Last Friday I got into a discussion about the potential outcome of the Obama-McCain debate, which I believed would change very little as most Americans seemed to be looking to the VP debate airing tonight (I was wrong, Obama increased his lead). I also made the comment that Sarah Palin is perhaps the least qualified Vice-Presidential nominee in our nation's history. An idea that brought strongly worded denials and reminders of Dan Quayle’s tenure (side note: Qualye had 12 years in Congressman prior to becoming the VP) and Joe Biden’s ubiquitous gaffes.
At the time I had no valid defense against these attacks, and all I could was speculate. After scouring through each Vice President's biography on Wikipedia however, I found that there was indeed a former VP with an almost identical background to Governor Palin’s. Apparently I was wrong...
The above chart was prepared by pulling data from Wikipedia for every Vice-President, and plotting their pre-VP experience alongside one another. What I discovered was that if John McCain were to win the White House, Sarah Palin would virtually tie with Richard Nixon's VP (Spiro T Agnew) as the least qualified VP ever. Joe Biden on the other hand, with his 35 years in Congress would become the 4th MOST experienced VP in our nation’s history. But does any of this matter?
To determine how Agnew and Palin's nomination compared, I uncovered the following insightful passages from Wikipedia (emphasis added):
Agnew's moderate image, immigrant background and success in a traditionally Democratic state made him an attractive running mate for Nixon in 1968. In line with what would later be called Nixon's "Southern Strategy,"
Agnew's nomination was supported by many conservatives within the Republican Party and by Nixon. But a small band of delegates started shouting "Spiro Who?" and tried to place George W. Romney's (I swear I didn’t make this up) name in nomination. Nixon's wishes prevailed, and Agnew went from his first election as County Executive to Vice President in six years — one of the fastest rises in U.S. political history.
Agnew was known for his tough criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-Vietnam War activists… In short, Agnew was Nixon's "hatchet man" (or pit-bull) when defending the administration on the Vietnam War.
And then we find this ominous nugget of truth:
By mid-1971, Nixon concluded that Spiro Agnew was not "broad-gauged" enough for the vice-presidency. He constructed a scenario by which Agnew would resign, enabling Nixon to appoint Treasury Secretary John Connally as vice president under the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Yet while Nixon excelled in daring, unexpected moves, he encountered some major obstacles to implementing this scheme.And finally:
Nixon viewed Agnew as a general liability, but backing him could mute criticism from "the extreme right." Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who was to head the reelection campaign, argued that Agnew had become "almost a folk hero" in the South, and warned that party workers might see his removal as a breach of loyalty.
On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office... [after pleading] no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, as part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. The bribes were paid to Agnew by some members of the construction industry to get their projects approved.
So to summarize, in 1968 (exactly 40 years ago) we have Richard Nixon, a Washington insider who "excelled in unexpected moves", running a campaign based on restoring our nation to a sense of stability during intense unrest brought about in part because of a very unpopular war. A man whose decision to appoint a Washington outsider with only 2 years of experience as Governor simply to shore up his appeal with Southern conservatives (thanks to the man's pit-bullesque attacks against the anti-war liberals and an almost “folk-hero” like stature), would both bring him both praise from his base and derision from others who demanded that a Romney no less be given the title. And then we find out that this same man was in fact proven to be unfit for the Vice-Presidency and was ultimately forced to resign based upon questionable actions taken during his brief role as Governor.
And you want me to vote for this duo again in 2008?
UPDATE: A few friends inquired what my overall point was since Nixon won both the '68 and '72 elections. While that is true, I believe that if you're going to make comparisons between Nixon and McCain, the correct link would probably be the 1960 election, which Nixon lost thanks to an exciting yet inexperienced JFK. I should also point out that Nixon won in 1968 in part b/c of the following (all of which benefit Obama):
1. An unpopular war connected to the opposing party (at least that was the view at the time)
2. No incumbent president
3. An unpopular view of the residing party due
4. A very large expansion of government connected to the opposing party
Also my point wasn’t to debate that experience should be the only qualifier for the VP (Nancy Pelosi for example would be a terrible choice). I was merely pointing out that Palin's inexperience is virtually unprecedented, save for Agnew's nomination. A point that isn't all that interesting until you understand that Agnew, as a Washington outsider, carried a great deal of value in an election running on anti-Washington sentiments, and that once Nixon was elected Agnew became a liability very quickly. The parallels are undeniable.
UPDATE II: Digg this post!
UPDATE: III Saw this over the weekend, and thought it was worth posting