Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Proximity as Proxy

I am not one of the people who think that inexperience is the best reason to worry about the possibility of a Palin Presidency. As I noted in my earlier blog post on the subject, people who supported McCain on the ground that he has more of the relevant experience than Obama should be concerned about Palin, but that was primarily a point about other people's lack of consistency. Here I want to make a different point along the same dimension.

The idea that Alaska's proximity to Russia demonstrates Palin's foreign policy bona fides is worse than preposterous. Its premise isn't even correct. The distance (as calculated here) from Juneau, the capital of Alaska, to Moscow, the capital of Russia, is 4540.88 miles. Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, is over 100 miles closer to Moscow. Just imagine how the press, public, and Republicans would have reacted if supporters of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential bid had listed among his foreign policy credentials the proximity of Vermont to Russia.

Of course, the claim for Palin is that the far west of Alaska is quite close to the far east of Russia, separated only by 58 miles of the Bering Strait---soon to be passable year-round thanks to global warming (which of course, is caused not by humans but by, uhm, polar bears?). And this would indeed be a foreign policy credential if there were any important Bering Strait issues with which the Alaska Governor had had to deal, but so far we haven't heard mention of a single one.

What's oddest about the Alaska-is-close-to-Russia claim is that, while it is beyond idiotic, Alaska (like Vermont in this regard) is in fact close to---indeed contiguous with---Canada. A great many of our foreign policy issues, including many thorny trade issues, concern Canada. And George W. Bush ran for President in 2000 in part on the legitimate claim that as Governor of Texas he had dealt with U.S.-Mexico issues. His support of NAFTA and his moderation on immigration matters can plausibly be traced to his gubernatorial experience.

Thus, we must ask, why are Palin's supporters pressing the bogus Russia claim and ignoring a potentially valid argument with respect to Canada. The obvious answer is that nobody is afraid of Canada. Right now, Russia is scary, and the Republican campaign strategy of stoking fears while trying to reassure voters that only Republicans have the toughness to protect them works much better with Russia than Canada---even if it's based on nonsense.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Obama campaign blew it by not naming as his running mate Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Brooklyn has more than three times the population of Alaska, Markowitz has been the Chief Executive of Brooklyn for over six years, and most importantly, Little Odessa is actually in Brooklyn!

Posted by Mike Dorf in Ithaca, New York, only 5,566 miles from Tbilisi, Georgia.