Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Early Thoughts on Sarah Palin, Running Mate
Yes, it's still early, but the end of the beginning is tonight at the Republican convention, when she gives a big speech.
The most interesting presidential election cycle I can remember got a lot more interesting on Friday. I had heard of Sarah Palin, incumbent Governor of Alaska, but never paid any attention before Friday's announcement that she is John McCain's chosen running mate. I assume that this level of ignorance (or more) is typical of Americans generally, except those who live in Alaska.
We'll have to see if she's tough enough to endure the campaign and smart enough to endure it gracefully. If not, the resulting thud won't resound too much more than the thud we'd have heard last week if McCain had chosen Senator Joe Lieberman, as he may have wanted to. For the moment, at least, Governor Palin is a megadose of interest and energy for a campaign that desperately needed both, and the day after Senator Obama's speech was an excellent day for the announcement. Then it spilled into this week in an unexpected way: There we were, watching the Big Media Acronyms' glee at being able to ignore the Republican convention because of Hurricane Gustav, when (a) Gustav proved comparatively wimpy, and (b) Republicans stole the headlines again with the (regrettably) irresistible story that Palin's oldest daughter is (regrettably) pregnant. (Politically speaking, this does not matter to me.)
Right now, I like Palin as McCain's running mate, and I'll keep liking her if -- in my judgment, not the media's -- she proves to have the necessary toughness, smarts, and grace over the next few months. Here are nine reasons for my enthusiasm:
First, instead of taking the experience argument off the table, as the Obama campaign claimed on Friday, she reinforces it. She, a relatively unknown governor of a small state, the former mayor of a small town -- there are a lot more of those than large cities, by the way -- has a great deal more executive experience than the top of the Democratic ticket. Can you list all the cities and states in which Barack Obama has played an executive, governing role? So can I. I just did. Oops, you missed it. I'll do it again.
That's right. None. For that matter, she's been a governor as long as he's been a US senator, and I'll wager she has spent a lot more days actually on her job these past two years than he has on his.
Second, she has genuine conservative credentials, to complement McCain's, which are seriously in doubt.
Third, I doubt that Palin energizes very many Hillary Clinton supporters -- in her favor, I mean. But she certainly energizes Republican women, and she's a poster child for the pro-life movement, which has justifiably regarded the current campaign with great suspicion right up until Friday. The Second Amendment crowd likes her, too, not to mention all those guys out there who are lonely for a pretty face. (Okay, you're right. Let's not mention them.)
Fourth, her specific experience really is relevant. She has enjoyed some success in fighting well-entrenched political corruption, and she seems to know more about the oil industry than the average talking suit (or pant suit) on Capitol Hill. But don't get the idea that the Democrats (including the BMA) will have to admit the value of her experience with the oil industry in Alaska. That's not how they think. In their book, anyone with actual knowledge and experience in an industry is suspect, even unqualified. They would never trust anyone who really knows the oil industry to regulate it.
Fifth, the Democrats and the media are already abusing her and her family rather badly, and it's going to get worse. This is entirely predictable, and the backlash will be worth at least five percent in the Republican direction on Election Day, as long as she doesn't let them destroy her. This is only partly because she's a woman. It's also because she and her family seem a lot more real -- as in "people like us" -- than any of those ambitious Senators on the ballot. In this same vein, I'm wondering if any handlers alive will be able to rein in Senator Biden when he has to debate her. If not, if Biden is Biden that night, there's another five point bump for McCain-Palin.
Sixth, she's the only name on either ticket who is not a US senator. Senators are not known for their electability as presidents. Governors usually fare better.
Seventh, assuming John McCain can gracefully handle the fact that a lot of focus is on her instead of him, and not be bitter about it -- he has long been a bit of a camera seeker -- well, more than a bit -- people are going to enjoy looking at his campaign imagery more than at Obama's. She's prettier than Hillary Clinton, too. (Did you hear the joke about how Mrs. McCain took one look at her husband's running mate and promptly scheduled plastic surgery?) Who wants to vote against a former beauty queen with brains and backbone, who worked on a fishing boat and shoots things and eats them?
Eighth, she was an excellent basketball player. As a former (not excellent) post player, I appreciate the value of a good point guard, a leader who makes the offense run well and gets the ball to people who are in a position to do something with it. I will spare you any metaphoric exploration of this item.
Ninth, Barack Obama is from a large city in a large state. John McCain is from, let's face it, a large city, Washington, DC, as is Joe Biden. (I know they claim to be from Arizona and Delaware, respectively.) Surely most people in America understand, at least intuitively, that small-staters have more value in our politics than as mere targets for large-state condescension. Most of the towns in America are small towns. Most of the United States are small states, in terms of population. In this sense Sarah Palin, who was born in Idaho and now lives in Alaska, represents a lot of people in a way that no one else on the ballot can.
I am mostly a small-stater, with roots in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and (ahem) New York. In many ways, I actually prefer the large metropolitan areas to anywhere else I've been in the country, including the less populous states. I'm very fond of the Northeast generally. But I have been around enough to see that the best people small states produce are as good as the best people large states produce. They are no less intelligent and no more provincial or naive than their large-state counterparts. They are as well-suited to govern a large nation. I am not at all inclined to condescend to a smart lady from Alaska, because she's from Alaska instead of New York, Illinois, or California.
Maybe Sarah Palin will work out as a running mate, and maybe she won't. I hope she does. I think she might. We'll know more after tonight's speech. In the meantime, Peggy Noonan appears to have some of the same thoughts about her as I do, plus a few more, and she's always a good read.
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.