“In choosing Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has chosen for the future,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008, when McCain and Palin ran against the tandem of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden for the presidency and vice presidency, respectively, of the United States.
The world knows how that pronouncement laughably panned out. After a blazing first few weeks during which she energized the Republican base with her image as a tough-talking, family-values-oriented politician who also happened to be a glamorous woman, Palin proved to be a spectacularly problematic candidate—callow, vacuous, ill-informed, clearly unfit to occupy a position that is a heartbeat away from the most powerful and consequential job in the world. As pundit Andrew Sullivan put it then, “The only non-negotiable criterion for the vice presidency is an ability at a moment’s notice to become the president, if the worst happens. Palin fails by that criterion.”
When your choice of presidential running mate turns out to be a fiasco, naturally your ability to judge character comes under a cloud. McCain, before then a celebrated war hero admired for his maverick views on many of the hot-button issues that have traditionally divided American politics, was suddenly seen by many as a cynical, reckless man who, in pursuit of his ambitions, would go so far as to put his country in potential danger by choosing a glib and flashy but highly unqualified running mate. The duo would go on to lose the race, and McCain will forever be associated with the singular embarrassment that is Palin.
There’s a lesson here somewhere for Sen. Grace Poe, who has not only declared her intention to run for president in 2016 but, this early, also revealed her choice of running mate: Sen. Francis Escudero. To be sure, Escudero is no Palin; smart and articulate especially when talking in Filipino, he has displayed a basic grasp of certain pressing issues. Whatever point one could raise about him, ignorance is not one of them.
But he does bring to the equation something with which Palin likewise burdened McCain: the question of why. Why would McCain choose an unfit running mate for vice president? And Poe: Why would she pick a man whose track record appears, on many points, at odds with the image and advocacies she has cultivated, and which led to the steep rise in public esteem that arguably has given her the impetus to consider gunning for the presidency?
Poe contrasts herself from her putative rivals by touting her unsullied record. Vice President Jejomar Binay is compromised by a raft of corruption charges. Mar Roxas, the Liberal Party’s standard-bearer, is weighed down by the many blunders of the Aquino administration, from the outlawed Disbursement Acceleration Program to the Mamasapano tragedy and the daily traffic hell. Poe’s sensible stand on many raging issues has earned her plaudits from the public; that stand, along with her clean persona and intimate connections with show biz royalty, and despite her glaring lapse vis-à-vis the controversy involving the Iglesia ni Cristo, has made her a viable “presidentiable” to many.
But Escudero? He stood by Joseph Estrada throughout the revelations of the latter’s corruption and perfidy as president. True, he railed against the venality of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but his selective campaign proves that when it comes to basic good governance, he can overlook the monumental faults of a patron and ally and take up the anticorruption mantle only when it’s convenient to do so.
The man is a politician’s politician, apparently cold-blooded and ruthless in pursuit of his interests. After Estrada’s ouster, he was among a cabal of young congressmen who engineered the near-impeachment of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. on the feeblest of grounds. In the 2010 presidential election, he initially declared support for the Aquino-Roxas tandem but eventually campaigned for Binay as VP. He has been credited for Binay’s upset win. Now he and Binay are no longer on good terms, because he has once again jumped fences and latched on to someone who has made a dent in the public consciousness.
Poe may declare herself an independent candidate, but her choice for vice president brings with him some of the worst baggage of traditional politics. Citizenship might not even prove to be her undoing, merely her judgment on the kind of point man she wants to be by her side in the race to Malacañang.
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