Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vice Presidential Vices

There is an interesting discussion being generated around Sarah Palin's latest assertion around Vice Presidential duties and responsibilities

What I find particularly interesting is probably not what most people do.  To me, it's not that Sarah Palin doesn't understand the role of Vice President -- it's that she is advocating a broader perspective of the powers and responsibilities outlined ever-so-briefly in the Constitution:

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."

I chose the term "briefly" instead of "concisely" specifically because it is not concise!  There is no place in the Constitution where the duties of "President of the Senate" are specifically outlined other than the process where delegates are counted and a tie-breaking vote is required. 

Here is where the fun starts.  A strict constructionist view of the constitution would arguably be quite conservative:  The role of the Vice President in matters of the Senate are explicitly defined, and therefore no undefined role would be permit-table if we're strictly interpreting the document.  Yet, this conservative, strict constructionist view appears to be that of contemporary Democrats.  Conversely, Republicans (at least those in the Cheney orbit) enjoy the creative process of liberally interpreting the Constitution to assert greater executive power.   Ironically, this liberal interpretation of executive power is being advocated by a Republican Vice Presidential candidate. 

While interesting, it's not unexpected.  For those paying attention, we have seen a few, strong ideological governing philosophies pushed through the Bush/Cheney administration behind the scenes.  One of these streams was that of increasing executive power at the federal level.  Presumably, the conservative movement feels strongly that a legislatively-powered government would end up being too weak, too slow, and too nuanced to be as dynamic as the nation needs its government to be. 

It also should be of no surprise that the McCain campaign handlers that have been coaching Palin are reportedly from the same batch of ideologues that powered the Bush/Cheney White House.  Like George Bush, Sarah Palin is a perfect vessel for behind-the-scenes wonks with strong convictions to fill up with their strategic plans.  For someone who needed to fill in gaps of knowledge with information quickly, Palin was likely to be quite susceptible to strongly willed, smart, and learned voices around governing philosophy. Not much time to check countervailing ideas.

While there is certainly an argument for maintaining the status quo (which has served our nation fairly well in the past), I think re-opening interpretations of the Constitution is not a bad idea in and of itself.  It just should not be done in a vacuum, and it should be debated in a careful, scholarly fashion -- not in a "VP for Dummies" cram session.


Honestly, I think you are putting too much stock into Palin's "philosophy". To be blunt, I don't think she has any. She is not "counter to the strict constructionist view" - she is just dumb.

She was trying to explain the VP's role to 3rd graders, for crying out loud, not to a distinguished league of gentlemen! She also didn't say "in my view a VP should be...", which would've indicated to me that she actually thought about this.

She didn't, and I think reading anything more into this is a mistake.


I'm not putting stock in anything. All we can do is observe and analyze the words she says. Most everything a politician says is written for them (or told to them), but we still need to hold them accountable for saying what they say.

So, with this in mind, let's take a step back so we can get on the same page:

If Cheney himself told Sarah Palin "Say this about the VP role" and she did, word for word, it was her decision to parrot, and therefore she is responsible for the words she utters.

It might not be her original philosophical thinking, but as soon as she advocates the philosophy by repeating it, it's now her's as well -- at least politically.

A lot of people call Bush "dumb" as well. Well, it doesn't quite matter if he's dumb or not -- he was still elected at least once as President, and got us to support him in starting 2 wars. Dumb or not, he changed a lot of things.

In the same vein, I would argue it doesn't matter if Palin is dumb or not. What matters is what she says and does as a politician. That's where politicians have impact - in words and actions. They don't have impact in IQ test results.

By the way, in that video clip, she was talking to a reporter, not a 3rd grade class. The question was from a 3rd grader, but the answer was to a reporter.

Her view on the VP role was certainly "her view" -- that was the entire context of the interview. I'll have to watch the video again, but did she not say "I think" at any point?

I do not think she's thought about it at all on her own, either. But so what? Her decision to say something she was told matters, and we need to hold her accountable for what she says.

Lastly, you'll see in my post that I posited that the ideologues have filled her up with their thoughts -- I didn't even indicate that it was her original thinking.