August 30, 2008-- Weak Leaders choose weak No. 2's -- John McCain's Gamble
A day after Barack Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention and the nation, and a week after the Democratic nominee selected Joe Biden as his running mate, John McCain shocked the nation by announcing that Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, was going to be his choice for the No. 2 slot on his ticket.
The pundits are out there trying to see if this was McCain at his most maverick style, willing to take a gamble, or McCain at his worst, ignoring common sense and making a decisions with his gut for political gain. With Sarah Palin, McCain got himself a strong social and fiscal conservative, and a woman who might have a chance to appeal to the Clinton supporters.
But for many of his biggest fans, those that believed his experience was the key to supporting a 72-year old, the decision to put a 44-year old governor from a State that has more elk than people, that is better known for Eskimos than Electoral Votes (it has 3, but Biden’s Delaware only has 3, too), and that was a mayor of a city that 99.9% of Americans have never heard of, this was a “Hail Mary” pass of Jurassic proportions. McCain’s age and health, two issues that Obama would have had difficulty raising, immediately became media fodder. They all ask, “Is Sarah who-ever, ready to be a heart-beat away from the Presidency of the United States?”
Great Leaders try to surround themselves with strong subordinates—someone who raises the bar for that leader’s executive presence. In Sarah Palin, McCain seemed to have found someone who is of such low stature (think Dan Quayle with the first Bush), that he would never have to worry about being out-shone.
I have no idea about Sarah, except what I read in the news media (see LA Times article). I saw a video of her today, and honestly, was impressed with her forwardness. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of being on center stage.
But sometimes, not being afraid is not the same as being ready. I teach presentation training, and some people have a misconception that a speech delivered well, but without content, is superior to a poorly delivered, but substantive speech. If you don’t know your stuff, there is only so much that your speech writer or your coach can do for you.
There is little doubt that Joe Biden is a man of substance. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama is a great orator. When he delivered his acceptance speech in Denver, Mr. Obama made a big step to becoming a man of substance.
It will be interesting to watch Mr. McCain. He used to be a man of substance. Recently, he sounds like a political advertising machine—a man stripped of his ability to become innovative and creative. With one big decision, he tried to reclaim the title of “Maverick.” That was the name of a character played by Tom Cruise in the 1986 motion picture Top Gun.
I just hope that Mr. McCain is not going to be appearing at Oprah, jumping up and down in joy, to show he can take the analogy to its dramatic end. The pressure is now on both Sarah Palin and the Arizona Senator. She may outshine her own future boss, and thus show the world that he was wise in making this choice.
This will be remembered as either the decision that launched McCain to become Top Gun, or the one that ended his stellar political career. There doesn’t seem to be a happy middle ground, something an objective observer may simply label as a gamble.