Vice-presidential nominations--what it says about McCain
mgraber at gvpt.umd.edu
Wed Sep 10 12:46:56 PDT 2008
To bring in a more constitutional dimension, although not one of constitutional law.
One central problem in a constitutional democracy is that the capacities necessary to be elected may differ from the capacities to govern. Madison was obessed by this distinction. A good deal of the "Vices" and "Federalist papers" are devoted to identifying this problem and proposing constitutional institutions that would minimize the gap between the capacity to win election and the capacity to govern. One of the central problems of American politics over the past 40 years, if not a good deal longer (I blame Andrew Jackson), is an increasing gap between the two capacities. One might endorse Sandy Levinson's new constitutional convention, except I am strongly inclined to believe that such a convention at present would increase rather than reduce this gap.
The first point to be made if my analysis is correct is that the sort of leaders this system turns out, across the board, are likely to have greater capacities to win elections than to govern (would any of us truly choose Obama or McCain if we had to select the senator or governor of our party that we believe must likely to make the best decisions as president). The second point to be made is given that we live in 2008 and not 1788, we are best evaluating candidates on whether their capacities to govern are as good as this system is likely to turn out. In 2004, I would argue, we had two such persons Chaney and Kerry, though Bush probably belongs given his four years as president (in 2000, his main virtues were capacity to get elected). I confess to thinking we have three such people in this election, McCain, Biden, Obama. All three have demonstrated some capacities which will be useful when governing. One would hope for more, given democratic politics, I think McCain and Obama are actually the best we can expect. May I suggest the lack of experience label with Palin is a substitute for something else, namely (and the Republicans in the Alaska legislature support this), while she has demonstrated a rather considerable capacity to get elected, her resume contains very little that demonstrates a good capacity to govern (outside of negotiating the pipeline deal, to which she deserves credit).
One should add the following proviso, given that presidential power is in part the power to persuade. In a constitutional democracy, the capacity to govern depends in part on capacities to be elected. What I find Palin (Bush and Edwards, for that matter) lacking, are substantial capacities to govern that are independent of the capacity to be elected. I think this could be said of too many elected officials in both parties.
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