Washington Matters


Palin's a Pit Bull, After All


Sarah Palin may not know what the vice president's job entails, but we can now be sure she knows what running for vice president involves -- being John McCain's attack dog (dare I say, "pit bull with lipstick".) Whatever you think of Palin, dragging the country down into the mud is hardly what we need in a time of economic chaos. 

Gov. Palin raised questions about her understanding of the job in her debate with Joe Biden when she said the Constitution allows her to do a lot more than just preside over the Senate and cast a deciding vote when there is a tie. "Our Founding Fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president's agenda in that position," Palin said.

Of course, that's completely wrong. The Constitution provides no such "flexibility," an odd word for a ticket that favors a strict interpretation of the Founding Father's words. But it's no surprise that Palin botched the question. Her comments came just a few days after she told CBS's Katie Couric that it is up to the states, not the Supreme Court, to interpret the Constitution, another comment that suggests a review of Civics 101 is in order. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution makes it explicitly clear that the Supreme Court has sole authority over all cases arising out of the Constitution. It's hard to believe Palin is even remotely familiar with that document she's so quick to praise.  

In truth, any power the vice president has beyond presiding over the Senate and being on standby if needed  derives entirely from the president. It was Jimmy Carter who first made his vice president, Walter Mondale, a true confidant and adviser on major decisions. That expanded role continued in fits and starts until Dick Cheney took it to the extreme by trying to claim the Constitution provided him protections afforded both the legislative and executive branches. Cheney was able to play such a major role in the past eight years because he was deeply familiar with the levers of power from all angles -- as a congressional leader, as a Cabinet member and as a White House chief of staff -- and because Bush trusted his judgment. Palin won't be afforded anything close to that kind of power because she offers none of those advantages to McCain.

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But I digress. For the moment, McCain seems to be using Palin in the archetypical running mate role of tearing down the opponent, with little regard for accuracy or fairness. This weekend she began making speeches accusing Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," openly questioning his patriotism, even egging McCain on to resurrect the Rev. Wright controversy. That makes for some useful applause lines from partisan crowds and undoubtedly helps with fund raising. It may even bring a few more Obama haters to the polls on Nov. 4. But it won't sway a significant number of Americans any more than the vice presidential debate did despite her solid performance. The latest tracking polls show Obama maintaining or increasing his lead since the debate.

McCain would be wise to keep that in mind as he approaches tomorrow's debate. As my colleague Jon Frandsen noted yesterday, McCain will be making a mistake if he uses his time on stage to attack Obama on the basis of his associations with others rather than tackle Obama directly on the issues and his abilities to handle them. 

The fact is voters are deeply concerned about the direction of the country and fearful of holding on to even a sliver of economic security. They want the candidates to explain what they'll do to help, and thus far neither has been specific enough. Obama is responding to the attacks with his own negative ads, even bringing up the old Keating Five scandal that earned McCain a rebuke for "poor judgment" from the Senate ethics committee two decades ago. The voters don't want that either. They want candidates who are serious about leading us out of this morass.

 




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