Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah Palin: McCain Blunders Yet Again

Well, I've been saying over, and over, and over again that McCain is the wrong choice, and just does not understand how to get elected. Part of it is his age, part of it is his lack of tech-savvy (or even proficiency) in the information age, but part of it is just plain disconnect and foolish mistakes. The most recent blunder falls into this last category - McCain clearly doesn't have a clue what he needs for his Vice President, just as he doesn't know what to say to become President. In many ways, its the same issue: McCain isn't sure where to stand to get the best advantage, so instead he is waffling and flip-flopping - both on issues, and in terms of political calculus.

Let's think about this for a minute. What was it that McCain needed in a VP pick? He's running on a platform of independent-minded conservatism and experience to lead. Obama has responded, rather effectively, by picking one of the most independent and experienced Democrats in the Senate: Joe Biden - a pick in many ways reminiscent of JFK-LBJ, except that Biden is also likable, in addition to being well-connected. McCain needs to pick amongst four goals, then: (a) consolidate his leadership experience to bring out the distinction, (b) reach across the aisle to disillusioned democrats/independents who consider Biden too left-leaning (he is a textbook democrat), (c) consolidate the conservative base-vote, especially in vulnerable "pink" states (e.g. GA, NC, perhaps VA), and/or (d) find a way to appeal to younger voters or women.

So who did McCain choose? He picks Sarah Palin, The forty-four year old, first term governor of Alaska (only in her 2nd year), who's only other political experience include being mayor and city councilmember of Wasilla, Alaska (population 5,500). Oh, she was also a TV sports reporter, and owns a commercial fishing business. She is opposed to McCain on the one major national in Alaska - ANWR drilling. She supports it, he opposes it.

Oh, did I mention, she also has a pregnant 17-year old daughter; and her youngest daughter (4 months) has Down's Syndrome. (Edit: A quick explanation about where this is going. I have a Down's syndrome uncle whom I love - but I also know that they require a lot of time and energy to raise, time and energy a high-powered politician doesn't have, especially the VP of the United States. The family troubles and emotions caused by adjusting to having a young, pregnant daughter and shotgun wedding pose a similar "life challenge" and take time, at least in the short term. As my comments below suggest, it seems a poor choice on Palin's part to become a VP candidate at this time.)

So, time for a quick analysis:

(a) The choice of Palin - an underqualified, inexperienced politician - would already have tanked McCain's chances at buttressing his experience advantage. That's before considering that Ms. Palin doesn't really have the time or energy (at this juncture) to play catch-up. Quite frankly, and at the risk of sounding insensitive, she has too many family distractions. Her daughter is 5 months pregnant, and will be having the baby the moment she gets to the White Hourse (if she does). The youngest, Trig, is 4 months old and has Down's Syndrome, which means she will have to devote a significant amount of time to raising the child - a luxury she cannot afford as VP. She is probably a very nice person, and Trig is probably a wonderful baby, but the fact of the matter is that mental handicaps take time and energy. To devote proper time to her family, she cannot be a high-powered politician. Even worse, what happens if McCain has a heart attack or some other illness? He isn't young, and now an overexerted and inexperienced VP is forced to take command. It makes me more than a bit worried.

(b) Palin is unlikely to reach accross the aisle, she runs on a textbook "family values"/social conservative platform and supports ANWR drilling - neither appeal to Democrats. She's also from Alaska, which is conceived of as out of touch with or different from the lower 48, for better or worse.

(c) If she's running on a conservative platfrom, isn't she likely to consolidate the base vote? Maybe, but I doubt it. Again, here we have the "skeletons in the closet" issue. She's young, for one, which doesn't appeal to a lot of skeptical conservatives, who prefer age and experience in national security matters. For another, just as damaging, her 17-year old daughter just had an out-of-wedlock child. They are marrying, but that is quite obviously a "shotgun" wedding - don't we often expect better of our leaders than ourselves? Perhaps she garners some pity, but pity doesn't win a presidential election.

(d) Finally, wouldn't the struggles of a younger, attractive (she's had pictures taken by Vogue), mother-figure appeal to younger and women voters, and help to contrast with McCain? Maybe, but again I doubt it. First of all, her obvious youth will serve to contrast McCain's equally obvious age. If that was the goal, a better option would have been to pick a mid-50s VP candidate who still remains "in touch" with the changing landscape - but doesn't create huge "contrast" worries. As far as women are concerned, maybe that will help a bit, but I think this is a superficial attempt that underestimates the intelligence (or at least cynicism) of the voting public. Do we really think John McCain has women's interests in mind, in the same sense Hillary did, just because he picks a female governor as his running mate? I doubt it, I think people are too skeptical for that. He might get some votes, but not enough to offset the weaknesses involved.

Instead, I think McCain would have been better playing to his strengths, and using them to draw out Obama's weaknesses - particularly given the Republican attack machine behind him. Someone like Joe Lieberman or Michael Bloomberg would have scared me as a VP candidate, because they would seriously buttress McCain's "experience" advantage, and both are "across-the-aisle" candidates with serious pull. Lieberman strengthens campaigning in Connecticut and probably guarantees Florida, though he weakens the conservative base vote (never McCain's strength). Bloomberg is somewhat liberal on social issues, but he spearheaded the post-9/11 economic turnaround in NYC - though recent wall street troubles would hurt him - he still would have a buttressing effect and might guarantee Florida. Perhaps another candidate with experience and judgment could be found - Romney, for example - who has economic and health care knowledge, ran a conservative social platform, and has some pull in NE.

Whoever he picked, another choice would almost certainly have been better than Sarah Palin. She undermines his strengths and does minimal work to buttress his weaknesses.


David said...

One thing to remember is that VP picks may not make all THAT much difference anyway (I think Lieberman might, but only by pissing off conservatives)...For example, according to wikipedia, George Bush Snr. infamous selection of Dan Qualye, who was perceived to be, erm, not that bright, and the Democrats famous 'only a heartbeat away from the presidency' ad campaign that resulted, made absolutely no difference to the polls at the time what so ever. On the other hand, if the thing about Palin demoting someone for refusing to fire her ex-brother in law on a whim turns out to be true it might make a difference, since (hurray!) the investigation of this reports about a week before polling apparently

David said...

Oh, also, couldn't Palin's husband do the domestic duties like caring for the down's kid if she became VP?

Sean said...

Caring for a Down's syndrome child takes both parents, and kinda rules out an intensive political life if you want to do it properly. Ir requires a lot of communication on the parents part to maintain positive reinforcement of behaviors, etc. One of my uncle's has Down's, wonderful man, but he's a handful, even now.

As far as VP selection - it matters a bit more in this presidency, given the number of waffling people and the "judgment and experience" issue. Plus, this is something of a crux election for the US, and a lot of people know it.

Katy said...

For attracting women voters... I'd judge her as having even less of a chance than merely counting on natural voter cynicism. The kind of woman who votes for women just because of their gender tends to be a certain kind of feminist - and Palin is pro-life. Which pretty much kills the gender-biased vote right there. At least, as far as my experience of rabid feminist voters goes.

Conor O'Leary said...

Written to some of my debate friends just before reading Sean's post:

It struck me today as I was looking at a picture of the Pallin family, that there is a particularly specific, non-partisan reason that this woman is a terrible pick to be McCain's vice. In the photo, there are five children, one of which has trisomy 21. As the oldest of a family of five, I know how much work it was for Mom and Bill to raise their kids and have regular jobs. Now Governor Pallin's daughter is pregnant. I would assume that the daughter will likely need her mother around more than ever now. She will need to learn all of the things a daughter needs to know about how to raise a child, and the emotional support that a mother can provide to a daughter as she learns how to care for an infant child. The other thing is, the vast majority of trisomy 21 Down's babies are born to very young mothers. What happens if the daughter has a Down's baby?

I do not disagree with the idea of picking a woman as vice president. I am impressed with the fact that she is the first woman picked for the post by a Republican. I do not agree with most of her policy, religious, or role-of-government positions, but I am impressed with her willingness to stand up to some very powerful Alaska politicians who were corrupt.

I do, however, disagree with her acceptance of the position when her family needs her to be there for them. Governing a U.S. State is one thing. The Presidency of the United States is a 100 hour a week job, that has humbled the most vigorous of its occupants. That is not fair to her family or our country, as I believe that she would have to ignore one of these if there was a crisis in the other. I think most people, and especially women and mothers will think about this when they walk into the voting booth. At least I hope they will. The time will come to elect a woman, and I hope it comes soon, but this woman is not well situated to respond properly to the demands of the job. I would love to hear Governor Palin address this concern in a long-form op-ed.

Hey buddy, I miss our talks. You gotta come to Columbus this year. I promise to come to DC. I got a job with the Social Security Administration, so I get all the Federal holidays off. I want to come down for a three day weekend.