10/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Handle this Woman: A Playbook for the Democrats

John McCain's announcement last Friday morning that Sarah Palin, the obscure political neophyte who currently holds the largely ceremonial post of Governor of Alaska would be his running mate, stunned the political world. It also annoyed the political world, which is known for reacting to anything flying under its radar rather like the Strategic Air Command might.

With so little advance notice to prepare a "take" on Gov. Palin, the chattering classes lapsed into one of their analytical defaults. Anything unforeseen is, necessarily, a "Hail Mary." Now I will admit that John McCain is the sort of impulsive eccentric who is perfectly capable of throwing a Hail Mary when the game is tied and there's plenty of time on the clock, rather than call a dull series of running (Tim Pawlenty) and passing (Mitt Romney) plays. And, to the Fourth Estate, it must have seemed as though Lord Nelson had decided to fire on one of his own ships at Trafalgar to confuse the French.

But, let's just consider the possibility that McCain acted neither crazily or stupidily in choosing a rootin', tootin', shootin' lady politician from an Electorally worthless province of Canada to be his understudy. First of all, the Palin announcement bounced the Democratic Convention and Barack Obama's speech out of the news-cycle even before its 24-hour sell-by date. What was Obama saying about McCain and George Bush the other night? Who cares? Did you hear that Sarah Palin has a giant lacquered King Crab on her office coffee table?

Palin is also exactly the sort of debate opponent who could cause an incapacitating flare-up of Joe Biden's chronic verbal diarrhea. If she's smart -- or smart enough -- she can probably just sit back and watch him flounder. Biden, who never starts a sentence with an exit strategy in place, could easily seem like one of those bullies his mother had such a problem with.

For all we know, she could be like Eddie Gaedel, the 3-foot 7-inch pinch hitter for the St. Louis Browns. Eddie never hit any home runs, but his strike zone was so small that it was impossible not to walk him.

Then, just as the media flabbergastation was dying down in the midst of a three-anchor (plus Anderson Cooper) commitment to Hurricane Gustav and Labor Day lassitude, it flared anew with the revelation that Palin's 17-year-old unmarried daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. Now, surely the moment had arrived when John McCain would pop out and announce that he was just kidding and how about a nice round of applause for a great American, Tom Ridge, everybody.

But, yet again, the compulsive gloaters ("This is a great day to be alive," a blogger wrote. Someone else posted, "Dear God: I'm sorry I said I didn't believe in You, and thanks very much.") wrote Sarah Palin off prematurely.

While a teenage daughter with a bun in the oven might have embarrassed some old-line country club Republicans, Gov. Palin's core constituency are not likely to be terribly bothered by it. The rough-and-ready right wing of the Party has known a few unwed pregnant 17-year-old daughters in its time. And the fundamentalist Christians among them are awfully big (and genuinely sincere) in their belief that we are all sinners. They are a little more selective about forgiveness but unless the father turns out to be Rosie O'Donnell, Bristol and Sarah Palin can probably count on some of that, as well.

Still, I'm sure this is a "distraction" both McCain and Palin would have rather done without. So, why, is Sarah Palin still a smart running mate for John McCain?

What Palin has accomplished for McCain is that she helped to define his opponent -- and not in a flattering way. The media, both mainstream and blogocentric, fell into a trap by reacting with astonishment and then disdain to the notion that a title character from "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" had been selected for the second-highest office in the land. When the immediate response to her was WTF? followed by a cavalcade of catty columns and posts, the elitist, Eastern establishment tenor of the anti-Palin forces became clear quickly. Obama's defenders were acting just like the Ivory Towered snobs that the other side says they are. When the media took the same general line, they proved themselves to be secret elitist Obama supporters through simple transitive arithmetic. A= B=C.

No, rather than rely on the startling facts we know so far and any that will come out in the days ahead to sink the McCain-Palin ticket, the Democrats have to acknowledge that their point-of-view may not be universal. Defects can be in the eye of the beholder. While Sarah Palin may seem to some like a sort of Republican Party Girl -- Kathleen Harris without the killer instinct -- to others she's an immensely appealing Jane Six-Pack. If they want to win, Senator Obama's surrogates must not wait for the scales to fall from the public's eyes so that they see Sarah Palin as she is and find her preposterous. Democrats must tarnish her on her own terms. Continuing to point out that she doesn't have a lot in common with Maureen Dowd and Tina Fey isn't going to get them anywhere.

Here, then, are a few suggested talking points based, for the most part, on lies and half-truths because, so far, the truth is having insufficient traction. (And, to be fair, I'm glad to offer my help to the Republicans in undermining Joe Biden, though I have a feeling that Biden doesn't need my help to do that.)

Instead of harping on her NRA membership and enthusiasm for killing defenseless wild animals, Democrats should hint darkly that Palin uses a fancy foreign-made Beretta T-3 rifle rather than a fine, decent American gun like a Remington VS SF II.

And can't Keith Olbermann find anyone from Alaska who will say that she's really not that great a shot and only joined the NRA in order to get discount car insurance?

Instead of tsk-tsking about Bristol Palin's pregnancy, Obamaites should start wondering aloud what sort of names "Bristol," "Piper," "Track," "Willow," and "Trig" are in the first place. They sound an awful lot like the next five Pitt-Jolie kids. What's wrong with Matthew, Mark, Prudence, Sally, and John?

Okay, her husband's a snowmobile racer. But from what I've been told the race that he's won four times, the Tesoro Iron Dog, is regarded by people who know as a "bullshit" snowmobile race that is strictly for beginners.

Yes, Saran Palin came in second in the Miss Alaska pageant in 1984 but she never really took pageants seriously.

And, by the way, she's not actually a native Alaskan. She was born "back East" in Sandpoint, Idaho.

The girl's high school basketball team on which the played (and where she earned the nickname "Sarah Barracuda") siphoned much-needed funds from boys' teams.

And, finally, as a former sports reporter with a degree in journalism, she's a part of the mainstream media, the most hated and distrusted group in this country.

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