Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thoughts on McCain's Choice.


A lot of people have asked me what I thought about John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate. Before I posted something, I wanted to take my time and give it a serious think.

If it had been my call I would have preferred someone with more experience...I probably would have gone with Romney or Thompson. Both would have helped McCain solidify his base and Romney would have helped in Nevada and Colorado (both states have large Mormon minorities). More importantly, they would have reassured voters that there would be someone "Presidential" to take over if, God forbid, something should happen to McCain.

I've always felt that Clinton's choice of Al Gore was inspired. At the time Gore was very highly regarded by almost everyone-his 2000 campaign for President would change that of course. In fact, Gore was generally regarded as the more substantial of the two. The Senator from Tennessee was widely viewed as a future President unlike the obscure Governor of Arkansas. When it came time make a decision about running for President, Gore took a look at President Bush's 91% approval rating and decided to pass. Bill Clinton, who had nothing to loose, decided to roll the dice. The rest is history. Later when it came time to choose a running mate, Clinton chose Gore. When asked why he responded, "because I could die". I'm worried that the Palin pick falls short on this yardstick. That said however, I think it's an inspired choice.

It works so well on so many levels. Here are a few off the top of my head.

1) It totally negates any Democratic Convention bounce in the polls:
Truth be told it was a pretty lacklustre convention. Maybe it was the odd looking stage, maybe it was the shadow of John Edwards hanging over things, maybe it was the lukewarm reception that the selection of Joe Biden as V.P. , maybe it was just a hangover from all that Olympics coverage...and what was the deal with all those shots of female delegates crying at completely inappropriate times....what were they trying to convey with that?

Biden's speech was poor (and occasionally awkward when he tried to get that chant going), Hillary seemed to be praising the nominee through gritted teeth and the best speaker, Bill Clinton was limited to an insulting 10 minutes...lest he steal the show. Obama for what it's worth had a good speech too (though not nearly as good as his keynote address four years ago) and the whole stadium/Greek temple thing worked better than I expected. Just the sort of stuff you'd expect to dominate news coverage for the next several days, giving your candidate all kinds of free media...and then John McCain dropped the bomb. Historically a candidate can expect an 8-10 point bounce in the polls after his convention (and then of course the other side has theirs and cancels it out). We'll have some real numbers on Monday but right now it looks like Obama got no bounce at all. In short the Democrats spent 15 million dollars on a whole lot of nothing.


2) Her lack of experience is actually an advantage:

This works in several ways. First, like Obama, because her record is fairly short she's had relatively little time to make any catastrophic mistakes. More importantly like seeing faces in the clouds, when people don't know much about a candidate they tend to fill in the blanks the way they'd like them to be. Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Mario Cumo, Jack Kemp, and Gary Hart have all benefited from this basic human tendency. Finally, every time the Democrats raise the issue of her lack of experience it allows the Republicans to remind voters how inexperienced Obama is...plus she's actually run a state...and a town...and worked on trade agreements with our largest trading partner (Canada) ...and she has Russia right across the Bering Straight. She actually had to show up and make decisions. On the whole I'd say that's more impressive than voting "present" in the Illinois legislature and the Senate.


3) She's a Woman:

I don't want to make too much of this. On the whole I think race and gender shouldn't matter in this sort of thing...but clearly for some people they do.

After one of the most bruising political campaigns in modern memory, one in which many Clinton supporters feel they were treated unfairly by both the media and the eventual winner, now the Obama people are in the difficult position of having to attack another woman while at the same time trying to make nice with all those disgruntled Hillary voters. That won't be easy. Even before the convention there was a lot of talk about how the media and the Obama folks were a bunch of chauvinist pigs. In Hillary there was a woman who had paid her dues, worked hard, stood by her man...only to be passed over for a less qualified man. I'm not saying I agree with that analysis, but some folks are talking that way...and they're not Republicans. The Democrats need to be very careful about how they attack Palin.

4) She Solidifies the Republican Base:
While McCain and the conservative wing of his party agree on most issues, McCain's public image has largely been defined by issues where he has parted company with the right. You don't get to be a Maverick by towing the party line. During the primaries, most of the opposition to McCain came from social conservatives who backed Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee to various extents. A lot of those people were continuing to talk, long after the primaries were over about how difficult it was going to be to support McCain. Well that's all over now. Palin is one of us. I can't remember the last time I saw conservatives this excited about a candidate. Not only does she talk the talk, she walks the walk. At age 44, after having four kids already, she's told the baby she's carrying has Downs Syndrome. She never considered that child to be anything other than a blessing. Amazingly, I've already seen democrats attack her for this. They argue that either she should have aborted it or she should quit her job and stay home to take care of it...nice...in one sentence you've managed to offend both pro-lifers and feminists. Keep it up dummies.

5) She's smart, tough and attractive:
By all accounts she's been an effective Governor and taken on corrupt entrenched interests in her home state. Almost everyone thinks she's doing a hell of a job. She's pleasant, has a great family story and is easy on the eyes.

Some years ago I was invited attend a Jewish religious ceremony which was the rough equivalent of a christening. This was a Reformed Temple and the Rabbi was a woman...an attractive woman. Halfway through the service I leaned over to The Wife and said something that I'd never thought I'd say, "That Rabbi has great legs!". One can only hope I can soon say the same about our Vice President.