Friday, August 29, 2008

Miss Congeniality

Back in 1964, when Barry Goldwater picked obscure NY Congressman William Miller as his VP nominee, Democrats came up with this bit of doggerel:

I’ve got a riddle and it’s a diller
Who the hell is William Miller?

So with the choice of an obscure Alaska Governor (is there another kind?), let me contribute this:

Iraq’s a mess, the economy’s failin’
And John McCain picked Sarah Palin??

Who is Sarah Palin? She is a right-wing icon: anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-home schooling, in favor of teaching creationism, anti-stem cell research. She also has as little experience as any person who has ever run for national office. She is in favor of drilling in ANWAR and doesn’t think polar bears should be an endangered species. She doesn’t think global warming is man-made, but has created a commission to study its effects on Alaska.
She has already contributed perhaps the most surreal moment in American political history, as the Republican presumptive nominee for Vice President finished her first speech praising Hillary Clinton. If any of Hillary’s voters actually cross over to vote for her, they should be shot, since she is as far politically from Hillary as anyone could be, genitalia excepted.
What was the McCain campaign thinking? My guess is that this makes the base extremely happy and enthusiastic, as the religious right loves her. It does sort of blow a hole in their attacks on Obama’s experience. What they are likely to do is work on the concept of two maverick Republicans, ready to take on the establishment at the drop of a hat. McCain has a bunch of things where he went against the party leadership, from campaign financing to immigration, from global warming to Iraq strategy. She took power in Alaska by defeating a Republican, cleaned up the state government by firing a number of Republican appointees, and enforced ethics regulations while creating new ones. This willingness will be contrasted to Obama’s steadfast party regularity, never opposing the Democratic leadership, and will be referred to as demonstrating gutsy leadership, while Obama is just a follower. This argument could work with some independents who fear partisanship more than anything.
This morning, every Republican had the key talking point down pat – every one of them said “she is very well-qualified”, like saying it made it true. In reality, she is one of the least qualified VP candidates ever. Expect the Democrats to use the phrase “a heartbeat away from the Presidency” as often as possible. She will help in certain areas – religious, pro-gun parts of Midwest states, like western PA, eastern OH, and with her accent, she should play very well in rural MN. Being a MILF shouldn’t hurt her on the campaign trail either, although less makeup might be good – this is the one job where seeing a few more lines in her face could help.
Two weeks from now, she will be debating Joe Biden on national TV. Biden will have to be careful in how he handles her, but she has a lot of learning to do in a short time. It could be grisly. On the other hand, she has a good deal of TV experience, having been a sportscaster in Anchorage (her career goal was working for ESPN), so she should be cool under the lights.
Does this help or hurt McCain’s chances? I think it hurts, because his age and cancer history should make people a little nervous about such an inexperienced VP. I also think they don’t look good together. He makes her look too young, she makes him look older – and neither of those is a good idea. Still, it’s a more interesting choice than Tim Pawlenty, and it could serve as a good audition for the darling of the religious right and doctrinaire conservatives.
Fun Facts About Sarah Palin
1. She was a basketball player in high school. She played point guard in the state championship with a stress fracture in her leg – take that, Kerry Strug.
2. She and Cindy McCain were both in beauty pageants – so they should have no trouble smiling or waving for the next two months
3. She was runner-up in the 1964 Miss Alaska pageant – beating, I assume, two Eskimos and a moose.
4. She won Miss Congeniality is that pageant – the moose bit one of the judges, I believe.
5. Her talent in the pageant was playing the flute – one time, in band camp…

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The First Decision

A good deal of nonsense is written about VP choices. Pundits analyze about how a VP nominee can help win states, or voter groups, mostly ignoring how little they really do either. The last VP who can have a state victory attributed to him was Walter Mondale in 1980. And in the last 50 years, only Mondale and LBJ can be said to have determined elections by virtue of winning a state the candidate might not have.
What VP candidates can do is make those potential voters who have doubts about the Presidential nominee more comfortable. Remember, for most Americans, this is the first decision they see a potential President make, and if they are looking for a signal, this is where they get it. When the candidate is an insurgent type, running against Washington, the choice tends to lean toward someone with foreign policy credibility, as outsiders rarely have that. The history of this is that winning outsiders always pick someone everyone knows and has the missing experience the top guy lacks. So Reagan picked Bush, Clinton picked Gore, Bush picked Cheney – choices which confused people a bit, since Reagan and Bush had a nasty campaign, remember “voodoo economics”? Pundits were stunned at Clinton picking Gore, since they represented the same demographic and region. But the choices worked, as people knew them and were comforted by the expertise they brought.
This was why the choice of Joe Biden was right. There are many voters who have doubts about Obama’s experience, especially in foreign policy. Many more don’t know him and had he chosen someone they didn’t know either, it would have hurt. Biden, regardless of what you think of him personally, is a politician of substance, a heavyweight whose knowledge of the world is not questioned by anyone. To those waiting for a signal from Obama, this is the one they needed. Older people in particular know and respect Biden. I expect this, combined with the convention, to give him a big jump in the polls, moving him over 50%.
A word about Biden himself : I have serious problems with Biden, who has been a water-carrier for the banking industry in some very unpleasant ways and whose foreign policy expertise has not stopped him from being horribly wrong from time to time. But Biden, more than anything, is a real person. His personal tragedies have given him the kind of underpinning most politicians don’t have. A middle-class upbringing is a good thing, especially because his father had been wealthier before financial setbacks reduced him to a working stiff. After the death of his first wife and child, he chose to commute to work, taking the train to and from Washington every day, so he would be there for his kids. He still does it, like most Americans. Those people waving at him this morning as he left for Illinois were not just waving at a famous guy who was from their town, they were waving at a neighbor. Oh yeah, he knows how many homes he has – one

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