The vice-presidential debates are coming up on Thursday night. ("Tonight", as most of you read this.)
I suspect that they are going to be totally worthless. They are not going to address many of the core issues that should be addressed with respect to job of being the vice president. What we are going to get is a 'debate' in which the moderator will ask a question, and the candidate will give us his or best guess as to what the person at the head of the ticket would say about that issue.
This is not what I want to hear.
The Subject of the Debate
If I were in charge of moderating the debate, I would begin with the following:
The most important job for the vice-President is to stand in and be President in case something happens to the person we elected to that position. At any moment an assassination, a heart attack, an airplane crash, or an unfortunate encounter with a pretzel could end that person’s life or render him incapable of serving as President of the United States. In this case, you get to take over.
So, let's work with that assumption. Let us say that John McCain and Barak Obama are no longer capable of being President of the United States, and the job is going to fall to you. I am going to ask you a set of questions, and I want you to answer how you would address that issue as President.
I do not want to hear the names "John McCain" and "Barak Obama" even mentioned in your answers. I do not want you to sing the praises of the person who leads your ticket. I do not want you to criticize the person who leads the opposing party’s ticket. They are no longer with us – that is why you are here. Now, the nation waits for you to answer the important question, "Now what? Now what will Sarah Pahin or John Biden do, now that she or he is President."
Now, let's go to the first question. As President, how would you approach . . .
These are things that I, as a voter, have a right to know about the person who sits a heartbeat away from being President.
The two campaigns will not like this option. The first and most important problem will come from the vice presidential candidate questioning some of the presidential candidate’s policies. The presidential candidate, let us assume, is pro choice. They do not like the idea of the vice presidential candidate questioning the policies of the presidential candidate – that would be disastrous. This leaves us with the option in which the vice presidential candidate tries to do his or her best imitating the presidential candidate.
Rhetoric and Generalities
The news has been reporting that a lot of effort has been going into preparing for this debate. Biden needs little training – he has been in politics long enough that he would do better as a teacher than as a student.
On Palin's side, her handlers will help her to provide answers that disguise her lack of knowledge of specific facts, and allow her to speak rhetoric. She will likely speak passionately about the wonders of a free market – on how it creates jobs, lowers costs, and generates opportunity. She will speak harshly about government waste and how important it is to root out these wasteful government programs and eliminate them. She will lament on how bad it would be to have a situation where the government will be stepping in to medical discussions that ought to be left between a patient and her doctor.
But, they will be light on specifics.
Part of the idea is that, if she doesn't say anything, then she can't say anything wrong (though, in Palin’s case, her handlers have discovered that there is some need to teach her how to utter coherent English sentences).
It is important to note who are handling Palin's training for this debate. These are people who have had years of experience hiding ignorance – hiding it at least well enough to win an election or two. Yes, we know that Bush was an ignorant fool. However, getting Palin (an McCain) elected doesn’t include wasting resources convincing us. There are others who will be easier to convince.
One concern that people should have is that, while handlers can prepare a candidate for a scheduled debate against a known opponent, there is no way that they can prepare a President for an emergency like 9/11.
Remember George Bush on the day of the 9/11 attacks, sitting in a class of grade school children while America was under attack, not knowing what to do? He was incapable of action – incapable of leadership. What would Palin do if she were President, and some terrorists successfully launched another attack against us? Will she be carrying a stack of note cards in her pocket for just such an occasion?
How would Palin address the issue of a Russian invasion of Georgia? A nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan? A radical Muslim overthrow of the government of some oil-rich country? A Cuban Missile Crisis? Increased tensions between China and Taiwan? North Korea’s restarted nuclear program?
One option will be that President Palin will still be under the influence of her handlers. If this is the case, then her handlers will be in charge of foreign policy. Palin would simply be a figure head that these handlers will use to either sell their product to the public or to hide it from them with meaningless diversions.
If President Palin is not being handled, then where will she turn to interpret the events going on around her? Her personal history suggests that she is going to pray to God to tell her what to do. She will then see some random event – something that she will take to be a "sign from God," and whatever idea that pops into her head at that moment will determine her policy. She will step into it with utter conviction that it is the right thing to do because her instructions came from God, and God could not possibly be wrong. She will be throwing a dart at a dartboard (and, given her level of ignorance, she will be throwing the dart while blindfolded).
She might get lucky.
She probably won't.
I would rather give the darts to somebody who does not think that God is going to tell him where to throw it. I want a dart thrower who will remove the blindfold and use his eyes and his mind to decide where and how hard to throw the dart.
Nothing at the debates will show us how President Palin will handle an issue she was not prepared for, or what type of ideas might somehow spring into her otherwise empty brain.