Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Larry Lessig on Sarah Palin

Larry Lessig, a prominent legal academic and an Obama supporter (and an ex-colleague of mine), has an interesting post on Sarah Palin. To his great credit, he is willing to say positive, indeed admiring, things about a candidate he opposes. Having said them, he goes on to argue that her claim that her experience is comparable to that of many past vice presidents is not true and that while she is courageous and at least sufficiently intelligent for the job, she doesn't have enough experience to qualify her for it.

I have a number of reservations about the details of Larry's argument, but the one I thought worth mentioning is the question of what kind of experience counts. In the video—worth watching—he runs through all of the past VP's and concludes that only two, both Republicans, were arguably about as inexperienced as Palin. In two more cases, the experience he lists consists of being a founding father; it isn't clear to me that that counts as training for the job of being President.

More important, quite a large number of the VP's, I would guess about a third, had no executive experience that he mentions—they had been representatives and/or senators. It's true that being in Congress involves many of the same issues a President will have to deal with—and, of course, part of the job of Vice-President is presiding in the Senate. On the other hand, the real function of a vice-president is being President, if and when, and being a legislator is not the same sort of job as being an executive.

To take a slightly stretched analogy from my profession, being an academic, even a Nobel Prize winner, doesn't qualify one to run a university, and being a university president isn't, or at least ought not to be, adequate qualification for a position as a tenured faculty member in an academic department.


Milhouse said...

More to the point, Palin's actual claim was that lots of vice presidents (and vice presidential candidates) haven't had a lot of foreign policy experience, and in particular haven't met foreign heads of state. I've seen a lot of claims that this isn't true, but none of them seem to be accompanied by any substantiation; they seem simply assume that if someone was a senator they must have met lots of heads of state. I wonder whether that is so; at least if we mean substantive meetings, not just shaking someone's hand at a party. How many foreign heads of state did John Edwards meet before he ran for president? How about Dan Quayle? Walter Mondale? Gerry Ferraro? Hubert Humphrey? Harry Truman? I have no idea, in any of these cases, but I'd like to know where people get the assumption that it simply must have been so.

Anonymous said...

The senate ratifies treaties.

Henry Troup said...

I used to read a little journal called the Quayle Quarterly, devoted to the sayings and doings of "Mr. Potatoe Head". Perhaps in the foreseeable future there will be a Palin Periodical.

Overall, I'm not sure that any pre-20th century example is worth counting; the post-1913 system is quite different. Arguably the post-1963 system is radically different. Quite a lot of those 19th century gentlemen had also been military commanders; as we know, the record there was mixed at best. Contraiwise, the 18th/19th century experience as ambassador had far greater scope than the modern version.
The Palin/Agnew similarity is chilling!
Even so, the point is moot, isn't it?

Milhouse said...

And therefore? How does that translate into senators meeting foreign leaders, or even into their necessarily having spent five minutes actually learning something about foreign policy? They vote on bills without having read them, what makes you think they don't do the same on treaty ratification votes? Or that they don't vote on ratification based entirely on the impact the treaty would have on their state?

Matt said...

... sometimes I get irked when people talk about being "qualified" to be a president or vice-president of this country.

When a carpenter is qualified for his job, people get nice cabinets. When a programmer is qualified, we get working software.

What do we mean for a (vice-)president to be "qualified"? Do we mean that the government will become more efficient as a result--efficient, no doubt, at stealing, murdering and caging its own people?

Or, do we mean that a "qualified" president is the one that most people would benefit from having in office? I think this is the definition that most use in talking about an executive, yet no candidate can fulfill this definition of "qualified".

Honestly, if you're going to refer to a story about politics, you should always qualify your statements with a message demonstrating your understanding that the whole process is a big sham and that nothing good can come from any of our "choices".

Your readers might get confused otherwise!

David Tomlin said...

Being a 'founding father' meant holding one or more leadership positions, civil or military, during the Revolutionary War, a time when such positions were unusually demanding.

Jefferson had a long and varied resume. He was a member of the Virgina legislature and the Continental Congress. During the war he left the Congress to become governor of Virginia. During the Articles of Confederation period he was minister to France. Under the Constitution he was the first Secretary of State.

I don't know as much about Adams's career, but I do know that he was minister to Great Britain at the same time Jefferson was in France. I think he was in the Continental Congress throughout the Revolutionary War.

NYC Real Estate Goddess said...

While I don't necessarily support Palin, I do find the whole idea of "being qualified" to be a red herring. There are so many functions that cannot be performed by anyone BUT a president or vice president, that to point them out is ridiculous. I understand the idea that Palin and Obama have been on the national stage for so short a time, but none of the candidates is empowered to conduct diplomacy in their current positions, and only Palin has run a state government, and that for only two years... and, unfortunately, it appears that two years was all she needed to use her powers for a less than noble purpose...