As my esteemed co-blogger already pointed out, this morning John McCain officially named Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, to be his nominee for Vice-President.
My quick-hit thoughts, followed by one more developed one.
- Pro – she is an interesting, outside-the-box pick, likely to reinforce McCain’s long-since undeserved reputation of mavericky goodness.
- Con – she has zero national exposure. I mean, none whatsoever. Has she even once appeared, apart from maybe during the Alaska primary, as a McCain surrogate? If you wanted to pick a new, fresh, small-state conservative Republican governor, why not Jindal? He has gotten a lot of good press and face time on the Sunday morning news shows lately.
- Pro – she’s a woman, and since the McCain campaign clearly thinks that it has the chance to make inroads among Hilary supporters, or at least to force Obama to play defense on that flank, it serves as another salvo in that battle. Plus, it says ‘we’ve got your history right here!’ to anyone tempted to vote for Obama purely on the basis of electing someone who’s not a white man to office, if such people actually exist.
- Con – she is already under investigation in a strange ethics complaint about her campaign to get a state trooper, her sister’s ex-husband, fired. I’m sure more details will be emerging about this story in the next few days.
- Pro/Con – the VP debate is going to be very interesting. Firstly, there is the expectations game. We pretty much know what we’re going to get from Biden: solid arguments, three or four memorable zingers, and at least one jaw-droppingly stupid gaffe. No idea what to expect from Palin. I’ll be interested to see her speak next week in Minneapolis. Secondly, it will be very interesting to see the conservative noise machine try and play the feminist victim if Biden goes after her at all. To my mind, the question of the VP debate has gone from ‘who will win?’ to ‘can Biden manage to hit back without beating up on the poor little girl?’
- Con – she has no national experience, no foreign policy experience, and no military experience, apart from being the commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard (actual motto: “Defending America From The Axis Of Walruses Since 1959!”) and the mother of a National Guardsman. She sort-of completely and entirely negates the McCain campaign’s ‘experience’ rationale.
And here’s the one that deserves a little more development. It seems self-evident to me that the ‘experienced hand’ line is one of McCain’s stronger plays in this election. Experience does matter, although I certainly agree with Obama, from last night, who argued that McCain’s experience has led to a crystallization of his thought patterns in archaic forms, which cannot appropriately comprehend and respond to the threats of the 21st century.
By putting someone with two years of experience as governor of the least-populated state in the country, McCain has really undercut the logic of this argument. As Steven Benen pointed out, it feels like a gimmick:
McCain used to bill himself as the credible, serious grown-up candidate. That’s an exceedingly difficult pitch to make now. When looking for a running mate, Barack Obama looked to someone who could help make him a better president. When looking for a running mate, John McCain looked to someone who could help him look like a better candidate.
Indeed, today’s announcement seems to be largely based on two considerations: 1) who might help peel off some disaffected Clinton supporters; and 2) what might help undercut coverage of Obama’s big speech in Denver. These aren’t the considerations of a national leader; they’re the considerations of a political hack.
Ross Douthat, in his inimitably ill-thought-out, hackish way, brings up the likely right-wing response to this charge:
Read this once, and it sounds persuasive. Read it twice, though, and it starts to boomerang. Yes, Joe Biden has more experience than Sarah Palin. But there’s a not-implausible case to be made that Sarah Palin has more experience than … Barack Obama! (As Jeff Goldberg notes, she has more executive experience than Obama, McCain and Biden combined.) It’s possible that adding Palin to the ticket will take away McCain’s ability to attack Obama’s inexperience. But it’s also quite possible that any conversation that ends up happening about whether Sarah Palin is ready to be Vice President after ten years in local government and two years in statewide office can only end up hurting the Obama campaign – by raising, indirectly, the Democratic ticket’s biggest liability.
I think I’m beginning to see why Ross shut down comments on his site. It’s really hard to say stupid things when people are constantly telling you how stupid you are, and boy, oh boy, is this stupid.
Well, not stupid, exactly – just incredibly poorly considered. It is certainly true that, according to John McCain, Barack Obama’s inexperience is his biggest liability. But the Barack Obama campaign would wholeheartedly disagree. They will say that, if anything, Obama’s fairly short life in Washington allows him to see things in a new, different way than is possible for someone who has spent almost 30 years there, something that is desperately needed to, for lack of a better word, change the way this country is heading.
Further, they will argue, good judgement, to type Obama has shown time after time, is much more important. You can always get experience, but if you have terrible ideas, and lack the flexibility to change them when circumstances dictate, what good is it that you’ve managed to have the same, wrong ideas for 30 years?
So, it’s the McCain campaign that specifically wants to make this a campaign about number of years spent in Washington. Obama never tried to counter that he had more experience, as narrowly-defined. Instead, he argues that his opinions and ideas are better, and that he has enough experience to do the job. But, as Clemons pointed out above, McCain’s pick of Palin shows a decided lack of seriousness in his opinions about the state of the nation. If it’s true, as McCain says, that the times are too dangerous to elect some neophyte with a few good ideas, then what are we to make of the fact that a 72 year old with a history of health problems just put just such a person in a position to be one heartbeat away from the presidency?
So the Obama campaign is clearly within its rights and rationale to say something like ‘we don’t think that years spent in Washington is an overwhelmingtly important reason to vote for or against someone. But John McCain claims that he does – and he just brought onto his ticket someone with zero years whatsoever! There are really only two possible explanations – either he doesn’t believe what he says when he attacks me, or he doesn’t think it’s that important that the Vice President be qualified to become President. Which one is it, John?’