I haven’t updated the blog in a long while because I’ve been traipsing about the globe – but I’ll tell you about that in another post. I’ve spent some time thinking about McCain’s choice for VP, Sarah Palin, a woman who was mayor of a town of 6000 people before becoming governor of Alaska in 2006 – a pick completely out of left field. She established a reputation for bucking the Republican establishment in Alaska; indeed, she can plausibly be described as a reformer, something which undoubtedly appealed to McCain.
I don’t mean the title of this post to be derogatory – not ‘What the hell is he thinking?’ but, rather, ‘What really made him pick Palin?’ The more I think about it, the more I see a very risky, yet possibly extremely shrewd, nuanced choice for VP.
First, let’s examine her positions (all this is obtained from The Atlantic blogs). She’s pro-life. She supports drilling in ANWAR but understands the importance of energy independence. She is a lifelong member of the NRA. She is a fiscal conservative. She is an evangelical. She opposes gay marriage, but vetoed an anti-gay bill that crossed her desk. She is known to support creationism. Nobody knows anything about what she thinks of Iraq, Afghanistan, the crisis in Georgia, or any other foreign policy issue. We don’t know anything about her position on stem cell research, AIDS policy or immigration reform. We can glean that she has more respect for the constitution than Bush or Cheney, since she vetoed the anti-gay bill because it was unconstitutional.
Also, she is a woman. Which may appeal to disgruntled Hillary voters. Or not. The overwhelming focus on cable news this morning was on whether or not they might now consider voting for McCain, with a woman on the ticket. This is beside the point – if Hillary voters go for McCain because of the female veep, that’s a bonus but should not be expected. Why would Hillary voters, many of whom are presumably fairly liberal, vote for a woman who has established strong conservative credentials? In particular, a woman who is pro-life? I can’t see that happening.
There are two main benefits for McCain to choose Palin, insofar as his own campaign is concerned:
1. She consolidates and energises the conservative base that remains suspicious of McCain. This is especially important because of the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans this year. It also undercuts some of the reasons for voting for Bob Barr in nominally red states that may vote for Obama because of vote splitting between him and McCain.
2. She reinforces his image as a reformer and maverick. He can point to her record as governor and say ‘Obama talks about change, but Palin has actually accomplished change’.
That’s all well and good, but what does it do to the Obama campaign? Her lack of any serious experience (even more so than Obama) is a major weakness, and they can’t even point to good judgement as a substitute for experience (à la Joe Biden’s speech on Wednesday) because there’s no record there. Of course, by pointing this out, Obama’s campaign risks inviting comparisons to his records, so they need to tread carefully.
I think there’s a trap here for Obama: they can criticise her positions, her Christianism, her rather extreme views, but by doing so they also publicise them, thus energising and enthusing the conservative base that handed the election over to Bush in 2000 and 2004. That’s not to say that she’ll get McCain enough votes to win the election, but it does bridge the enthusiasm gap. Moreover, the experience issue is a problem because McCain-Palin can point to her experience as a reformer in Alaska whenever someone in the Obama camp tries to bring up her lack of experience.
So, possibly a shrewd choice. That’s if she survives the rigours of the campaign trail, which is not at all clear. From what I’ve been reading, it’s doubtful she’s even been fully vetted, having come fresh with a minor scandal about inappropriately influencing the firing of a public official. In fact, I think the risks definitely outweigh the benefits, because I fully expect her to make a major gaffe of some type that will affect the McCain campaign during the campaign. (Fallows explains why very convincingly.) She also full of electoral liabilities, which doubtless Obama will exploit to the fullest.
None of this addresses the actual merits of the pick, of which there are virtually none. To paraphrase another blogger, if McCain dies of melanoma in office, can you imagine her staring down Vladimir Putin? I give Andrew the last word:
Think about what the Palin pick really says about how McCain views this campaign and how he views his potential responsibilities in national security.
Think about what it says about the sincerity of McCain’s own central criticism of Obama these past two months in foreign affairs.
Think about how he picked a woman to be a heartbeat away from a war presidency who hadn’t even thought much, by her own admission, about the Iraq war as late as 2007.
Think about how he made this decision barely knowing the woman.
Think about how the key factor in this decision was not who could defend this country were something dreadful happen to McCain in office but how to tread as much on Obama’s convention bounce and use women’s equality as a wedge issue among Democrats because it might secure a few points here or there. Oh, and everyone would be surprised. And even Rove would be annoyed.
This is his sense of honor and judgment. This is his sense of responsibility and service.
Here’s the real slogan the McCain campaign should now adopt:
Putting. Country. Last.