McCain rolled the dice and – so far – he’s a winner

As expected, the Democrats have pounced on the Palin choice as a gimmick that is both patronizing to women and directly undermines McCain’s promise to pick a VP on the basis of their ability to serve as president.  Moreover, it weakens the Republican line of attack that Obama is short on experience.  In short, it is a clear signal that McCain – like Mondale in 1984 with his choice of Geraldine Ferrarro – knows his candidacy is in trouble and has resorted to desperate measures.

Despite this obvious and expected line of attack, however, on the whole it appears that the choice of Palin as his vice presidential nominee has had the effect for which McCain hoped; he rolled the dice and – so far – it has come up big.  Let me cite three bits of circumstantial evidence in support of this claim:

First, on the night of the announcement, I perused the network news to see how they were covering the story. On CBS, they were doing a comparison of Obama’s experience to Palin’s!  Note this – it wasn’t a comparison of Biden’s experience with Palin’s – it was Obama’s and Palin’s!  This is precisely what McCain and Republican strategists want to see – a debate on experience that continually reminds voters to consider Obama’s lack thereof.

Second, the pick has apparently bolstered McCain’s once tepid support among the Christian right. Here’s the NYT coverage of James Dobson’s reaction the Palin nomination, (Dobson is frequently described as an accurate barometer of the evangelicals’ political views):

“James C. Dobson, the influential conservative Christian leader who said in the primaries that he could never vote for Mr. McCain, said the selection of Ms. Palin had won him over. If he went into the voting booth today, Mr. Dobson told the talk radio host Dennis Prager on Friday, ‘I would pull that lever.’”  (And note the headline to that article: Campaigns Shift as McCain Choice Alters the Race)   Again, this is precisely what McCain hoped to do – protect himself from attacks from his own right flank that he is not conservative enough. Palin now becomes his conduit to the Christian right – McCain has inoculated himself against charges that he is too moderate without having to repudiate any of his own issues.

Third – how many of you are going to watch the Republican convention now?  I thought so – in choosing Palin, for better or for worse, McCain has temporarily captured the headlines and guaranteed a larger audience for the Republican convention.  This provides him with the opportunity to reach out to the disaffected Clinton supporters and potential swing voters.

Keep in mind that none of this would have happened had Obama put Clinton on the ticket; in so doing, he would have essentially closed this option for McCain. But also keep in mind that Palin has not yet been thoroughly vetted by the media, and she may still yet stumble on her inaugural tour of the nation.  For this reason, her unveiling at the convention looms large.

One comment

  1. If the American people voted based on executive faculties, I’d be liable to say the race would be no contest. Obama wins.

    (That McCain was in the bottom 5% of a class of almost 900 at Navy and that Mrs Palin went to University of Idaho on a scholarship from a beauty pageant does not speak well to presiding over the world’s only remaining super power.)

    But we know this is not how we vote.

    Many of us–[and books abound on this, 'What's the Matter With Kansas'; 'Obama Nation (for all its questionable truthiness)'; Al Franken books and Ann Coulter books]–continue to vote not for policy, but for tradition, values, morals, personality, and scandal.

    Sometimes these things over our own personal policy interests.

    For the last seven years, any stab at Bush’s policies has been easily sidestepped by his faithful constituents. They often cite the common decency of Bush and his family, the morals and values he maintains, the patriotism and americanism of supporting the sitting president.

    So it is under this pretext–the pragmatic voting motives–that I’d argue the race is not close and that the myth of the close election endures.

    One thing that the media–and voters–love is a scandal. McCain’s got 99 problems, but a slew of scandals ain’t one.

    Recall that Reagan–whose brand of conservatism seems the lodestar for all neocons today–and his wife publicly broke with McCain when he came back from Hoa Lo and said that Carol (who had been in an automobile accident and was now several inches shorter due to intensive surgery) was ‘not the woman he married.’ Almost immediately he started philandering and wound up falling for Cindy Hensley, the enormously wealthy and pretty heiress to the Hensley Anheuser beer distribution company. Less than a year passed between his divorce and remarriage and still this is a man with decency and values.

    But that was almost 30 years ago. Destroy and forget. Although Nancy Reagan won’t.

    McCain once called his wife Cindy the c-word in public.

    Destroy and forget.

    Cindy’s several siblings (that she refuses to acknowledge as family, although they have the same father) have said they know better than to put John or Cindy into the white house and are voting for Obama.

    Forget. Forget. Forget.

    Every politician has skeletons in his or her closet. This is not new. But the point is, with McCain there is enough fodder to outdo the Kerry swiftboating of 2004 or the Gore scare tactics of 2000.

    Arguably the biggest mistake made by Gore and Kerry (and this is not my point) was that both times the democratic candidate assumed the American people knew all about Bush, thereby failing to paint his picture on their terms. With McCain this is still true, but Obama is doing a better job (and it’s easier with such a long-standing public official) pigeonholing him than either Kerry or Gore did with Bush.

    I reckon it will be important for the Obama camp to show the absolute paucity of Mrs Palin’s experience and credentials. In this way she resembles Bush but does not have the advantage of being from a famous and well-liked political family. So more than offering the platitudes, I look for Obama to continue drawing the faces of McCain and Palin in the ashes of the Bush presidency. (But what about the 29% of the country that still approve of and agree with President Bush, you ask? He is the first incumbent not to be invited to the convention since Nixon. The implacable truth is that he remains a strain on the McCain campaign.

    Now it seems to me that politicking is more and more about finding the hypocrisy in your opponent. Nothing smarts a campaign more. The only thing a politician has is his consistency.

    Bloggers and pundits have been quick to spring on Mrs Palin. Photographic proof that her new baby is actually her daughter’s (photos of her at 7 months looking fit, etc)–the scandal is not in the act, it is in the lie. Is this the price of the pro life movement? Etc.

    Sidestep, destroy, and forget.

    And what about the trooper gate scandal?

    So, finally, what is paying off for McCain after choosing Palin?

    The attention, sure. Limbaugh is calling her a righteous babe, saying “This woman hunts moose. This woman fishes. And she’s a real conservative.” He claims–and this is what Prof. Dickinson says the media at large is doing as well–we have to compare her to Obama and not to Biden. He even says that her accomplishments and experience “dwarf” Obama’s.

    And this is where the trouble begins, because–no matter who you are–that is an insult to your intelligence. She is a small-town mayor turned two-year governor. She is the polar opposite of Mrs Clinton.

    McCain’s choice reeks of desperation.

    The republicans tried to paint Biden’s experience as a bad thing. Now they are trying to paint Palin’s lack of experience as a good thing.

    Mrs. Palin wants to drill in Alaska’s wildlife preserves; she said two months ago that she doesn’t know what the VP does; she is under attack for firing a man that had a falling out with her sister, her husband works for big oil (“he makes the oil that Obama uses to fly his jet around the country,” says Rush, “and that Obama wants to get rid of in 10 years to ruin our economy”), and still this is seen as a good choice because she has a lifelong NRA membership, she’s pro-life, and fiercely christian.

    So we’re back to voting the person and not the politics.

    A brief note about race and gender. Racism is big. So is sexism. But I bring these up just to say that ageism is also. Reagan showed, in the last two years of his presidency, (in retrospect, that is), the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. He was then 76. McCain just turned 72. Age discrimination is a big part of US culture.

    So now we have two pendulums of rhetoric. The democrats are trying to paint our situation desperate–the deficit, our global standing, our military stretched thin, the war on terror failing–and the republicans are making a case for the primacy of values, abortion rights, and good conservative decency.

    Meanwhile, every time Obama says that China is outproducing the US, the conservative pallbearers speak out and say that he thinks the Communists are better than we are.

    But this time, learning from the mistakes of Gore and Kerry, the Obama camp is not forgetting to ground their campaign in values (the attack on the conservative monopoly on patriotism; the never-ending string of “I’ll never forget the steel working in Skokie, Illinois unable to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment”; the likening of Obama’s story to every one else’s [here I'd say it's not, nor is Biden's, but it's part of the platitudes]).

    Finally, I’d say that the so-called close election remains a myth because, as we know, this is a state-by-state election. If Zogby says Obama is up by 6 points, it does not say that he has a good shot at Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, Montana, and Ohio.

    If it wasn’t close, there’d be no news. Palin just handed the presidency to Obama.

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