Dueling Mooses

by reader noni mousa

Dueling Mooses — Kristol tries to confuse the issue — FAIL!

William Kristol (NYT today) defends Palin as a VP pick. Are we convinced? Here, see what he says:

Should voters be alarmed by a relatively young or inexperienced vice-presidential candidate? No. Since 1900, five vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency during their term in office: Teddy Roosevelt in 1901, Calvin Coolidge in 1923, Harry Truman in 1945, Lyndon Johnson in 1963, and Gerald Ford in 1974. Teddy Roosevelt took over at age 42, becoming our youngest president, and he’s generally thought to have proved up to the job. Truman was V.P. for less than three months and had been kept in the dark by Franklin Roosevelt about such matters as the atom bomb — and he’s generally thought to have risen to the occasion. Character, judgment and the ability to learn seem to matter more to success as president than the number of years one’s been in Washington.

All right, Bill. You want to compare Palin to the five VPs who stepped up to the plate since 1900? (That’s five out of 17 presidents — pretty good odds for her to succeed to the presidency, don’t you think?)

The five VP presidents took office in the wake of two assassinations, (McKinley, JFK), one impeachment (Nixon), and two natural deaths (FDR, Harding, although some believe that Harding, facing newly revealed scandals, may have been poisoned). Truman was picked to run as VP expressly because, leading up to his fourth winning run for the presidency, FDR was known by the party to be very ill.

How well did the five do? In historians “best and worst” presidents surveys, they ranged (over ten surveys)

Teddy Roosevelt 3-7th best president ever
Harry Truman 5 – 9
Lyndon Johnson 10 – 18
Gerald Ford 23 – 32
Calvin Coolidge 23 — 33

Roosevelt and Harry Truman had the most gritty experience in war, the kind of experience that people often don’t survive.

“[In WWI} Truman was chosen to be an officer, and then battery commander in an artillery regiment in France. His unit was … known for its discipline problems. During a sudden attack by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, the battery started to disperse; Truman ordered them back into position using profanities that he had “learned while working on the Santa Fe railroad.” Shocked by the outburst, his men reassembled and followed him to safety. Under Captain Truman’s command in France, the battery did not lose a single man.”

Johnson and Ford served honourably but without any fireworks. Coolidge never served.

This column wasn’t even an argument. Kristol tries the old bait and switch here, choosing to compare 44 year old Palin to the youngest president ever in terms of their age, and then implying that she might have the qualities and perhaps experience needed to steer the ship of state through the rough waters ahead. But compare what they did in those forty or so years. Kristol especially mentions Teddy Roosevelt, the youngest oops president of the five. So let’s look at the Colonel, shall we? Before his election as Vice President—

— He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Harvard (in Law)
— age 24, he wrote the definitive book ‘The Naval War of 1812’, standard history for two generations.
— age 24 the president appointed him to the United States Civil Service Commission, where he served for 13 years. In his term, he vigorously fought the spoilsmen and demanded the enforcement of civil service laws.
— was married and widowed before age 27, was remarried to his childhood sweetheart when he was 30. Six children.
— built a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territories which succumbed like many others to the disastrous 1887 winter.[1]
— prepared for and advocated war with Spain
— organized and helped command the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment… during the Spanish-American War
— became president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners, age 37. During the two years he held this post, he radically reformed the police department, reputed as one of the most corrupt in America.
— served as governor of New York. He made such a concerted effort to root out corruption … that Republican boss Thomas Collier Platt forced him on McKinley as a running mate in the 1900 presidential election. Roosevelt was a powerful campaign asset for the Republican ticket, which defeated William Jennings Bryan in a landslide

Reading all that, just how far did Roosevelt have to rise, to “rise to the challenge”? Not too far, I would say. You might make an argument that McKinley had farther to rise.

Compare and contrast to Sarah Palin, either through the eyes of the GOP, or via Wikipedia.

— University of Idaho Bachelor of Science degree in communications-journalism
— two terms on the Wasilla, Alaska city council
— two terms as mayor of Wasilla
— ran for lieutenant governor of Alaska (unsuccessful)
— chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and served as Ethics Supervisor of the commission
— elected the governor of Alaska

You go for it, Bill Kristol. Compare the self described pit bull hockey mom to Teddy Roosevelt. Dueling bullmooses at ten paces. (Question for bonus points: would today’s GOP run Teddy for president? Discuss.)

How Kristol can compare her to Roosevelt or even Coolidge without blushing is a mystery to me — no matter how many bull mooses she has shot.

Noni Mausa

[1] a fascinating novel, “Wolf Willow”, gives an grueling account of that winter, along with other historical glimpses of the area and the time.