Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Palin Alternative

For someone as opinionated as me, I've had a hard time figuring out where I come out on presidential contender John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for the second spot. It's one of those improbable hail mary's that you can never judge when the ball's in the air. Nevertheless, if only for my friend S., I will try ...

My first instincts were that this was a weak choice. Yes, Palin's a woman, and in a change election, an outsider helps. I believe it was Newt Gingrich who pointed out that McCain picking an old white guy might be suicide at a time people wanted to be exploring the possibilities of racial and gender transformations. But her resume is thin, with just 20 months as governor, and a mayor of a small town before that.

The case against Palin has been fairly well laid out in the MSM. It takes out the experience argument, even more important because that was McCain's selling point, and a 72-year old man with questionable health. It's unlikely substantial number of Hillary Democrats will defect, given Palin's opposition to reproductive rights, and especially after a fairly rousing call for unity by Hill and Bill at the convention.

Just don't be too quick to write Palin off. First, I think the "woman" angle has been oversold, and another important aspect largely ignored. She's blue-collar as they come. While McCain's alternatives are right white men, Palin comes from a much more modest background than even Obama. Todd and Sarah Palin had to elope because they couldn't afford a marriage. Todd was a commercial fisherman, and works on an oil rig. Member of United Steelworkers. (Who'd have thought the GOP would have a leader with union roots!) She worked on the PTA, slogged those nasty city council meetings.

She's a proven reformer. She took on corruption in the oil and gas business. Knocked out powerful Republicans who misused the public trust. In a party tainted by scandal, that's a powerful image for a leader. And she's passionate about wasteful spending. She killed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" and auctioned the governor's plane on eBay!

She's invigorated conservatives. In the day her nomination was announced, the McCain campaign received six times it's previous daily fundraising record! And it allows McCain to be truely maverick without having to look over his shoulder.

The talk of her lack of experience is valid. But she does have more executive experience than McCain, Obama and Biden combined. The reality is senators do not have to make particularly tough individual decisions, and sail under the radar by largely agreeing with the party line. Palin, by taking on the Republican establishment, could be the real change candidate.

Of course, like everything else, the challenge is selling this line. This is why Mitt Romney is not the VP candidate. In an economy that will stink for a while, Romney knows more about the complex world of global finance than the three contestant senators. But selling a rich white Mormon with a genuine insincerity might have been more than the McCain ad gurus could manage.

So Palin could be an interesting choice. She certainly could fail spectacularly, but I think McCain made the right choice. The reality is that with more Dems than Republicans, a conventional candidate would have sounded the deathknell for McCain. The challenge now is marketing Palin as an evangelical to the social right, but at the same time, as a reform-minded bureaucrat to the rest of us.

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