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Brooks On Palin

David Brooks offers an honest and thoughtful critique of the Palin pick:

If McCain is elected, he will face conditions tailor-made to foster disorder. He will be leading a divided and philosophically exhausted party. There simply aren’t enough Republican experts left to staff an administration, so he will have to throw together a hodgepodge with independents and Democrats. He will confront Democratic majorities that will be enraged and recriminatory.

On top of these conditions, he will have his own freewheeling qualities: a restless, thrill-seeking personality, a tendency to personalize issues, a tendency to lead life as a string of virtuous crusades.

He really needs someone to impose a policy structure on his moral intuitions. He needs a very senior person who can organize a vast administration and insist that he tame his lone-pilot tendencies and work through the established corridors — the National Security Council, the Domestic Policy Council. He needs a near-equal who can turn his instincts, which are great, into a doctrine that everybody else can predict and understand.

Rob Portman or Bob Gates wouldn’t have been politically exciting, but they are capable of performing those tasks. Palin, for all her gifts, is not. She underlines McCain’s strength without compensating for his weaknesses. The real second fiddle job is still unfilled.

This mirrors one of my own concerns regarding a McCain-Palin administration, specifically the question of who, exactly, would be running it day to day. John McCain may have decades of service under his belt, but his temperament is still very much a young man's, in ways good and bad. He's energetic and impetuous, and prefers making decisions based on a gut instinct to careful study. There are vast ranges of domestic policy in which it is apparent he has no fixed inclinations and little interest in establishing any.

Indeed, though the public generally gets a clearer vision of just what a politician believes the longer he's around, with McCain the reverse has been the case. Would a President McCain be like McCain circa 2001, who co-sponsored pretty much the entire Democratic, anti-Bush agenda? Or McCain circa 2007? Opposed to upper-bracket tax cuts or in favor? Pro-immigration reform or anti-? Active or passive on global warming? Would social security privatization be a priority? Would health care? And on and on. One can make educated guesses, but the truth is that in many instances no one can be entirely sure, including perhaps John McCain. Though he'd enter office with a few more clear priorities (most of them foreign-policy-related) than George W. Bush had, in many areas he'd be something of a blank slate--or rather, a slate on which various opposing leanings had been written and then scratched out.

Which is why I (and I suspect many others) thought McCain's vice presidential pick would say more than is typical about what kind of administration he'd run. Joe Lieberman would've suggested hawkishness abroad and (relative) moderation at home; Tim Pawlenty would've suggested an emphasis on winning back the working class; and so on. But what does the Palin pick tell us? That a McCain administration would be about "reform"? And if so, reforming what? (Combating earmarks is hardly the basis for a presidency.) What I worry is that it tells us that John McCain still doesn't really know what a McCain administration would look like and, for the moment, he doesn't much care.

--Christopher Orr