I must say that McCain’s VP choice of Sarah Palin surprises me somewhat. In some ways, certainly ideologically, the choice makes sense since Palin is staunchly against abortion. I’m convinced that, in the same way that Obama chose Biden in some part to protect himself against criticism of his lack of foreign-policy experience, McCain picked Palin to shore up criticism–this time primarily from within the GOP–of his lack of fundamentalist credentials. I don’t need to tell Republicans who may read this how much it matters to those on the right; nor do I need to tell people in my neck of the woods about its relevance. It does–a lot. I also think that picking a younger woman may be an attempt to garner women’s votes across the political spectrum–hardly a startling insight, I know. Yet how successful that will be is another question.
Why this pick puzzles me is for primarily three reasons. Palin does nothing to help McCain in key battleground states. Her selection also removes a key trope that McCain has been using in criticizing Obama of late, that he lacks the experience and leadership because of his relatively new status on the national stage, to lead America. Just as importantly, as I’ll discuss below, Palin is involved in a potentially significant scandal in her home state over whether or not she used her gubernatorial power to remove a state official over acts, or non-acts, concerning her soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law.
On the first point, Palin is from Alaska, which has all of 3 electoral votes. Bush won the state easily in 2004 and, while Hays Research has Obama ahead in Alaska, it is hardly a key battleground, swing state–no offense to an Alaskans. My rather populous state isn’t either, primarily because it’s solidly Democratic and Obama will certainly win it. Vice-presidential candidates don’t have to be from swing states, but it doesn’t hurt since their main role is to stump for the presidential candidates. Being from a region, and Alaska isn’t contiguous to any other state, as well as from a state, can do much for one’s presidential aspirations. Palin brings nothing of value on that front, though as stated above, she should help galvanize the right-wing base of evangelicals. Wise move ideologically, strange move geographically.
On Palin as political newcomer, she has been Alaska’s governor for less than two years. As of July 1, 2007, it’s 47th in state population. Simply put, Palin lacks experience and also lacks experience governing a large bureaucracy. Alaska is far from unimportant, being a vital source of oil and fishing. Economically, it’s key disproportionate to its population. However, the point is that McCain’s point of attack on Obama’s lack of experience and especially in Washington is now gone, for his own VP choice has less experience and in a smaller venue than Obama. McCain simply can’t continue to travel down that path without being harshly criticized or severely mocked. Essentially, McCain shot himself in the foot by taking away one of his most serious, and somewhat effective if baseless, attack that Obama lacks the necessary experience to lead the nation. Obama has no less experience than his own VP candidate who, should McCain get elected and God forbid die, would then be the president. I’d argue that McCain’s campaign and primary strategy has been to do much more to define Obama as certain things–inexperienced, not quite American, elitist, selfish instead of selfless as a public servant, and more–rather than define himself. Obama did an amazing job of defining himself and his goals in key areas in last night’s speech. McCain’s choice doesn’t help him retort Obama’s trajectory and momentum. In fact, I think it hamstrings his ability to hamstring Obama through a campaign that’s been essentially negative, for McCain now stands in stark contrast as more experienced–than his own running mate, not necessarily his opponent. It’s akin to George H.W. Bush choosing Dan Quayle.
I’m most shocked by Palin because of the third reason, the possibility that Palin abused her authority to fire Alaska’s head of the Department of Public Safety Walt Monegan over his refusal to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who is apparently going through a nasty divorce from Palin’s sister. Full disclosure: I knew nothing of this probe and potential scandal until this morning, through TPM Muckraker. Whether or not it’s true, I don’t know. But early indications signal at least smoke, if not fire, for the TPM Muckraker report links a recorded phone conversation involving a Palin aide, Frank Bailey, who Palin said did this on his own (which I don’t believe for a second; it makes no sense) who said:
“The Palins can’t figure out why nothing’s going on,” Bailey said in the recorded phone call. “So Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads saying ‘Why is this guy representing the department, he’s a horrible recruiting tool.’ You know? So from their perspective everybody’s protecting him. . . Audi probably disagrees with me, Walt [Monegan] does and I understand it’s really touchy, but I just want you to understand that cops that use excessive force or go out of the lines, they just have no tolerance, because they’ve seen the facts personally.”
Now there’s much to this quote–the possibility that Wooten was in fact a “horrible recruiting tool” and worthy of bring fired. I don’t know. But I do know that there is at best the allusion of impropriety when the governor fired the person who refused to fire her soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law when the first sentence above, which was recorded, certainly implies a strong personal interest in Wooten’s being fired. Coincidence? Possibly, but I don’t think so. Given that McCain introduced Palin as “…exactly who I need, she’s exactly who this country needs, to help me fight…the same old Washington politics of me first and country second,” this possible scandal not only bears watching, but also if true reeks of “the same old Washington politics” of scandal, revenge, and unaccountability that has long infested Washington, as brazenly as ever under Bush and the Republicans. Did McCain and his staff think the possible scandal, which is being investigated, wouldn’t matter, wouldn’t get reported, wouldn’t become news? How much vetting did they do? We’ll see how it’s covered, and McCain has largely gotten a pass from an allegedly liberal mainstream media (which it hardly is) for his allegedly maverick image (which he isn’t and which the allegedly liberal mainstream media has done so much to cultivate and propagate). But this is a potentially serious matter and blow to McCain. Again, an odd, risky move.
On the whole, from an analytical standpoint, choosing Palin has more negatives than positives for Mccain in my view. I don’t know if McCain figured he’d make a “maverick” choice with this, but it might cost him.