When I walked into the post office on University Avenue in Minneapolis yesterday, two friendly clerks with whom I’ll occasionally discuss politics exclaimed to me, “You were right!�?
Well, not quite. For about two months it is true that I have been telling anyone who asked (including my friends at the local Post Office) that McCain’s smartest choice for Vice-President was Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.
However, I must confess, that I was not at all certain McCain would give the nod to Palin when I went to bed Thursday evening. Obviously, in retrospect, I should not have doubted McCain’s moxie and, perhaps, his ability to play smart politics.
You see, the choice seemed to be a fairly obvious one once Hillary Clinton’s prospects of securing the VP slot faded quickly after the Democratic primary season ended. In late June 2008, a source of mine who had a source inside the selection process (yes, that would be a seemingly fuzzy source, twice-removed) told me McCain had narrowed his selection down to two candidates – but that such selection between the two was “contingent on which candidate Obama picked.�?
What that told me was McCain would select a woman if Obama did not.
In an interview I gave with WCCO-TV earlier this month, I told reporter Jason DeRusha that Obama would be well served to pick Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas as his running mate – thus minimizing the attractiveness to McCain of making Palin his VP nominee. (Who knows who McCain’s “other pick�? would have been had Obama gone with Clinton or Sebelius. Perhaps Minnesota’s own Tim Pawlenty?).
Now, as to why Palin is a smart pick for McCain.
Democrats today have vehemently argued that ‘disgruntled’ Clinton supporters will not vote for a (McCain)/Palin ticket. The most common reason they give is that Palin is staunchly pro-life.
The problem with that argument is striking: if the non-Obama Clinton supporters (many of whom are women) were so concerned with policies, such as abortion, they would have flocked to Obama’s camp long ago. The truth is a segment of these voters have already decided to back McCain, who is pro-life.
The truth is this segment of Clinton supporters (a segment ranging from 20 to 50 percent, depending on which poll you read) were backing Hillary because she was a woman, not because they foremost supported traditional Democratic policies. Some of these Clinton backers were thus probably politically agnostic prior to 2008, but were inspired this time around to support a female candidate for president.
Now, will Palin, as a VP nominee, reel in all of those Clinton supporters for McCain? No. But will she reach enough of them? Perhaps.
Democrats also are not going to gain any traction with the second argument they made against Palin today: playing the ‘inexperienced card.’
The problem with that tactic is not so much because Obama himself is potentially vulnerable to such a charge, but because the independents that McCain wishes to shore up or lure into his camp with the Palin selection are likely to be wooed precisely because Palin is a D.C. outsider and thus necessarily lacks the sort of experience that these Democrats are highlighting. To win over the majority of independents, McCain must reclaim the mantle of the maverick he once wore so proudly, and selecting Palin, the Governor of Alaska, certainly enhances that image. (Western governors are notorious for wearing the maverick reputation on their sleeves – remember those great Bill Richardson ads in the early stages of the Democratic primary?).
Moreover, if Democrats insist experience is so objectively valuable a commodity to a successful presidency, all one needs to consider is how the job performance of modern presidents in their second term is nearly always much poorer and riddled with questionable decision-making after having one full term of presidential experience under their belt. (e.g. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43).
In an election likely to be decided by a few points, the actions and the debate performances of the presidential candidates themselves will likely be the determining factor – not the VP selection. But, in a dead-even race, McCain’s pick of Palin may just inspire just enough otherwise apolitical Americans, non-partisans, or disillusioned Clinton supporters to get out and vote to write a different chapter in our history books – one in which the ‘first’ is the first female Vice President of the United States.