works for him, campaigns for him, or is related to him would never speak to him again. I get it.
But there were two appropriate answers to the question that would have done the job, and kept him from looking like a Class A weasel.
Answer #1: You know John, I have to admit that I have some concerns, and I’m not the only one. Many prominent national leaders from both sides of the aisle have concerns. It shows we’re thinking, and it shows we care. However, anyone who lives in Alaska knows that Sarah Palin is a determined, confident and talented person who has risen to challenges before. CAN she do it? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I remain hopeful that this would be a challenge she would navigate successfully if she were put in that position.
Answer #2: (Holds up hand, palm out, laughing) John, I’m not touching this one with a 10-foot pole!
Either one of those approaches would have been better, in my humble opinion. But Alaskans are tired of lying and partisanship (Stevens), and they’re also tired of tap dancing and non-answers (Begich).
There are no easy answers in Alaska politics, and sometimes the muck gets deep fast, both for those running for office, and for the rest of us trying to figure those people out. So I’m going to take off these muddy boots, and get out of these wet things, and go take a nice hot shower.