Talk Newspaper: By Jeff Golden

Sarah Palin is not qualified, as vice presidents must be, to be president of the United States. Is that closer to objective fact or partisan attack?

That's what I explored two weeks ago in a column criticizing the Republicans' VP selection. Are some political judgments so obvious that we can cross partisan lines to agree on them? And if so, is this one of them? In this case, I'm not the one to ask, because slamming Palin doesn't carry me across any partisan lines. The stretch here would be for people who see the world more or less the way she does. And if online responses to the column (in italics below) are any indication, that stretch is not going to happen.

I love seeing you liberals shake at the knees knowing it's all over for your boy Obama, the first one said. Come down from your ivory tower, drive out of Ashland, and you will find that the Palins are well represented right here in Southern Oregon, and throughout our country. (That's true, and completely separate from the question of minimum VP qualifications). Palin WILL be your VP, and your President after that. (What does this reader know that we don't?).

Another reader told me to, get real! Before you break out your No. 2 pencil, try thinking beyond being a political hack. If you actually concluded McCain made a bad choice how could you possible vote for an untested attorney with fewer qualifications or accomplishments as president? Just think if Obama wins his first term will be the longest job he has ever held! It certainly appears you are feebly attempting to rationalize your misogynistic insecurities!

This misogynistic and insecure hack with shaking knees has a question: Is it me, or do these two comments shoot a toxic flavor into the conversation that wasn't there before? And does that flavor add the least bit of value to the conversation? And why do online comments often seem to go there so quickly? (Okay, three questions).

Proving that you don't need a carving knife to disagree, a third reader asked some worthwhile questions, the kind that draw me into actual conversation — you know, as in, you talk, I listen, then I talk and you listen, maybe a few rounds each? He asked, Jeff, Would you respect her more if she killed the unborn baby boy with Down's Syndrome? (No; in fact, I admire her for her actual decision, if it was reported accurately. Seems like she walked her talk through an extraordinarily hard time). Would you respect her more if she were ugly? (No.) Would you respect her more if she were crass? (No.)

Would you respect her more if she spent 20 in Washington making deals with every pro-biz or pro-union interest? (A BIG no here, and I take your point. Based on past behavior, I happen to think that McCain/Palin will be friendlier to moneyed interests, especially on environmental issues, than Obama/Biden. Whether or not that's true, the corrosive coziness you cite won't be overcome until we take ownership of our elections, like the world's other developed democracies, through public campaign financing). How has voting in career politicians worked for you so far? (Hard to answer, because I almost never vote them in; the career politicians I like regularly lose to the career politicians I can't stand).

I thank that last reader for making me think.

What this episode has made me think about most pointedly is how Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, both improbable people to fill the roles they're playing today, compare in qualifications. Seems to me a fair-minded person who examines what each of them have been doing the last 20 years — and I mean careful examines, not a smattering of Fox-bites and campaign ads — would have to be far more comfortable with his finger on the crucial buttons than hers, but I won't try to sell that as an "objective" truth.

And I still wonder if we have any capacity left to crawl out of our partisan foxholes to acknowledge what seems obvious. To look in the mirror for a moment: If I were asked whether my candidate for president broke a strong, principled promise when, astonished by how much money he could raise, he opted out of public financing, what would I say? I could either come up with a cluttered rationalization designed to avoid any admission that could hurt his chances, or I could say yes. I say yes — and I'm voting for him anyway, because waiting for the perfect candidate is getting very old, and because the stakes ahead are beyond huge.

If we expect our political leaders to tell the truth, maybe we need to show them what it sounds like.

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com).