Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sara who?

Senator John McCain – a 72-year-old cancer survivor and presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States -- has selected the first term governor of Alaska as his choice for the Republican nomination for Vice President. Sara Palin was first elected to state-wide office by a plurality in 2006. Prior to that she served as city council representative and mayor of Wasilla – a town of 5469 citizens as of the 2000 census, She came in second in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant but did win the Miss Congeniality contest in Wasilla that same year. She attended the University of Idaho where she majored in journalism.

Senator McCain has reportedly met her only once and talked to her one more time – last Sunday – by telephone. According to presidential scholars she appears to be the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era since John W. Kern, Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s 1908 running mate, who had served for four years in the Indiana state Senate and then four more as city solicitor of Indianapolis. The Democratic ticket lost to Republican standard-bearer William Howard Taft and running mate James S. Sherman by an Electoral College spread of 321-162.

Governor Palin, among other things, opposes abortion as a choice for women, opposes same-sex marriage, supports a state constitutional amendment to deny benefits to gay couples, favors the teaching of creationism in public schools, supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opposed listing polar bears as endangered, and does not believe global warming is man-made. She was a supporter of the Gravina Island Bridge (a.k.a. the “bridge to nowhere”) but withdrew state support when Alaska’s congressional delegation was unable to muster federal funds for the project. She is currently being investigated for abuse of power as governor when she fired the Alaska Public Safety Commissioner in retaliation for not firing her former brother-in-law as a state trooper. The former brother-in-law is involved in a custody disputer with the Governor’s sister.

Jim Vandehei and John F. Harris at Politico have these thoughts on the Palin selection by McCain:

1. He’s desperate. Let’s stop pretending this race is as close as national polling suggests. The truth is McCain is essentially tied or trailing in every swing state that matters — and too close for comfort in several states, such as Indiana and Montana, that the GOP usually wins pretty easily in presidential races. On top of that, voters seem very inclined to elect Democrats in general this election — and very sick of the Bush years.

McCain could easily lose in an electoral landslide. That is the private view of Democrats and Republicans alike.

McCain’s pick shows he is not pretending. Politicians, even “mavericks” like McCain, play it safe when they think they are winning — or see an easy path to winning. They roll the dice only when they know that the risks of conventionality are greater than the risks of boldness.

The Republican brand is a mess. McCain is reasonably concluding that it won’t work to replicate George W. Bush and Karl Rove’s electoral formula, based around national security and a big advantage among Y chromosomes, from 2004.

“She’s a fresh new face in a party that’s dying for one — the antidote to boring white men,” a campaign official said. …

2. He’s willing to gamble — bigtime. Let’s face it: This is not the pick of a self-confident candidate. It is the political equivalent of a trick play or, as some Democrats called it, a Hail Mary pass in football. McCain talks incessantly about experience, and then goes and selects a woman he hardly knows, who hardly knows foreign policy and who can hardly be seen as instantly ready for the presidency. …

3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age. Like a driver overcorrecting out of a swerve, he chooses someone who is two years younger than the youthful Obama and 28 years younger than he is. (He turned 72 on Friday.) The father-daughter comparison was inevitable when they appeared next to each other.

4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of his age. He thinks he’s in fine fettle and Palin wouldn’t be performing the only constitutional duty of a vice president, which is standing by in case a president dies or becomes incapacitated. If he were really concerned about an inexperienced person sitting in the Oval Office, we would be writing about vice presidential nominee Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice.

There is no plausible way McCain could say that he picked Palin, who was only elected governor in 2006 and whose most extended public service was as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population 8,471), because she was ready to be president on Day One.

Nor can McCain argue that he was looking for someone he could trust as a close adviser. Most people know the staff at the local Starbucks better than McCain knows Palin. They met for the first time last February at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington. Then, they spoke again — by phone — on Sunday while she was at the Alaska state fair and he was at home in Arizona. …

5. He’s worried about his conservative base. If he had room to maneuver, there were lots of people McCain could have selected who would have represented a break from Washington politics as usual. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman comes to mind (and it certainly came to McCain’s throughout the process). He had no such room. GOP stalwarts were furious over trial balloons about the possibility of choosing a supporter of abortion rights, including the possibility that he would reach out to his friend.

Palin is an ardent opponent of abortion who was previously scheduled to keynote the Republican National Coalition for Life's "Life of the Party" event in the Twin Cities this week.

“She’s really a perfect selection,” said Darla St. Martin, the co-director of the National Right to Life Committee. It is no secret McCain wanted to shake things up in this race — and he realized he was limited to a shake-up conservatives could stomach.
Sara Palin is no Joe Biden. If elected, she would have nothing to offer a McCain presidency in the way of governance and clearly would not be part of “the team” running the government. That is probably the way McCain wants it. The previous short list of Romney, Lieberman, and Ridge represented individuals with knowledge and experience in policy and governance. Individuals like these might disagree with a President McCain but disagreement isn't the McCain style of governance as his Senate colleagues have learned over the years.

She is strictly a token right-wing female selected to solidify his sagging support on the right and possibly attract female voters more interested in identity politics than policy. This is a gamble but as the Politico piece above makes clear, politicians gamble when their strategy is losing. Presidential candidates pick running mates who can either help with their perceived weaknesses or can move them towards the center to appeal towards a greater spectrum of voters. Palin does neither for McCain. Of course, she is young and healthy in contrast to McCain but that’s not a weakness he wants to call attention to. Her right-wing positions don’t move him towards the center but away from it. That indicates he has failed to solidify his base since becoming the presumptive nominee last spring. The fact that he is trying to do this now on Labor Day weekend means the Republicans are struggling and his internal polls show he is in trouble. He won’t be the first older man who gambled on a beauty queen and lost.

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