Blame the Vetters?

And so it begins. With the Republicans turning on their favorite whipping boys (the press), those who remain agog over Sen. McCain's choice of running mate have begun to look at the vetters. Here's a typical story focusing on the legal vetting team. It says that during her interview with the McCain vetters, Gov. Palin disclosed her daughter's pregnancy. That suggests to me that the vetting was, if anything, too searching. Did the McCain vetters ask "are any of your children pregnant?" Presumably not. I assume Palin provided this information in response to a question like "is there anything else that could be embarassing we should know?"

I was once asked such a question when I was applying for a job, and I immediately panicked. Surely there is information about everyone that, if widely disseminated, would be embarrassing, mostly because it's private. (I recovered my composure, answered no, and got the job, no scandal ever erupting.)

Unfortunately, the point of vetting isn't simply to get at information that is relevant and potentially harmful but simply to get at information that is potentially harmful, regardless of its relevance to the underlying qualifications. Now that we're all talking about Palin's daughter's pregnancy, we can see how it's not simply prurient: It raises issues about abstinence education, abortion, etc. But the fact is we'd certainly be better off not talking about it and focusing instead on the very large policy differences between McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden.

The tendency of American Presidential political news coverage to focus so much on the partie' respective nominees rather than the very large differences between the parties is partly a result of our very long primary season and partly a legacy of the days when the parties lacked clear ideological differences. The adequacy of the vetting of Sarah Palin is a distraction two or three times removed.

Posted by Mike Dorf