Of all the mind-boggling events surrounding Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential election, few surpassed her early-on assertion that she never hesitated in her belief that she was the right candidate for the Republican Vice Presidential nomination. A college student who attended six different schools before finally graduating, a hockey mom and small-town mayor, a governor for just a year or two in a small-population state whose oil royalties made its economics look more like Saudi Arabia’s than a part of America, Ms. Palin quickly demonstrated just how extraordinarily inflated her self-assessment and sense of self-esteem actually were for someone who was agreeing to put herself a heartbeat away from the Presidency of the United States, and a potentially weak heartbeat at that.
Here’s an excerpt from Palin’s September 11, 2008 interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson:
GIBSON: And you didn't say to yourself, "Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I -- will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?"
PALIN: I didn't hesitate, no.
GIBSON: Didn't that take some hubris?
PALIN: I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink.
So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.
In Ms. Palin’s case, was it hubris, a wildly inflated sense of her own abilities, or simply a case of being a deer in the headlights, too stunned to think through the full implications of what was (incredibly) being offered?
Now, here in NYC, we have a similar situation with Mayor Bloomberg’s selection of Cathie Black (don't write "Cathy" or she'll reportedly think much less of you) as the prospective Chancellor of NYC public schools. Not to say, by any stretch, that Ms. Black compares to Ms. Palin in accomplishment or intellect; she clearly exceeds Sarah by light years. However, the question here is about readiness, or fitness, for the position offered.
Did Ms. Black ever blink? Did she ever take a moment to consider whether and how her credentials matched up to the requirements of the position? Did she ever recognize just how closely those credentials would be publicly scrutinized, particularly given the increasingly contentious atmosphere Joel Klein had generated over the past eight years? Did she ever wonder whether someone with no discernible link to the world of education or public schools or even the lives of the families who struggle to survive in NYC and pull their children through school was really suited to the job? Did she ever ask Mayor Bloomberg who else was considered, or whether there might not be better candidates, both in terms of professional qualifications as well as political palatability? Did she ever think to recommend to the Mayor that a more visibly public search than a 7:00 a.m. breakfast meeting might result in a choice (even if it was her) that would at least not have the appearance of an offer that just sort of came up at a millionaires-only cocktail party? Did she ever consider suggesting to the Mayor that, given her lack of credentials, appointing her without a public process or at least some prior consensus building would be like driving a stake through the eye of teachers and parents, and make her assumption of the job substantially more difficult? Finally, did she ever wonder whether she was really the person best suited to lead over one million children by assuming responsibility for their educational futures?
By all accounts so far, Ms. Black never blinked. "...my stomach did a flip-flop. The opportunity made me feel fantastic," she told gossip-monger Cindy Adams (!!!!) in a spasm of egocentricity during her only media interview since the appointment. Ms. Black didn’t think it was necessary to have a real interview, the kind where the candidate asks the prospective employer some probing questions. She apparently thought it was enough to say "Yes!!" and cap her professional career with a stint as a public servant – just a nice little schools chancellorship before finally retiring to Connecticut. All she would need to get ready would be to read a few of Joel’s files and a couple of reports, right?
On the “I-didn’t-blink” scale, Ms. Black and Ms. Palin seem to have garnered the same scores. The citizens of NYC helped vote down Ms. Palin; sadly, they are not granted the same option (or any voice whatsoever) with Ms. Black.
Commissioner Steiner, the citizens of NYC are waiting to see if you will blink -- and think.