Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Monday, September 1, 2008

Palin On The Ticket

Ok, so far the only thing I've posted about the Palin VP news was a quick impression about identity politics. Now it's time for something a little more substantial.

Obviously, there are two main areas to consider in a vice-presidential pick. One is whether the pick is good politics, the other is whether it is good policy. I'll discuss each in turn, but here's a disclaimer before I proceed. Despite what my initial reaction may have lead people to believe, I REALLY like governor Palin. She and her husband seem like truly good and impressive people. Actually, my feelings towards them as people are very similar to how I felt about Obama prior to all the revelations we've since been party to. Obviously we have big differences in terms of our politics, but on just a personal level I liked, and wanted to like, the Senator. I even feel like, if she lives up to the hype, Palin may end up being the transformative type of politician that people initially saw Obama as. Of course, she has a long way to go, and may yet endure Quaylification at the hands of the media, so take that for what it's worth.

Now, on to the politics of the pick. In short, I think this is where McCain really scored. The rumor is that his campaign has received over $10 million since the announcement. While we have yet to see what, if any impact this will have on the race, the smart money seems to be that McCain has brought out the enthusiasm his campaign previously lacked. This may not be the same as a shift in actual votes, but it is vital in terms of word-of-mouth, GOTV efforts, volunteering, etc.

It would also seem to be a smart way to score additional points with several new demographics, chiefly the soccer/security moms. If this mythical demographic really voted for Clinton, and then Bush, their votes would seem to be based more on impressions than issues. While having a woman on the ticket won't impress the hardcore feminists that comprise Hillary's most devoted supporters, it might sway some of these soccer moms who loved her husband and were eager to get a chance to vote for a woman. When you add in to the mix that the woman in question has a very red-state collection of interests, a good-looking man's man of a husband, a son in Iraq, a touching story about keeping a disabled child, a union background, and started her political career in the PTA, you can see the potential for a shift among several voting blocks.

McCain has now also closed the likability gap. While he can be likable in a "crusty old coot" way, he's hard to identify with. So much of his story and persona is larger than life, from his years as a POW, to his oft-discussed temper. Obama, despite a certain professorial arrogance that he can display, comes across as a nice guy with a cute family. Biden, who now stands a serious risk of coming off as overbearing and even mean in a debate, did not do Obama any favors in this arena, despite what many Washington reporters like to think. Too many times he comes off as either clownish or arrogant. Not a particularly good spectrum to swing through.

Lastly, I think that McCain has opened up a whole new world of possibilities as far as subject areas where his campaign can now go on the offensive. While McCain has always been a social conservative, there have been times where he has seemed uncomfortable talking about those values, especially when the focus is on so-called "women's issues". Palin obviously won't have to worry about being perceived as a stuffy old white guy on these topics. She can also speak convincingly on energy issues and drilling, can talk to union members, and can identify more easily with working families.

The only political disadvantage to Palin is of course, the question of experience. McCain has been beating that particular drum often in this campaign. Both sides will go back and forth. Is it better to have 20 months of service as a governor, or slightly less time as a senator before involving oneself in a presidential campaign? Does the time Obama has served in the Senate since announcing his candidacy really count as experience, since he isn't doing much real Senate work? What about Palin's time as a mayor? Worthwhile experience? If so, is it more or less valuable than time in the state legislature? I think though, that there are two arguments that will potentially break through all of the noise and sophistry about who is more inexperienced. The first, and most obvious is that Palin is running for VP, not president. Although the Obama camp will try to blur this distinction with mentions of McCain's advanced age, the bottom line is that Obama will be inexperienced from day 1. Palin may be inexperienced, but will she still be on day 1,502, if something happens to John McCain?

The second argument that might break through the noise is to compare accomplishment rather than experience. Governor Palin unseated a sitting governor in her primary, then defeated a popular former governor in the general election. Barack Obama faced a crowded primary field without serious opposition, and then only had to beat a late replacement who wasn't even a resident of the state in the general election. In her first run for mayor Palin also beat a sitting incumbent, whereas Obama simply got all his primary opposition disqualified before coasting to general election victory in a safe district. Once in office, Palin championed a natural gas pipeline, took on the Bush administration over it's decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species, passed ethics reform, and killed the "bridge to nowhere". She has lived the post-partisanship that Obama talks about, taking on her state party's chairman and the state attorney general, forcing both men to resign. She has also endorsed her Lt. Governor's bid to unseat Alaska's corrupt congressman Don Young, and has openly challenged Senator Ted Stevens to come clean over the federal investigation into his financial dealings. What has Obama done that is in any way comparable?

(To be continued...)