Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On Palin

Over the past three weeks or so I’ve been preoccupied with several circumstances (including a benign but decidedly unpleasant illness), and I appreciate your indulgence, dear reader, of my lack of posts over that time. As I get back in the game, I may as well start by briefly offering some thoughts on John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.  (Everybody else is, at any rate.)

As for the political wisdom of the choice, I basically agree with the early conventional wisdom: the choice is quite a risk.  The benefits and potential benefits of choosing Palin are fairly evident.  The pick of a strongly pro-life, pro-gun running mate has energized social conservatives in the GOP base in a way that McCain alone had not done and perhaps could not have done before November. Her family’s blue collar roots and lifestyle are potentially appealing to lots of voters, and the prospect that she could become the female first vice president lends some more excitement to the ticket and can only help in the effort to attract Hillary Democrats. In her brief time as Alaska Governor she has developed something of a reputation as a hardnosed anti-graft reformer.  Her relative youth and, yes, attractiveness don’t hurt the ticket either.

But the downsides and potential downsides of the pick are evident as well.  There’s just no getting around the fact that it’s a negative that her most relevant experience resume point is that she has been governor of one of the least populous states in the Union for less than two years.  We may find out that her credentials as a reformer are somewhat less impressive than first thought; we’ve already been reminded that she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it and  that as recently as July she publicly expressed support for long-time embarrassment-to-the-American-system-of-government (and now indicted) Sen. Ted Stevens. Palin also faces challenges not of her own making and that have nothing to do with her merit, but are still very real. After her selection was announced,  Palin immediately begin facing the special hatred that many on the left and their allies in the media have for figures who, by their existence, challenge the charge that the GOP is only a party of, by, and for white men. Many of these hate-filled attacks will backfire, but some may stick in popular estimation.   (Remember how the left has relentlessly slandered Clarence Thomas from the moment George W.H. Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court? What Palin will face over the next two months and, if McCain wins, the subsequent four years will easily top that.) 

The import of all this?  Her political upside is big, but Palin has very little margin for error as she introduces herself to the country.  Her first big speech in Dayton was very good, and I expect an even better effort at the convention in a few minutes --she isn’t nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” for nothing—but a few minor flubs could allow the Dems to be successful in painting her as a new Dan Quayle.

Is the risk worth it? It’s not one that a more cautious candidate would have taken, and some good safer choices (like Pawlenty and Romney) were available. But John McCain is anything but risk averse, and we’ll see how things play out?

Before closing, I suppose I should say something about the non-political angles of the pick.  It will be very brief, because there’s really not much to say. Let’s apply the William Henry Harrison test. If, whatever deity that may be forbid, John McCain were to win in November and then catch a fatal illness on inauguration day, how comfortable would you be at the prospect of Sarah Palin becoming President right off the bat?

To channel Justice Scalia, to ask is to answer.

So let’s hope that Palin performs exceptionally well over the next two months, as she is capable is doing, and contributes to a McCain win in a significant way.  And let’s hope John McCain stays healthy for years to come.


Update:  Fixed a few grammar errors.

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