You're probably familiar with the Peter Principle, which states that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." In other words, people get promoted on the job as long as they are performing their current job competently, but sooner or later, most of them are promoted to a job which they can't do well, and they stop getting promoted at that point. They have reached their level of incompetence and will rise no higher. The big question for all of us is what our own personal level of incompetence is. Selecting people to promote on the job is itself a job that is subject to incompetence.
Enter Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. There are some people out there who are dubious about whether she is qualified for the job of Vice President of the United States, based on her career experience. That leads to two questions: What, exactly, are the qualifications for that job, and are there any indications that she has already reached her level of incompetence?
The qualifications of the job of Vice President are actually quite simple: That person must be able at a moment's notice to take on the job of President of the United States.
The qualifications for that job are that the person who holds it must be a natural-born citizen of the United States who is at least 35 years of age and has been a permanent resident of the United States for at least 14 years. Until quite recently, it was also necessary to be white and male to even receive serious consideration for the job. Thankfully, that's now in the past.
The President is the head of the Executive Branch and makes thousands of political appointments (including the Cabinet, ambassadors and federal judges) with the advice and consent of the Senate. The President sets national policy in many areas, and while he or she doesn't write legislation, the President has the ability to veto legislation sent up by Congress. The President is the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces of the United States, including its arsenal of nuclear weapons, and as head of government is the most public face of diplomacy in dealing with foreign nations, including the negotiation of treaties, which must be ratified by the Senate.
It takes a person of rather special temperament to make a good President, since the holder of that office will be subject to criticism of every facet of the job from day one. It takes a person with good management skills who can evaluate people and choose those with the proper skills to appoint to those thousands of government jobs which must be filled. It takes someone who is tough enough to stand up to both entrenched interests in Washington and to the machinations of both friends and foes abroad, and it helps if the President has a coherent plan for where he wants to take the nation during his or her term of office. It is, quite simply, the toughest job in the world, and there is some question as to whether anyone can really be completely prepared to do the job on upon taking office.
This brings us to Sarah Palin, who until Friday was almost completely unknown to most Americans. That will change. What we learn is that she started off as a concerned mother who joined the PTA to help improve her local schools, then was elected to the city council, and then became mayor of her small town in Alaska. She ran for Lieutenant Governor and lost, but then defeated the incumbent Republican Governor of Alaska in the party primary and beat back the Democrat challenger to be elected Governor of Alaska in 2006.
At each level of government, she has proven herself to be a competent advocate of honest government, opposing corrupt entrenched interests in both parties. She has shown herself to be capable as the chief executive of a state with a small population, dealing with budgets, policies and appointments, and as the old parable in Luke says, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." There's no reason to think that she has bumped up against the Peter Principle yet, any more than Barack Obama, John McCain or Joe Biden have.
So would putting Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency be a reckless gamble? No more so than putting Joe Biden there, since he has no executive experience at all. No matter whether we elect Barack Obama or John McCain as our next President, the winner will have a learning curve when he takes office. And whether it's Sarah Palin or Joe Biden in the understudy role, that person will have a learning curve as well.
P.S. If you'd like to get a good roundup of information about Sarah Palin, I'd highly recommend checking out BeldarBlog. Beldar has been making the case for Governor Palin as a good veep pick for John McCain since back in June; indeed, I found a lot of good information about her on his site back then. The more I read about her, the more impressed I am with her story and accomplishments.