29 August 2008

The Veepstakes, Part XI: McCain-Palin

...and the Maverick strikes again.

As a McCain backer, I'm pleased with his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP for many reasons. But I'll admit two downsides -- the most obvious, of course, is her inexperience. I won't even attempt to argue that Palin is equipped to be president -- but then again, the Democratic nominee's resume is nearly as thin as hers. (The Dems have already begun playing the inexperience card -- that is the most obvious knee-jerk reaction to this pick, but I question whether the experience issue is a good one to debate when John McCain is on the other side.) Second, I worry about the ongoing ethics investigation concerning her dismissal of a state official who refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper.

Dem strategist Bob Beckel called this pick "risky" and "gutsy." Maybe so. Palin is a much lesser-known commodity than, say, Mitt Romney. But choosing her isn't "risky" like the choice of Joe Lieberman would have been.

Lieberman was the Democratic Party's vice-presidential candidate eight years ago. He's pro-choice. He's pro-gay marriage. He caucuses with the Democrats. He's a Democrat on virtually every domestic issue that comes to a vote in the Senate, voting with them 70% of the time in 2007. Several of the areas in which he and McCain have shared common ground -- climate change and the Gang of 14 among them -- are issues on which McCain has incensed the Republican base. Conservatives -- with Rush Limbaugh leading the charge -- might well have revolted.

I personally supported the idea. But Joseph I. Lieberman as the Republican vice-presidential nominee? That would have been a risk.

Sarah Palin is a completely different story.

Her upside?

First, she's a true-blue conservative. She's pro-life. She's a card-carrying member of the NRA. Apparently -- and I wish this didn't matter -- El Rushbo loves her. Unlike Lieberman, Tom Ridge or even Condi, she'll sit well with the base.

Second, she weakens considerably Obama's main two arguments against McCain: He won't bring "change," and he represents four more years of Bush. McCain and Palin are a dynamic maverick, reformist ticket. Palin is a legitimate outsider and clearly is no Dick Cheney (or Joe Biden). The GOP ticket now consists of two mavericks who have spent their careers bucking the status quo. Palin also allows McCain to further distance himself from the Bush administration. This can and must be highlighted above all else in the final 60+ days.

Third, Biden will have to tread lightly during the VP debate on Oct. 2. If he is an attack dog against a 44-year-old mother of five, that won't play well. Against Romney, Lieberman or even Pawlenty, Team Hope could let Biden off the leash. Against Palin, however, he knows he'll have to be civil -- and for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., that's a tall order.

Fourth, Obama won't be able to play the class-warfare card he would have had Romney been the choice.

Fifth, Palin reinforces two key tenets of McCain's message -- a realistic platform for energy independence and generally, political reform. A big key for McCain will be articulating his -- and now Palin's -- ideas on these two topics on which Democrats have traditionally held a monopoly.

Finally, Palin's youth -- and gender -- directly counters the historic nature of Obama's candidacy. Palin is younger than the Changemaker and, obviously, is female. If Obama's VP choice was HRC -- which it should have been, by the way -- Palin probably wouldn't have been under consideration. But Team Maverick sees an opening with a large segment of the Democratic Party -- many of them women -- who believe that, for whatever reason, HRC was unceremoniously given less than a fair shake. As Jonathan Martin at Politico noted, disaffected HRC voters thinking about jumping sides now have one more reason to do so. Exhibit A was the flood of "Hillary" signs during her speech Tuesday night. The Democrats clearly remain a fractured party.

Obama's base is made up of three camps: anti-war activists (the Dennis Kucinich wing), northeastern elitists (the John Kerry/Howard Dean wing) and previously disengaged young voters (the Michael Moore wing). Many Democrats have swarmed to Obama because of his socialistic tendencies and do-gooder platform. But many others, mistrustful of the vagueries and flowery rhetoric, have been more inclined to stay away.

This election should be a blowout -- instead, the most transformative politician of our lifetimes is locked in a neck-and-neck battle with a 72-year-old senator whom many in his party even dislike.

Admittedly, I approve of this pick on more speculative, idealistic grounds. Romney, for instance, is clearly more qualified for the presidency. But as Dick Morris recently noted, Obama has struggled mightily to connect with female voters, especially those over 40. And in an election where a female candidate's historic run for the presidency (HRC's) was torn apart by a media contingent that fell in love with her opponent, McCain has seized on a huge opportunity.

Once again, the Maverick has tossed the book out the window.

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