Sarah Palin: A Smart Pick

A couple months ago when my colleague in the office next door, Dr. Jim Melcher — a specialist on American politics — was talking with a student about McCain’s likely VP picks.  I stuck my head in, “if he’s smart, he’ll go with Sarah Palin.”   Jim just laughed at me.  I’m going to be contrarian here.  I think it was a good pick, though also a pick that shows that John McCain knows he’s in deep trouble, and he needs to try something dramatic to change the nature of the game.

She doesn’t have foreign policy experience, but such experience is overrated.  Presidents surround themselves with advisors, and the key is to have good judgment and good people at your side.  Experience is over-rated.  John McCain is nearing his mid-seventies, has a history of cancer, and is more likely than most Presidents to either die in office, or be incapacitated for some length of time, perhaps even during a crisis.  He is saying, correctly, that it is not a risk to have someone as inexperienced as Sarah Palin in a position to take over.  He trusts her judgment.

Note, however, that this also means that the Republicans can’t attack Barack Obama for his lack of experience or foreign policy expertise.  Her experience in Alaskan politics is less than his in Illinois and national politics, yet she is qualified to be President — that’s one thing each candidate agrees on, the Vice President must be qualified to step into the role of the Presidency.  The idea that we don’t know enough about Obama, or that his resume isn’t deep enough to be President is no longer a valid Republican argument, and thus if they try to make that argument at their convention, they’ll be opening themselves up to counter attacks — such criticisms could be used to claim that John McCain lacks judgment according to Republicans because of the person he chose to be Vice President.   Democrats have to feel relieved about this.

Many have thought that this is Obama’s big weakness — why would the GOP all but take it off the table with their choice of Palin?  First, obviously, there is the attempt to close the gender gap and gain Hillary Clinton voters.   There will be a clear message: McCain is a maverick, an independent thinker, and he has a woman with real world experience and character as his running mate.  He’s betting that will look very attractive to those rural voters in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin who still aren’t sure about Obama.  Second, McCain recognizes that the force for change in the United States now is stronger than concerns about experience or foreign policy.  It is more important to be able to be a change candidate than represent safety.  After all, McCain is the ‘old rich white guy’ in the race, and in general a lot of people will see that as by definition safe when compared to a black man named Barack Hussein Obama.  He bets Palin can only help create a dynamic that this is the change ticket.  There might be a submessage “both tickets have experience plus new energy, the GOP has it the way should be, with experience at the top.”  That likely will play well next week in Minnesota.

Will it be enough to counter the extremely successful and dramatic message the Democrats gave in Denver, and now take the road?  Probably not.  Obama remains likely to have a tremendous advantage in money.  That matters.  Also, Obama’s army of volunteers to register new voters and get out the vote could provide a dramatic election day surprise, as the polls might severely underestimate Obama’s support.  The polls go on demographic traditions and likely voters.  Even if they try to compensate for Obama’s efforts, it’s possible that they’ll be off by quite a bit.  In a number of states one or two points could shift the state, and Obama could win an electoral landslide.  Finally, the number two person rarely makes a huge difference anyway.  Biden and Palin were equally brilliant choices, neither candidate hurt himself.

The Democrats need to refrain from being meanspirited in responding to Palin being chosen.  Obama is riding a wave of feel good after Denver now, and if they are seen as being petty or sexist (such as calling her, as I read over at Politico, ‘Geraldine Quayle’), that could play into Republican hands.  They need to recognize that while Palin isn’t going to be easy to attack, she also does relieve the pressure about Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.  They need to focus on McCain, and hit back against any ‘experience’ attacks by pointing that McCain can’t think it so important, since he (rightly) put someone with little such experience a heart beat away from the Presidency.  Given McCain’s age, that’s big!

I also sense Karl Rove behind this pick.  He was apparently pushing hard against McCain choosing Lieberman or Ridge.  Rove is of the view that the only way the Republicans can win is if they not only have the social conservative base behind them, but also fired up.   Palin can do that, she can actually generate enthusiasm for McCain that might otherwise not be there.  Even if she doesn’t lure many Hillary supporters, McCain’s problem is really that Obama’s campaign has so much more energy and enthusiasm — things that translate to higher vote totals, more money and more volunteer work.   The choice of Palin does show that the McCain campaign knows its in trouble, and it has to gamble a bit to get back in the game.  I don’t think it’s enough, but it was a smart move.  Because after the drama in Denver, it was beginning to look like McCain risked becoming another Dole.

So it’s Obama-Biden vs. McCain-Palin.  We have the match up!  This should be a fun election!

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  1. #1 by kaddie on August 30, 2008 - 12:26 am

    Hmmm…”The Democrats need to refrain from being meanspirited in responding to Palin being chosen. ”

    Are you insane? This woman is being NOMINATED for Vice President and there is a very real chance that she could become President.

    What type of treatment do you think that she will receive on the world stage as a leader??? Soft handholding?

    Your comment reveals JUST HOW UNQUALIFIED you feel that she is for this position.

    The choice of Palin is a blatant insult to the honest men and women of this country who push themselves to be good at what they do. This is a choice that only someone from McCain’s generation (or a misogynist) could think of this as an equal replacement for an intelligent running mate.

    Not only does is Palin just another BIG OIL crony in a party plagued by such accusations, but she hasn’t even displayed the same level of intellectualism or drive that we expect from men. She’s not pushed herself to achieve so that she could go to the best schools. She could have at least earned the grades to go to a Harvard, Yale, or Columbia even if she declined later on.

    And her exposure to the world is limited to a town of 9,000 people, and a state with one of the lowest population levels in the country?!? If this were a male candidate would he stand a chance of becoming President? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!! And Huckabee’s loss during this Presidential season helped prove that.

    Worse yet, apparently, her supporters expect that Biden will have a difficult time debating her because he may be overly forceful with her. LOL!!! There’s a very realistic chance that she may become President and she will have to deal with world leaders who will most certainly treat her roughly. If she wants to play the weakling woman then she has NO PLACE in politics and certainly no PLACE IN WORLD politics.

    What a pathetic choice!!!

    Her only real drive has been to have 5 kids and to tell other people what they can and cannot do with their bodies even though this is a democracy.

    Welcome to the Republican version of the Nazi Female leader Gertrud Scholtz-Klink. Another ‘cute’ woman who happened to be a good speaker and the epitome of backwards thinking for both women and democracy.

    “As for how voters will receive the new running mate, Bounds thinks that, with her strong background and grounded lifestyle, “Americans will come to respect her.”

    Please…

    The only ones impressed are the Press that continues to trumpet this woman as if she’s the 2nd coming of Christ.

    Oh…wait that’s right most of the television commentators focusing on this woman ad nauseum are in that top 5% of income earners that would be affected by having to pay the same percentage in taxes that the 95% below them do.

    No conflict of interest there ;)

  2. #2 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2008 - 1:24 am

    Well, you make good points Kaddie, but: a) the Democrats still have to be careful because political backlash could be real if they appear petty; remember, Obama’s strength is his desire to unify and avoid ugly partisanship. It’s a tough balance; and b) Palin is indeed meant to energize McCain’s GOP base. That limits her popularity to the center. While I think they hope it stops the momentum from Denver, the reality is this pick is a sign McCain realizes his only chance is to gamble. Palin did increase taxes on oil companies in Alaska by what will end up being over $1 billion. She has weaknesses, I wouldn’t be as negative as you, but my point was more about the politics of the pick rather than whether or not she really would be a good vice president.

  3. #3 by renaissanceguy on August 30, 2008 - 1:34 am

    I have never heard anyone criticize Obama for lacking foreign policy experience, rather for having no governing or legislating experience to speak of. To criticize him for lacking foreign policy experience would be silly indeed, since most presidents are former governors or senators with little to no foreign policy eperience.

    Governor Palin has had 12 years in public office. She has legislative and administrative experience that is somewhat beyond Obama’s three years as a Senator who is simultaneously campaigning.

    Her energy policies are actual mixed. I think that one could safely call them moderate. If you study what she has done in the energy sector, most of her actions have been designed to help her state as a whole and the citizens in it, which is what a good governor should do. Which is why she has had as high as a 90% approval rating there.

  4. #4 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2008 - 2:48 am

    One could argue that Palin and Obama have similar experience levels. Also, note that Obama was involved in politics in his own state too; Obama does have more national experience. The bottom line is that this takes claims about experience off the table for both parties, in my opinion. I really think that this election is Obama’s to lose, and his campaign is so disciplined and awash in cash that probably isn’t going to happen. Choosing Palin shows that McCain knows he has to change something major to have a chance. I doubt it’ll be enough. We’ll see.

  5. #5 by Betsy on August 30, 2008 - 6:24 am

    12 years in elective office? Give me a break. Before 2007, the only position she held was on the town council of a town of 8,000 people. Did the town council meet one night per week, or only every other week? Her only work experience was in an unspecified capacity helping her husband in a seasonal family fishing business. She got through undistinguished colleges on the five year plan and somehow managed to get a journalism degree without having worked on the college newspaper or TV station.

    Silly me — I am forgetting that she was on the PTA.

    After 8 years of one of the least intelligent presidents in history, we now have the least distinguished vice-presidential candidate in history.

  6. #6 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2008 - 12:02 pm

    Well, Betsy, you gotta admit, she probably does look better than Bush!

    Yeah, reading the reactions I think this was a Rove induced pick, especially since McCain apparently hasn’t talked much with her at all. Once they realized the Democrats were united and there wouldn’t be a lot of low hanging fruit among Hillary supporters, they got scared that if they didn’t engerize their base they’d be totally destroyed. Palin does energize their social conservative base, but that in and of itself is not enough, and they sacrificed their ability to go after Obama for lack of experience. I still think it was a smart move, but only because the rest of the field to choose from was so weak. I mean, there are experienced women in the GOP, like Olympia Snowe, who is very good. Oh wait, she’s pro-choice, she’d anger “the base.” The social conservatives may be needed by the GOP, but their influence on the party is driving moderates away faster than ever. That’s why I think this election will see a marked shift to the Democrats, a reverse of 1980.

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