McCain's stunning choice of the ex-beauty queen, evangelical half-term Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin may be one of the biggest political gambles in modern political history. But if the Democrats can avoid over-the-top sexism in belittling her, the pick could be a major boon to the Obama-Biden ticket.
At the same time, as Dana Goldstein cautions at The American Prospect's blog, Palin's proved to be surprisingly popular in initial polling, including being rated positively by 63 percent of unaffiliated voters, and 78 percent of Republicans.
Goldstein argues, "Independent pro-choice women won't be taken in by McCain's pandering choice, but that doesn't mean the American public will respond kindly to the vilification of this woman. She is attractive, and a working mom doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world -- raising a child with a disability." As a result, Goldstein advises, Democrats should stick to criticizing her on the issues, such as her extreme views on abortion and global warming, rather than attacking her directly as an air-head lightweight.
Indeed, Obama's first ad citing Palin avoided attacking her qualifications, but focused on her as part of the McCain team's "no change" policies on Iraq and the economy.
But she could still be a gift to Democrats, because, The Anchorage Daily News reports, Palin is scheduled to be deposed before the election in a blossoming scandal involving the apparently improper firing of the state's top public safety officer as revenge for not sacking Palin's former brother-in-law.
Now Democrats can say together, in a paraphrase of the famous put-down by Lloyd Bentsen, "I knew Dan Quayle, Dan Quayle was a friend of mine, and you, Governor, are no Dan Quayle."
She is so manifestly unqualified to be a "heartbeat away" from the Presidency, just three years away from being a small-town mayor, that the selection could be used to add to the unfolding "temperament" narrative the Obama campaign is seeking to apply to McCain. And it neutralizes the "dangerously unprepared" mantra that McCain has used as the centerpiece of his campaign's lowball attacks on Obama.
On top of that, the pick could reinforce the deserved sexist reputation of John McCain, because the selection of Palin reflects a condescending view of women, especially Hillary supporters, as being so stupid they'll rush to back the GOP ticket just because Palin is a woman. It's not unlike the way George H.W. Bush picked Dan Quayle in part because Bush's team thought Quayle was so good-looking he would draw women to the ticket. As Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly points out:
Where do politicians get the idea that women, in lemming-like style, will vote for a presidential ticket because a woman is on it?
Women rallied to Hillary Clinton because they saw she'd paid her dues and because she'd earned her stripes in the Senate. And, lest we forget, Clinton supports the right to terminate a pregnancy.
Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. She hasn't paid her dues yet. And she's adamantly anti-abortion.
That's just an awfully big leap. Rather than seeing Palin as a draw, a lot of women are going to be insulted that John McCain thought we could be swayed so easily.
Will the Democrats have the smarts and toughness to take advantage of this misguided pick --without offending women in the process? That's yet to be seen, given their traditional ineptness at launching effective attacks, the "smear gap" that has undermined Democratic Presidential campaigns for decades.
But it was quite a rash choice that could be used to go after McCain's campaign on several fronts, from ethics to McCain's quick-triggered temperament to the GOP's closeness to Big Oil during a slowing economy.
The decision was fueled by McCain's desire to "shake up the ticket," as ABC reported, so that McCain only met her once and the team had just a few days to vet her thoroughly . But the vetting wasn't thorough enough -- as shown by the scandal involving her firing of the state's public safety commissioner because he wouldn't fire his sister's ex-husband, a state trooper.
Yes, she's attractive and personable, and her appeal shouldn't be underestimated, as Washington Monthly editor and former Alaska reporter Charles Homans points out:
Palin can legitimately claim the maverick reformist credentials that McCain himself has long since lost. Her pro-life record helps McCain with the Republican base, her gender might lure away a few Hillary bitter-enders, and her youth goes a little way towards compensating one of McCain's major weaknesses. Palin also manages the Obama-esque feat of commanding a great deal of popularity among people who don't really know what she stands for--Dave Dittman, an Anchorage-based pollster, who has done a lot of polling and thinking about this, pointed out to me several months ago that Palin was maintaining a 85 percent approval rating among Alaskan voters even when her policies (particularly a natural gas line deal that has been a signature ambition of her administration) polled far short of that, and even when voters had trouble accurately describing her political leanings.
But in the rush to approve her, McCain's savvy advisers apparently didn't use the Google on the Interweb to discover an issue that undercuts her anti-corruption credentials: She's facing that tawdry scandal, now under investigation by the state legislature, involving an effort to sack the state's top cop.
Here are some details from the Anchorage Daily News you'll no doubt hear more about in the weeks ahead:
Some call it Troopergate.
Palin's abrupt dismissal of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan is now being investigated by a special counsel hired by the Alaska Legislature as to whether there was any official misconduct.
The Legislature is spending up to $100,000 "to investigate the circumstances and events surrounding the termination of former Public Safety Commissioner Monegan, and potential abuses of power and/or improper actions by members of the executive branch."
The investigation is supposed to wrap up by Oct. 31.
At issue is whether Palin, her administration or family improperly pressured Monegan to fire Alaska state trooper Michael Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin's sister, and whether Palin fired Monegan when that didn't happen. Palin's sister, Molly McCann, and Wooten are divorced but still battling in court over custody and visitation.
Palin will be deposed along with others in the governor's office and former administration officials, said state Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat and former state prosecutor from Anchorage who is serving as the project director for the investigation. The special counsel just this week was trying to arrange the deposition, French said.
The investigation will continue, despite Palin's newfound prominence, French said.
"I think it raises the profile but it doesn't really change the mission or the work," the senator said.
So she's a clueless foreign policy naif anti-choice evangelical who faces an ongoing corruption investigation.
But surely she could help bolster McCain's perceived weakness on the economy and chumminess with Big Oil, yes?
Not quite: She's essentially overseen falling job growth in the once-booming state, and is largely in the pocket of Big Oil at a time of sky-high gas prices at the pump. She also dismisses the notion that global warming is man-made. As the Center for American Progress sums up:
With the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not backing down from oil drilling. Palin is a champion for drilling, the Bush-Cheney approach to energy policy that brought us $4.00-per-gallon gasoline and the rising threat of global warming.
Like McCain, Palin believes that oil drilling is the only solution to our energy problems. "I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can't drill our way out of our problem," she says. She supports more drilling in protected areas of the Outer Continental Shelf and the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge, once attacking McCain for his "close-mindedness on ANWR."
But the Department of Energy believes that offshore drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." Moreover, about three-quarters of all the oil in public lands in the continental U.S. are already open to drilling - and yet only one quarter of this oil is under production. Opening the Arctic Refuge would cut gasoline prices by two cents in 17 years. For that, Palin would destroy the home of America's native polar bears. Not even T. Boone Pickens still thinks we can drill our way out of this crisis.
Palin rejects clean renewable energy that is an alternative to oil. Earlier this month, she claimed that "alternative-energy solutions are far from imminent and would require more than 10 years to develop."
Alaska has become the "poster state" for the threat of global warming as the climate gets hotter and dryer and sea levels rise. More than 100 towns are vulnerable due to eroding sea lines. Polar bears are threatened by the melting ice floats, and this month bears were spotted swimming as much as 50 miles offshore.
It's small wonder that right-wing bloggers find themselves, by day's end, having to praise the choice of Palin, to cover their dismay that she'll turn into an albatross who will sink their presidential hopes.
In the meantime, we can enjoy their half-hearted spin and rationalizations about why she makes such an excellent choice. As Powerline observed, half-jokingly, "Palin could help McCain with several demographics, like the pageant community."
Yet, in this age of personality-based politics, Democrats would be foolish to underestimate the appeal she may have to many voters -- but still be ready to go on the attack against McCain for making her selection the first disastrous national security decision of his potential administration.
She also initially supported the notorious "bridge to nowhere" before federal funding for the project was cut, despite her claims otherwise during her talk Friday. As The New Republic reported:
Republicans have been heavily touting Sarah Palin's reformist credentials, with her supposed opposition to Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" as Exhibit A. But how hard did she really fight the project? Not very, it seems. Here's what she told the Anchorage Daily News on October 22, 2006, during the race for the governor's seat (via Nexis):
5. Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?
Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.
So she was very much for the bridge and insisted that Alaska had to act quickly--the party of Ted Stevens and Don Young might soon lose its majority, after all. By that point, the project was endangered for reasons that had nothing to do with Palin--the bridge had become a national laughingstock, Congress had stripped away the offending earmark, shifting the money back to the state's general fund, and future federal support seemed unlikely.