In the debate that has shown more legs (no pun intended) than the Biden pick, the arguments raging over whether Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate are pretty well divided. There’s the side that says it’s a great move, a ‘game changer’, and it’s tactically smart. Then there’s the other side, my side, that says it’s a desperate move, a nothing selection, and stands to hurt more than help. For my initial reactions to the pick, you can check out the comments on this post. Here I’ll flesh them out and, with the benefit of a new context in which the Republicans are in (no, not in terms of the VP selection, rather the threat that hurricane Gustav is posing to South-West states).
Unfortunately, I find it hard to list things that are purely good and positive reasons for picking her. So forgive me if it gets confusing that whenever I say something is a positive reason for having her as VP, I follow up with a deconstruction and disproving of that same statement. So where to begin?
She’s a woman. Socially, and in a non-political sense, the fact that the Republican ticket will have a woman running for as vice president is a step in the right direction. No, she will not be the first woman VP candidate – the Democrats did it first with Geraldine Ferraro (yes, the same one blog about previously here) in 1984. Politically however, it’s less clear cut. It’s an attempt, by McCain and his campaign, to swing over disgruntled Clinton supporters. And it doesn’t take a trained political eye to see that.
Will it work? It will depend on policy (such is my opinion here) more than the symbolism behind the pick. Based on this, on the idea that policy will inform voters more than them being mindless zombies who vote for pictures with name badges, one has to consider how well Palin’spositions will gel withwomen voters. Her super-anti-abortion position (opposed to abortion in cases of rape and incest) is a view that 90% of Americans, per the latest polling, disagree with. Assuming that women make up for than just a 51%, or 46% in the case of 90%, in that poll, Palin begins behind the ball.
It’s safe to assume that Palin’s right-wing stance, in general, is against what a majority of women (because the Democratic party has more women voters than men) are politically aligned with. When I say majority here, it is a close line, certainly not more than 10%. Policy-wise then, the McCain campaign is going to have a hard time of trying to win over a significant proportion of women voters with justa VP pick. They are going to have to sping three different stories at the same time – that Palinis a woman you should vote for because she would become VP (the story for the women) and could get in control; McCain is going to be the man in charge (for the party); McCain might have picked an inexperienced VP, but it won’t matter because he will serve his term in full (a defense to the attacks on his age). Those three narratives just don’t work well together. It’s like oil and water and … something that doesn’t mix with oil and water.
Returning to symbolism, because I know there are people who think this plays more than policy. Let’s accept now that the vast majority of African-American women (who are registered more with Democrats) will not see her as any more appealing than having Barack Obamaas president. Because that’s what the question voters who are being targeted with the Palin pick have to ask themselves – would I rather see Barack Obama be president or Sarah Palin as vice president. That’s the symbolic question. The question of what would non-African American women voters do in terms of this symbolic question is difficult to say. I say that it’s a decision they will make on policy. But, symbolically, what would they do? Women, in the latest polls, are more skepticalof Palin than they are not.
Let’s turn to experience. For months now, years even, Obama has been railed for not having enough experience. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards tried and failed during the Democratic primaries. John McCain has been doing it since he became the presumptive nominee. And now it’s all about to (finally) stop. That’s because Sarah Palin has less political experience than anyone left in this two-party race. But how will this factor in?
It could be good. Obama is campaigning for change, right? Here’s a woman who might have spent a holiday weekend in Washington, D.C., once, and that’s the extent she has been ‘tainted’ by the dirty capital. Less experience generally means less things to be criticised for, less chance of a political scandal, and more chance to paint your own image as is best for the national electorate. She was the mayor of Wasilla for 6 years, and has been governor of Alaska for 1 and a half now. These are roles I expect to be taken into consideration because I include Obama’s state service as something to be considered.
But let’s not just accept the label ‘executive experience’ as something that automatically entitles you to be labeled as a better candidate, a great choice, and a game changer. She was the mayor of a town with a population of less than 6000 by the time she left that office. She is the governor of a state that has the 478thsmallest population with 683,478 in 2007 estimates. I don’t criticise the state of Alaska for not being more ‘productive’, what I do criticise is that people think the experience Palin has gained from these roles accurately reflects the type of executive experience that is required to do a good job as president.
And I won’t make bones about it – Obama and Biden has no executive experience. But neither does McCain. This begs the question: Is Palin, therefore, more experienced or more qualified to be president than McCain? I doubt anyone would answer yes to that. But in terms of political experience, Obama and Biden and McCain all have much more than Palin. The job of the president is a lot of learning while doing. Let’s not pretend that it’s not. There is no other job like it in the word. But having a sound political knowledge base, an understanding of how D.C. works from having been there long enough to figure it out (as if you could ever figure U.S. politics out), will be more beneficial than the ‘executive experience’ that Alaska gave to Palin.
So this begs the (quick) question of does time in D.C. then equate to being a better president? No is my response. I believe you could spend too long in D.C. and get caught up in the whole dirty politics of it. If so, Ted Stevens, the senator from (surprise) Alaska and the longest serving Republican senator, would be running for president as the Republican candidate. But look at his current indictment for bribes and ethical breeches.
That’s getting off track. Bringing it back, Palin has a shorter record of experience than Obama or Biden, regardless of what type of experience it might be. And she will be as close to being president as Biden will be – Biden the extremely experienced senator who polls indicate a majority of people think is qualified to be VP. So the voters will be asked this question: Do I want to vote for a ticket that has a person who has been a governor for 1.5 years as the VP, or do I want a 35 year serving senator in the waiting? That’s the question, not who has more executive experience or who has run what for longer. The competition is not between Palin and Obama on this front, it’s between Palin and Biden.
As a result of her lacking experience, any attack that McCain’s campaign might make about Obama being less experienced than McCain, the Obama team can simply retort that the person in waiting is less experienced than any candidate in the race. It’s a pre-made advert already. So you will see McCain refrain from using any attacks on experience from here on in because he has that weakness on his own ticket if he opens that door. He will keep that door closed and locked.
He really shouldn’t have locked the door, because that was the #1 thing that McCain had on Obama. Now, he has very, very little. And if someone tells me foreign policy is McCain’s advantage, I’ll point out to them that his foreign policy views are disagreed withby more than 60% of American voters. It’s more of the same with McCain – more war, more delusions, more Bush. But how does this relate to Palin?
She has nil, none, no foreign policy experience whatsoever. Literally none. With her in charge if McCain were unable to serve out his term(s), the voters will be asked do you want Palin or Biden to be that person? Biden who is themost respected senator on foreign policy bar none, or Palin? Even Obama has foreign policy experience – a seat on the Foreign Relations, and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Senate committees, and is chairman of the European Affairs subcommittee. No, this is not as extensive as McCain’s foreign policy experience, but it is some that should be counted and not ignorantly discounted.
Moving on to the next thing – how will the pick be viewed? Will it be seen as a great idea or a blatant attempt to get women voters. I say the latter, and I’ll tell you why. McCain hardly knows Palin, she is the least experienced VP around, and he has put her a heartbeat away from being president. McCain stated that his top priority for his VP would be someone who is qualified to step in and be president. Few will believe he was sincere to that pledge with his pick. And it comes in the light of Hillary Clinton losing to Obama in the primary. It reeks of consolation prize. The question is will women voters ignore this, or will they flock to her? I’ve made my answer clear on this already.
From this, it looks like a desperate move. Why do something desperate if you’re in this ‘close race’ that everyone (nearly) is talking about? Why take a hugegamble and a big risk and pick Palin when picking Romney for economic clout, Huckabee for religious security, Pawlenty for executive experience? It means that the race is not close that it needed a game changer from McCain because the game was against him! This is logic. Simple logic. If you need to bust out a game changer, then that obviously means you have to change the game because it’s not in your advantage.
Reports come out that the mass media discounts, because they don’t sell and require the audience to think, that the McCain internal polling, as well as the Obama internal polling, has data coming out that Obama is in a much better position than national polling suggests. I’ll quote from one of my comments as to why this is the case:
The polls are not tight. You look at it at a national level, much like the media does. You, and the media, have it all wrong. This is a race for state EVs. Remember that next time you look at a national poll that has polled people:
- From states that won’t change hands;
- At proportions from the 2004 election;
- Changing times of days;
- Different times of the week
Each of these will wildly change the results of a poll. Getting a proportion of black respondents relative to 04 levels will be nothing near the levels of African-American turnout this year. Similarly, Democrats have registered more than a million new voters, while the Republicans have lost registered voters.
Obama is winning all of the Kerry states. Bush won against Kerry 286 to 252. So start just on that. Iowa is going to Obama – 259. New Mexico will go to Obama – 264. He’s 5 EVs away from a tie (which he will win) and 6EVs short of an outright win, meaning he needs just one of the following swing states:
- North Carolina
Or a combination of the following states that are close between the two:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Go flip a coin 7 times and see if you get at least 1 heads from 7 tails. Seriously, because McCain *must* win all those 7 swing states. National polling doesn’t tell you this because national polling suggests the race is close – it is not. National polling fuels the media who want to make everything to look like suspense and anger are running the race. It is not.
The internal data that I talk about shows that Obama is very strong in Colorado and Nevada. That’s the race over there. But he is also in a dead heat at the moment for Virginia and Ohio, while Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana is 5% differences. All Obama has to do is pick 3 of the big, expensive swing states, and there is no way McCain can defend the 3 while also ensuring that all the other states don’t fall to Obama.
That’s the game McCain’s pick of Palin was hoping to change. Will it change it? It will change some things, but I doubt it will change the game as much as people think. No VP pick has ever had a large positive impact on increasing voters for the presidential candidate. Well, not since Abe Lincoln. What it will change is how people view McCain. And all of the above, and more that I will get to, compound the issue of confusion about McCain. He used to be the ‘maverick’, but not only has he ran to the right, he has picked someone so far right she might as well be the ‘t’ in the word. He talks about how his VP should be ready to step into the job, but he’s picked someone who it can be argued is not. It absolutely magnifies the question about his age tenfold, and he has been trying to avoid that for obvious reasons. And he is targeting Clinton voters, but takes a gamble on a move that is likely to push a lot of them away. What is he doing?
Let’s take up one of those points – that she is a hardcore right-wing person. Who is that possibly going to appeal to? It won’t Democratic voters, and it won’t to Independents. It only appeals to the right – which could be a good thing … if McCain was still ‘maverick’, then it would make sense. But he has been suring himself up to the right for months now. His pick was something done obviously to appease the Republican machine. Palin is anti-abortion, she has ties to big oil, wants to teach creationism in the classroom, wants to drill for oil and do it now, she is being endorsed by right-wing pundits everywhere all the way to Rush Limbaugh, and she supported a Nazi-sympathiser for president. You don’t get much more right-wing than that than actually busting out Pat Buchanan – the guy who is the Nazi sympathiser! Who is this pick really going to appeal to?
How is it going to sure up the Jewish vote in Florida? The Latino vote in Nevada? The urban votes in swing states? The new North belt of blue Democrat suburbs forming in Virginia? The blue collar vote in Ohio? These are the swing states that McCain needs to defend. And he has picked someone who really won’t have any policy appeal to the people who are losing houses, can’t afford petrol (her ‘drill now’ stance might, but it can be spun straight away to short term band-aid and not a long term fix, not caring about the future of the environment, and anti-global warming), are losing their jobs, and who hate the war.
And then, if her positions aren’t enough of ‘more of the same’, she’s already caught up in one ethics investigation in Alaska, she’s got another in her closet too. That is more of the same – and she hasn’t even been in Washington! She appointed a man to a government position that should not have – a man accused of sexual harassment. Want some more of the same? She vetoed a bill, her first, that would have enabled health benefits to partners of gay employees.
Oh, and she loves hunting. Dick Cheney 2.0 right here!
How is this pick a game changer? McCain was already losing the game – and now his pick means he is still losing the game. Which of the 10 swing states is this going to lock up and give Obama only 9 paths to walk to the White House? Ok, if she doesn’t do anything voter wise, how does she negate any attacks from Obama on age? On experience? On ethics? On more of the same? On policy?
She just doesn’t. And what’s the worst part is that she needs to be branded. Not re-branded, because the US, for the most part, hasn’t heard of her. She needs her first branding. And because it’s being done in a general election, and not before, Obamais going to have a say as well with the ads and speeches that his campaign comes out with. Expect Hillary Clinton to campaign twice as much now. Expect to hear her talking about real change, and not tokenistic change. And being branded is going to take money and time in the swing states that McCain doesn’t have. Ignoring just one of those 7 states means a loss in the election.
People don’t know her because she hasn’t done anything nationally. How will she fare under the pressure? That’s a gamble in itself. McCain makes enough gaffs for two campaigns. What if Palin starts? Sometimes it takes just one, and it will ruin any slim chance you have. The VP debates, while not election deciders, will be very important and covered extensively. Do we really think she will beat Biden?
The benefit of being a woman here means that the Obama campaign is pushed into a corner to really cover their backs in terms of gaffs. Make one misconstrued comment that comes off as sexist, and the race is suddenly in shambles. It’s the same for McCain and Obama’s race – he can’t say anything at all, because it will be construed negatively whatever it is. It’s the same here, and Obama and Biden both need to be on their best behaviour.
Finally, and this will be the last point, the Palin pick makes Obama look safer. For months now he has had to battle attacks wherein he was cast as the gamble pick and McCain was the safe choice. It didn’t work too well, but it certainly won’t work now. Pick Obama and you have a president who can run the country and you have a VP who can run the country. Pick Obama and you have a president with foreign policy experience and you have a VP with foreign policy experience. Obama has been campaigning for months now, and has been square in the public eye. People are used to him and the sight of him. He isn’t scary anymore. And the thought of having a black president has been out and swirling around for over a year now. And it might not be what everyone wants, but people are desensitised to it. People are not desensitised to having a female Republican VP yet. It will take time – more time and more money.
So judgement? The Palin pick is not a game changer, is not the best pick, and I don’t think a gamble that was necessary or will pay off. Palin as VP, however, is a media grab (and it did, for 2 days), an attention getter (and it did, for 2 days), and something that gets people talking. But now, with the RNC canceled for the most part because of hurricane Gustav, any momentum that the Palin pick would have garnered has been stopped, the media isn’t focused on Republicans, rather the hurricane, and all the talk of her has died already.
Sarah Palin was either the worst best pick that was out there or the best worst pick.