Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin, by comparison

Well, last Friday while I was buried under workup mammograms, John McCain chose Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his vice-presidential running mate. In one move he completely flummoxed not only the mainstream media, but the Democratic campaign as well. If you’ve read my blog in the last few days you would have at least heard her name before, though I do admit to underestimating the Senator from Arizona’s aversion to controversy.

Good thing for her that her first speech went off well. It’s a good thing because the MSM really only has that 15 minutes to judge her on, so far, and she did pretty well. She did not embarrass herself, and the crowd in Dayton responded to her quite positively. Her name is the biggest applause line at the RNC so far, and according to Rassmussen Reports in the last three days she has made the top two on the poll of ‘Politicians I would like to meet’. Barack Obama is number one on that list, which has to really tick off his media people given that she has accomplished in three days what it took him 18 months and Oprah Winfrey to achieve.

John McCain did not take the easy road, which would have been Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. With Mitt, he would still have the “two more GOP white guys” to deal with, plus all the questions about whether America really wanted a Mormon in the White House. Tim Pawlenty would still largely have the “Who?” factor, and is also still a white guy in a race where diversity is important. I expect to see Mitt Romney in a cabinet position in a McCain administration, the way he ended his campaign for the GOP nomination was classy, and he’s clearly a bright guy – but he wasn’t the right guy for John McCain.

There is a lot of talk that John McCain really wanted to pick Joe Lieberman, and that the party pushed back rather forcefully on that. While it’s the candidate’s choice as to whom he wants to run with, it’s much easier to win (the point of running in a party, I’m lookin’ at you, Bob Barr) when people will go out and work for you. Joe Lieberman, as he proved last night at the RNC, is a stand-up guy who calls them like he sees them, but he doesn’t see everything the way the precinct workers for the RNC would see them and that would be a problem for the party.

And so McCain came to Sarah Palin, and with one announcement fired up the base of the party like no other VP pick has done so far. To be honest, there are enough internal reasons to pick her as VP that the criticism of her as a token or “affirmative action” pick pretty much ring hollow. A theme that I hope to hear from the podium at the RNC is that while in power, the Republicans forgot why they thundered into Congress in 1994. They got complacent, they got complicit, and they got beaten for those things. The war in Iraq was unpopular, but pork-barreling and scandalous behavior got way out of control. I don’t believe the 2006 loss was a referendum on the war, if it was Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed would have been able to accomplish what they promised and cut off the fiscal authorization for combat operations. While they successfully set the tire of the Iraq war around the neck of George W. Bush and lit it on fire, they have never managed to stop funding the troops – something I believe their internal polling tells them is not why they won.

Sarah Palin was not part of that problem for the RNC, she was in a small but real way a part of the solution. She fought back against the cozy relationship between the state GOP party and the oil companies. The Alaska state GOP chair Randy Ruderich, whose name you may hear in the “they didn’t vet her enough” line of stories, isn’t going to tell you he paid a $12,000 fine for ethics violations. Palin gave up a cushy job on the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Committee to fight for ethical reform in that commission and then set her sights on the sitting Governor of Alaska, beating the governor who was an Alaskan senator for decades before becoming governor. She is not afraid to call her own party on ethical issues, and for that reason alone she’s a better choice than the DNC ticket. Barack Obama spent years in his state party apparatus without blowing a whistle on any of the shenanigans of his corrupt party bretheren.

Sarah Palin is also pro-gun, pro-hunting, and pro-life. This does not make her extreme for the RNC population whose invigoration is part of the reason she was selected. These positions do not change or challenge the positions of John McCain. They reflect the mainstream of thought in the GOP, and part of the reason that she’s instantly popular in GOP circles is that she reflects opinions on those issues that GOP voters have been longing to see someone represent, unashamedly and with a smile. Whether other people like it is less relevant than the reality that by choosing a happy, enthusiastic conservative, John McCain got the party in line behind him better than the ‘Me’ Festival that Barack Obama had at Invesco. How this plays to the independents, who will decide the election, is yet to be seen.

For women who view other womens’ positions on “womens’ issues” as invalid unless they are progressive positions, she does nothing. In fact, she probably infuriates them, which is one of the reasons you hear comments like “token” and “insulting” about her selection. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who is “qualified” on womens’ issues by her progressive opinions, Sarah Palin does not owe her position to a father or husband who gave her the platform to succeed. Yes, Hillary Clinton got 18 million votes, and Sarah Palin’s presence is designed to be tempting to some of those voters who really want to see a woman in one of the two highest elected positions in the United States – but that’s called “strategy” and “capitalizing on your opponents’ weakness”.

Her selection has also been called “cynical”, and it’s a cynical choice only if she’s not qualified. The line of attack on her qualifications includes not referring to her as “Governor”, her elected title, but as “ex-Mayor”, making frequent mention of her past position as president of the PTA in Wasilla, and generally ignoring the fact that no other candidate for President or Vice-President has ever held an elected executive position.

See, Senators talk about things, and vote on things. They aren’t responsible for seeing that they’re carried out, for taking the budget they negotiate and then accomplishing the things they’ve been tasked to do. Senators don’t delegate or get held responsible for what happens after the bills they sign are passed. Governors do. So do Presidents, and Vice-Presidents. She has more of that kind of experience than anyone in the election. You won’t hear Obama supporters acknowledge this at all – and their relative neophyte is running for the Big Chair, not #2.

I knew there was an investigation about the Commissioner of Public Safety firing, and the allegations that the governor’s office and her family members were trying to get the CPS, Walt Monegan, to fire Sarah’s ex-brother-in-law, an Alaska State Trooper named Mike Wooten. For one thing, her response has been, “Hold me accountable,” which is pretty bold if she’s done anything wrong personally.

For another, Wooten’s record sounds pretty awful. I take credible threats to myself or my family rather seriously, and the Palins have been pretty restrained, considering that they own a boat and, hey, King Crabs have to eat, too, you know? Her husband did express his concerns to an Alaska State Trooper representative – at the behest of the chief of the governor’s security detail if this report is true. As for the rest of the contacts…we’ll see. Senator Obama frequently makes note of the enthusiasm of his staff leading to error, it’s possible a similar thing happened with Governor Palin. In fact, when she found out that there were contacts between her staff and the AST, she brought forward the evidence herself – in a press conference. She says she’s interested in transparency, and then goes and does a transparent thing. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to lawyer-up and attack others? She must be unqualified.

I hesitate to bring up the thing about her daughter Bristol. I will only say that, as a parent of three pre-teen kids, it’s pretty difficult for me to throw stones until I have dealt with my own headstrong 17 year-olds. Even then I imagine that getting kids through that age will engender sighs of relief rather than feelings of superiority. The criticisms of her as being “a bad mother” are so obviously sexist and desperate that they are laughable, apparently if you believe that a child is “punishment” and prefer to abort your problems, you’re a good mother. If your kids go off the reservation despite your best efforts, but ultimately take responsibility for their actions, your parenting skills are called into question. Not a world I recognize, anyway. Something else that is apparently infuriating is the much castigated “evangelicals” failing to live down to the expectations of the progressive left and rebel against the Palin choice. I am pleased to disappoint, as are many others.

If anything, this makes Sarah Palin – whose chief drawing card is that she is more like us – even more like one of us. She doesn’t live in a million-dollar compound. She probably shops at Wal-Mart. Her kids cause her grief from time to time. She is no ethereal, messiah-like figure, she’s a real mom who drives herself to work and happens to be a state governor. Rather than being a populist, someone who speaks for the people, she is a member of the populace. She speaks from personal experience, not campaign anecdote, about the challenges families face and the ways the government can address those problems. This should be the focus of her speech tonight.

At this point, she’s about 5 hours away from a complete make-or-break speech. She did great on Friday, but she has to absolutely nail her speech at the RNC tonight. Given her telegenic presence, if she can sell that she knows the difficulties of the current American experience along with the great joy of life in this country (something we heard very little about from Obama), she’ll be well on her way to helping John McCain get into the White House. The Democratic party is rarely about the joy, the secret of Ronald Reagan’s popularity is that he was enthusiastic about America and, without discounting the challenges, communicated on a harmonic that rang the bell of pride we all carry about the place we’re from.

The GOP spent the primary season debating who was most fit to pick up the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Wouldn’t it be an unexpected joy to find out the inheritor was a woman that can field-dress a moose?

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