10/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

7 Days: McCain and Palin -- "Candidacy First," w/ Shrum, Podesta, Reagan & Green

Obama said he wouldn't question McCain's motives or patriotism, but I can: a man who said that Islamic terrorism is the #1 issue of our time has put political tactics above country and constitution by choosing a complete rookie as his VP nominee. Objectively, when you combine Dan Quayle and Chauncey Gardiner, you get Sarah Palin.

Two questions for Senator McCain: do you really think that Sarah Palin is the best Republican in the country to succeed you as president should you be unable to serve - or the best 10, or even the best 100? And does a Palin-Putin summit on nuclear arms worry you at all?

Our A List panel on 7 Days of Bob Shrum, John Podesta and Ron Reagan are underwhelmed by the choice of someone so underqualified. But they also tactically suggest that Democrats hold their fire and instead insist that the media hold her accountable for performing at a presidential level in the campaign so she doesn't succeed by beating very low expectations, as W did in 2000.

We all agreed that Obama, again, exceeded expectations - when has he not risen to the occasion? - as did the Clintons & Biden. But McCain has shown he has more in common with Bush than their similar views on Iraq, the economy and social security. Both apparently are intellectually impatient and act impulsively from the gut rather than thoughtfully. McCain had met Palin once before he sat down for one interview and bypassed far more qualified picks because he was desperate to alter the arc of a contest he wasn't winning.

True, in the short term, it was a "wow" pick that garnered attention...and applause from a conservative Christian base that rejects global warming, evolution and abortion for women made pregnant due to rape or incest. But McCain has lit a fuse that's likely to explode should Palin make any missteps on the trail. It's one thing for a nominee like McCain and Obama to, respectively, screw up Shiites/Sunnis and say there were 57 states...but quite another when Palin shows she's not remotely qualified to run the greatest military and country in the history of the world.

It's almost funny watching wingers and media mavens spinning the pick so it appears to be serious. George Will said that she may lack government experience but did have "experience" in understanding the limited powers of government - perhaps the most glib analysis this usually thoughtful conservative has ever said. International credentials? Fox's Steve Doocey observed that she faced the Russians across the Bering Straits. Dean Barnett compared her favorably in The Weekly Standard to Reagan - who was, after all, a two term California governor who had almost defeated a sitting president for the 1976 nomination -- and Senator Obama, who's only been vetted by 36 million voters after 50 primaries and 22 debates (plus 12 years in office...).

And media bigfoots on the talk shows, struggling to maintain their access to both camps and displaying on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand "objectivity", say that she has appeal to women, meat eaters and moms. So does Martha Stewart!

Look, whatever her charm and Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington potential, the Constitution anticipates that the vice President - say a John Adams or Thomas Jeffers on to pick two names - could plausibly serve as president if the occasion arose. In the past century, it's happened twice. Harry Truman was a 10 year senate veteran and ex-battalion commander who earned raves for his Truman Commission investigating arms dealers during World War II; LBJ was the former Senate majority leader and himself a credible candidate for president.

When Churchill remarked that God protects drunks and the United States of America, he was anticipating Truman and Johnson, who were surely competent to become president when the incumbent died. Sarah ("what is it the VP does every day?") Palin is no Truman or LBJ.

Listen to the entire show at


GREEN: Did Obama do what he needed to do in his acceptance speech to convince swing voters that he had the right stuff?

SHRUM Absolutely...beyond being eloquent, the speech contained a lot of substance, and drew some important contrasts with John McCain. I actually think, contra my friend James Carville, that this convention was very well orchestrated. Monday night you set a theme of the torch being passed and you began to introduce Obama's biography; Tuesday and Wednesday you began the process of tying McCain and Bush together, and you unified the party with those extraordinary speeches from Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton; and Thursday night, that last substantive piece was put into place, in addition to putting the choice out in front of people. I think it's about as good a convention as we could have hoped for.

PODESTA: It was actually an unusual acceptance speech, in that it combined elements almost of a State of the Union in terms of quite precisely what he wanted to do for the country. And I thought that was really necessary. He made this choice between two people, two leadership styles, two visions of what the country could be. But I thought he also laid down the tracks of two very different paths for America, between what John McCain wants to do, which is basically stick with the status quo of Bush's programs, versus an extraordinarily different path.

REAGAN: As well as the substance was the tone. Up until now, some people have thought that Obama was a bit reluctant to take on McCain directly. In this speech, he got up in McCain's grill directly and addressed him directly. The voters that he's trying to reach, many of them now that are in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia who are these sort of working-class Scotch-Irish people, they want to see that. They don't like a guy who takes shots all the time and doesn't throw punches back. The first moment in the speech that brought the audience to its feet and signaled this change in tone was when he said the single word 'Enough.' He said it with a force and a vigor and an intensity, that you could see it on television, the crowd actually rose to its feet with that one word. It was like, 'finally, this guy is gonna punch McCain in the nose.'

GREEN: John, you were in the White House when Bill Clinton famously said that "the era of big government is over." Did Obama strike the right chord with his reformulation that government can't do everything but must do for all of us what no one of us can do?

PODESTA: Well, we're here at the anniversary of Katrina, just to start with the Republican side of that question. I think the American people were shocked by the realization that they really meant when they said they wanted to shrink government to the size where they could drown it in a bathtub. Their disregard for government, their cronyism, is self-evident. I think what Obama did on Thursday night was to really pinpoint that government can help create the vast middle class.... Progressives, particularly at the turn of the twentieth century and then throughout the twentieth century, were the forces of change, the forces that used government to expand the great middle class, to provide the basic rights that people had, whether it was social security or strong public schools, or aid to college. It was always the progressives whose concentration was to take care of working people, to create the capacity to build strong unions, and to expand that circle of opportunity. I think Obama did a really good job of associating himself with that.

GREEN: Will Obama now build on his very successful theme of "Change" and add to it in the general election that he's a fighter for the middle class in order to grow from 45% to 50%?

SHRUM: In the 1998 State of the Union...there was a coda where [Clinton] said 'we've moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer; we have the smallest government in 35 years but a more progressive one.' I think we're going to see Obama in this campaign obviously hold on to that message of change - it's powerful - but it's going to be 'change that's on your side,' it's going to be 'fighting for you.'

GREEN: In his largely unheralded keynote address, Mark Warner used a powerful line, arguing that a McCain "can't win a race about the future by being stuck in the past." Isn't that a strong approach also?

REAGAN: I think this campaign has always been about a notion of the future versus a kind of stasis. The public has this feeling that we've been stuck in a rut for the last eight years, we haven't moved into the twenty-first century, and so the question is -- who's actually going to drag us forward into the twenty-first century? McCain just doesn't give you that impression - from his flubs on 'a Google' to his embracing of Bush's policies - you're right, that meme has got some legs.

GREEN: Once Obama excluded Hillary from consideration, don't you think that Biden was about the best choice, being a Gore-level grown-up with experience and independence?

PODESTA: I thought that if he wasn't going to pick Hillary, Biden was the choice that made the most sense for Obama. He does two things. One is that he gives [Obama] a tremendous advantage on the security side; he'll be a great advisor and a great partner to President Obama. And I think he's a great campaigner with the people who flocked to Hillary at the end of the primaries. Biden really appeals to those white working class voters; that's where he comes from, and he'll be a tremendous asset in the industrial heartland. If I were [with] the campaign, I'd just buy him a bus and have him go between Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and just let him keep criss-crossing and never take him out of that zone. That's where he's comfortable, he's a great campaigner there. Also, people forget that Joe Biden was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for a long time, too, and so he's got a great record on crime and crime reduction and violence against women.

GREEN: What do you think about the risk-reward surprise pick of Sarah Palin, and how should Democrats respond to it?

REAGAN: McCain apparently thinks that Hillary-supporting, Democratic, pro-choice women are now going to sign onto the McCain campaign because he's picked a woman. This woman happens to be a virulently anti-choice woman, who's also a Creationist and a global warming denier. The notion that women are going to fall for this kind of thing is so grossly insulting to women, at least Democratic women, and I think that's evidence of John McCain, and perhaps the Republican party, not getting it.

SHRUM: I think we ought to let Sarah Palin prove that she's unready or inexperienced, for instance in the Vice Presidential debate. And Ron is on the right track that we have to hold her accountable on the issues, we have to keep pounding away at the message that she and John McCain equal four more years of Bush. We ought to make sure Hillary Clinton supporters understand her positions, not just on these social issues, but on economic issues that really matter to women, like equal pay for equal work, where's she's on the wrong side, or minimum wage, where she's on the wrong side. I think it would be a big mistake, though, for Democrats to have the thrust of their argument be that she's stupid, or somehow or another just totally unready, because she's either going to prove that or she's not. I don't want to see Democrats lower the expectations for her in a debate and say 'Joe Biden's going to kill her,' and then have her go in there and do a credible or excellent job, and then have people say 'gee, she's up to this.' We have to hold her accountable on the kinds of issues Ron was talking about.

GREEN: How in the world can McCain continue to argue that Obama's too inexperienced in light of his selection of Sarah Palin as a possible commander-in-chief?

PODESTA: They'll try to continue to make it, but I think they'll also move off of [that argument]. I think they're going to go with a kind of one-two punch. One is - and this is where their advertising has been - argue that Obama is going to raise your taxes. And second, they'll use her to make an explicit appeal to women voters, who they desperately need. That's going to be the thrust of their campaign; they're going to run a highly negative campaign. And then they'll use their outside groups to run the even more vicious personal stuff against Senator Obama and Michelle Obama.

REAGAN: Yes, and the Republicans are going to launch an accusation of sexism against any Democrat who accuses Palin of being inexperienced.... This will be tricky for Biden to confront her during the debates. And that's going to be used as an appeal to female voters and Hillary voters.

GREEN: What's your advice for Obama in an Obama/McCain debate?

SHRUM: Saddleback [with Rick Warren] lowered expectations for Obama, which is good. I think Obama will do very well. The one thing he has to do is, instead of answering in a kind of professorial way, where he does all of his reasoning and then gets to his conclusion, he has to put his conclusion first. He has to be clear, simple and straightforward. But I think that's exactly what he will do.

REAGAN: Yeah, he does kind of 'bury the lead' a little bit; he needs to put it up front.

GREEN: May I now force each of you to peer into the future? Predict margins in November?

REAGAN: Given that Nader and Barr are in the race...I'm going to say that the winner gets just a hair over 50 percent and that the winner is Obama.

GREEN: I'm in for 51/47. Bob?

SHRUM: I think it'll be about a 50 to 60 electoral vote margin for Obama; I think it would be a lot bigger if race weren't a factor in this election; he's going to lose some votes because of it, just as Kennedy lost some votes because he was Catholic.

PODESTA: I'll give you a little bit of a map: I think McCain will hang on to Florida, but I think Obama will win Ohio, will win New Mexico, and has a pretty good chance at Colorado, and will go over 300 electoral votes.

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