St. Paul, Minn. – Douglas Holtz-Eakin is a serious person. He’s John McCain’s top economic adviser, and before that he was chief economist of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and director of the Congressional Budget Office, among other things. He’s taught economics at Columbia and Princeton.
So what was the first question reporters asked Mr. Holtz-Eakin at a Sept. 1 Monitor lunch here?
OK, to be fair, it was the second question. But it wasn’t about tax cuts or budget earmarks or the future of Social Security. It was, of course, about Gov. Sarah Palin, the overwhelming top nonhurricane topic of the convention.
Specifically, what did Holtz-Eakin have to say about the revelations that Governor Palin’s 17-year old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant and plans to keep the baby and marry the father?
“Senator McCain has complete confidence in [Palin] as a running mate,” said Holtz-Eakin. “It’s a matter of speculation what the impact will be in the public eye.”
Whatever this line of questioning says about the press, it reflects a reality instantly apparent to all the delegates and media gathered here: Sarah Palin is it. She is topic one. Every aspect of her life up there where it’s cold all the time and people ride float planes is newsworthy and fascinating.
On the plane into Minnesota this weekend, it was all the delegates could talk about. (Yes, delegates wear those pins and state sashes all the time. Really. ) If the unscientific polling method of eavesdropping is any guide, the pick has at the least energized the GOP delegate faithful.
Will revelations about her daughter change that? Time will tell. In the meantime, Holtz-Eakin did have things to say about what he felt were Palin’s economic credentials.
Maybe she hasn’t been to Bosnia, but she’s balanced a budget, in Holtz-Eakin’s view. She’s had more executive experience than either Barack Obama or Joe Biden – albeit some of it as the mayor of a relatively small town.
“She comes with experience that [McCain] obviously feels has prepared her well. It is common for governors to run for president,” says Holtz-Eakin.
And there's a particular aspect to Alaskan budgeting that’s like its Washington counterpart, says the McCain adviser. The ups and downs of the oil industry subject Alaska’s revenues to wild swings – similar to the ups and downs of the congressional appropriations process.
“That gives you good training for the federal budget,” says Holtz-Eakin.
The question of whether familiarity with polar bears has any sort of Washington implication went unaddressed. Holtz-Eakin did talk about the general energy level here, however.
“It is fabulous to have Governor Palin on the ticket.... I’ve never seen anything like this excitement,” he says.