Obama vs. Palin on Experience

Is there a libertarian position on what sort of experience a vice president needs? Libertarians have offered mixed reactions to the Sarah Palin pick. David Boaz would have preferred South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Compared to Sen. Joe Biden, a 36-veteran of the Senate, Palin is a breath of fresh Alaskan air. But conservatives and libertarians should remember the lesson of George W. Bush and never relent in their pressure to make sure a potential McCain-Palin administration does more than talk about cleaning up Washington and reducing the size of government.

The Obama campaign likely will turn to surrogates to make the inexperience argument against Palin because any direct shot from Obama is likely to backfire. Obama’s national experience amounts to four years in the U.S. Senate, most of which he spent not legislating but running for president.

Palin’s tenure as Alaska governor equals, if not exceeds, Obama in experience. Palin, 44, has spent 12 years in elected office: 10 years as a city councilor and mayor and nearly two as governor. Obama, 47, has also spent 12 years in office: eight years as a state senator and close to four as a U.S. senator.

“Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency,” an Obama spokesman sniffed. They soon backpedaled on that line of attack, perhaps realizing Obama might alienate small-town voters who realize their mayors are often tested with tough decisions and budgets, rather than up-or-down votes.

Comparing her experience to Biden borders on ridiculous. Since when do libertarians find encouragement in government, much less someone who has spent 36 years in Washington funding programs like Amtrak and prosecuting the drug war?

On foreign policy, it’s not trivial to note that Obama seeks the presidency while Palin seeks the number two slot. Even if McCain died in office, Palin would retain McCain’s foreign policy team and have at least some experience as vice president.

As McCain’s operatives are sure to stress in the coming weeks, it’s pretty ironic for Obama to bash Palin on foreign policy experience when, in July, he visited Iraq for the first time since announcing his presidential bid — after repeated criticism from McCain — and has not held a single hearing on Afghanistan in his Senate subcommittee (again, letting Biden carry his foreign policy water). He also visited Afghanistan for the first time in July. Palin has visited Kuwait once in her role as commander of the Alaska National Guard.

Libertarians still have grave concerns about McCain’s foreign policy, but I think the Iraq war has lost salience as an issue, especially since the U.S. and Iraqi governments have basically agreed to withdraw troops by 2011, and most voters are focusing on the economy.

Finally, some have suggested that Palin was tapped simply because she was a woman. No doubt that played a role in her selection, but what matters is Palin’s reform record and standing as the antithesis of a Beltway insider. I predict attacks that Palin was only selected because of her gender will be as successful as complaints that Obama won because of his race.