Conservative columnists such as Kathleen Parker have called for Vice Presidential contender Sarah Palin to stand down. Their reasoning is that she is so stunted on foreign policy questions that she'll drag McCain down to flaming defeat. Their call is just plain dumb. If McCain loses it won't be because of anything Palin says or does. This would be true even if he ran with Howdy Dowdy. The issue is still public fury over Bush's colossal domestic and foreign policy bumbles topped by the economic pain and misery his sleep at the wheel policies have exacerbated. If voters buy Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama's mantra pitch that McCain is a warmed over facsimile of Bush, he loses.
A VP is more than just window dressing on the presidential ticket. He/she must be able to actually help the top man win. If Obama or McCain had been able to widen the poll gap comfortably over each other the vice presidency would still be important, but not as crucial. That hasn't happened and isn't likely to happen anytime before or maybe even up until the eleventh hour on November 4th.
This might not have been the case if McCain had played it close to the vest and picked say Mitt Romney. That would have left him wide open to the rap that the best the GOP could do was put up two aging, multimillionaire white party warhorses. With the financial meltdown and public rage over Wall Street wheeling and dealing, along with the Bush administration's bailout plan that thumbs its nose at in the tank workers and middle class wage earners, Obama almost certainly would have routed that pairing on Election Day.
Palin is the only possible antidote to that. She is the signal that McCain needed to send that his administration is not simply a recycled four more years of Bush policies. Democrats wore that line out at their convention. And Team Obama will continue to pound it home relentlessly in every breath, sentence, speech, statement, and in every nook and cranny on the campaign trail. And with Bush approval ratings wallowing at ocean bottom depth and showing absolutely no sign of rising before November, the McCain-Bush Siamese Twin joined at the hip graft will remain Obama's hoped for trump card.
This is only part of the reason Palin must stay. Palin exploits the opening McCain spotted in the Democratic camp and is the fix to the problem in his camp. The opening was the fissure among Democrats, to be more exact, the legions of middle aged, centrist female Democrats who were absolutely passionate about Hillary Clinton. In exit polls in the must win battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, Hillary women said they liked her because she was a politically savvy woman, and a mother and struggling woman who mirrored many of the struggles and challenges they faced as working women. A quarter or more of them said they would bolt the party in November if Obama was the nominee. This was hot air talk for a lot of them and most have since said that they'll back Obama, but who can really be sure? If Palin does nothing else but make many of them waver in backing Obama, then that makes her a priceless asset.
This alone wouldn't guarantee that McCain could keep things close enough to eke out a victory. He also needed to make sure things were fixed with the packs of social conservatives frosty to him. There is no real danger that they are so disgusted with him that they will stampede en masse to Obama. They will wiggle their nose and vote for McCain anyway. The question though is how many will show up to vote for him? Who can really say for sure? What is sure is that in a tight race if just enough stay home, McCain will lose.
Palin is insurance that that won't happen. Even as the much of the press and the pundits continue to bash her harder than any GOP candidate since Hoover Herbert, the crowds that wildly cheer her hasn't slacked up one bit. And neither has the endless refrain from them that she's one of us. Since winning elections is still as much about which candidate can win the hearts not the heads of the voters, Palin is the one to tug at the voter's heart strings.
Palin's allure will not guarantee a McCain win, but it will not insure a McCain loss. Palin is no presidential ticket wrecker and to say that she is to repeat is just plain dumb.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).