Friday, August 29, 2008


John McCain named Sarah Palin as his VP. My first thought was judging McCain's assessment of the race: he doesn't think he's close. This is a big gamble, with potentially big dividends and drawbacks. It also may be a short term gain. The one area where it can be safely predicted that Palin will have lasting benefit to McCain is with Evangelicals and other anti-choicers.

It could be brilliant, if it works. It steals the morning after buzz of Obama's speech, although 36 million Americans watched it-- a lot more than saw McCain's announcement. It's great counter-programming: an old/young ticket to go against the Obama young/old ticket, but with the wild card of a woman candidate who is anti-choice. It's going to make the VP debate quite tricky: Palin has zero foreign policy cred and Biden has a lot--can he keep from looking like he's bullying her?

She might be able to energize McCain, and give some new life to the maverick image. But longterm, her inexperience is likely to be the deal-breaker for working voters. I don't think she'll play in PA. But you have to give the McCainers credit--they've lived to play another day.

Update: Pat Buchanan, who is ecstatic about this choice since she is a follower of his politically, did say one astute thing about Sarah Palin's utility: McCain can send her to the conservative audiences he needs but isn't all that comfortable with--and they aren't all that comfortable with him. That frees him to concentrate more on swing states and independents, where he tries to revive his maverick image. The question is whether he's able to change directions of his campaign in time, after the Dems hammered him for a week about being a Bush clone. If he indeed pivots from the experience mantra, and positions himself in a more positive vein as a change candidate, then the dynamics change a bit. But enough? It depends on whether perception of him from 2000, as a maverick, can be successfully revived. Suddenly, the campaign becomes no longer about Obama as much as McCain.

After today, Palin has the potential to become this year's Dan Quayle. She has already admitted that she knows little about Iraq, even though her own son will soon be deployed there. I think most mothers of soldiers, let alone vp candidates, inform themselves about Iraq.

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek is underwhelmed: Happy birthday, Johnny Mac! You're 72 now, a cancer survivor, and a presidential candidate who has said on many occasions that the most important criteria for picking a vice president is whether he or she could immediately step in if something happened to the president. Your campaign against Barack Obama is based on the simple idea that he is unready to be president. So you've picked a running mate who a year and a half ago was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 8,500 people. You've selected a potential leader of the free world who knows little or nothing about the major issues of the day beyond energy. Oh, and she's being probed in her state for lying and abuse of power.

The problem is that politics, like all professions, isn't as easy as it looks. Palin's odds of emerging unscathed this fall are slim. In fact, she's been all but set up for failure. ..But what does she know about Iranian nukes, health care or the future of entitlement programs? And that's just a few of the 20 or so national issues on which she will be expected to show basic competence. The McCain camp will have to either let her wing it based on a few briefing memos (highly risky) or prevent her from taking questions from reporters (a confession that she's unprepared). Either way, she's going to belly-flop at a time when McCain can least afford it.

Alter also goes into detail to show how the current ethics investigation of Palin in Alaska could blow up in McCain's face as well as hers.

By the way, I just saw the PBS News Hour and interviews on the convention with several columnists from papers around the country, including Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Too bad--that paper has a number of astute writers. Kelly isn't one of them. He wasn't even well informed enough to know that nobody is yet measuring the convention bump in the polls--that won't be until Monday at the earliest. Although Obama is eight points ahead in the daily tracking today.

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