What Sarah Brings
Posted by: Michael Medved
The selection of Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential nominee does a number of things for the McCain campaign, all of them good --
1. It begins to close the energy gap. The biggest problem for the GOP this year is that Obama devotees were vastly more energized than McCain supporters. Even though polling looked close, the other side was more excited about their candidate. The Palin pick will help Republicans to catch up, exciting the party’s base – particularly religious conservatives.
2. It underscores the best issues for McCain – drilling for oil and cutting government waste. Palin’s obviously an expert on energy production (taxpayers in her state get yearly government checks because of it) at the same time she’s won credibility taking on big oil companies. She’s also been tight-fisted (and veto prepared) when it comes to cutting spending.
3. She emphasizes McCain’s credibility as a reformer. She’s clearly identified with the reform wing of the notoriously corrupt Alaska Republican Party. McCain owned the title “reformer” in 2000 – with his talk of cleaning up lobbyist influence and special interests in Washington. No he should recapture the designation and make the most powerful and important point of this election cycle: you can’t clean up government by expanding it. The only way to fight government corruption is to shrink government, not grow it. McCain and Palina re the right team to go to Washington to drain the swamp and give back the people’s money – not to expand the bureaucracy with dozens of ambitious new federal programs.
4. Palin allows Republicans to compete on the novelty front. One of Barack’s biggest advantages has been the widespread sense of wonderment he inspires: “I can’t believe we can really elect a black guy on a national ticket!” Now McCainiacs can claim a miracle of our own, as we pinch our delirious selves: “I can’t believe we can really elect a woman on a national ticket – and a conservative woman at that!”
5. The choice should help to reassure grumblers on the right who have insisted that McCain isn’t a “real conservative.” For these folks, the Arizona Senator’s lifetime rating of 82.3% from the American Conservative Union was never enough (Obama’s number is 8%, and Biden’s is 13%). Along with his pro-life, pro-gun, never-supported-a-tax increase voting record, McCain now shows that in the most important decision of his political career he reaches to the right, not to the center. Sure, he offered praise for his friends Lieberman and Ridge (talk is free, after all) but when it counted to define his legacy, to launch his administration, he selected one of the nation’s most conservative governors – and a stalwart leader on the human life issue. More than anything else, this shows McCain’s true political identity, and should reinforce his promise to appoint Justices like Alito and Roberts, Scalia and Thomas.
6. Yes, this undermines McCain’s future use of the experience issue, but that’s almost certainly a good thing, too. The experience issue has never worked well in presidential elections: Gerald Ford tried it against a one-term Governor of Georgia (the worthless Jimmy Carter) and lost; Carter tried it against Reagan (no foreign policy experience as Governor of California!) and got wiped out; George H.W. Bush tried to make it stick against Bill Clinton and the result was the lowest percentage of the vote for a Republican candidate since Wiliam Howard Taft. The line McCain’s been using “He’s Not Ready to Lead” is still viable – and should emphasize a discussion of Obama’s policies, not his job history—his radicalism, not his resume. Meanwhile, we should invite comparisons of Governor Palin’s experience with Obama’s: won’t the PTA connect more with middle class voters than “community organizer,” and property tax-cutting small town mayor count more than slippery State Senator who voted “present” a disquieting proportion of the time. In any event, both tickets now balance experience with youthful energy – but McCain is balancing it the right way, with the experience at the top.
7. The televised Vice Presidential Debate in October suddenly becomes an important media event, and offers more risks for Joe Biden than Sarah Palin. If the GOP had nominated a “boring old white guy” (Romney, Lieberman, Ridge, or even Pawlenty—who’s not old) few viewers would have tuned in. The novelty of a young, attractive female taking on grizzled Joe Biden will give this debate special juice. The expectations for Palin are so low she should have no difficulty (if well prepared) in exceeding them. Moreover, Biden can’t fire back contemptuously the way Lloyd Bentsen did against Dan Quayle because Palin is a sympathetic female. Republican Rick Lazio lost the Senatorial election against Hillary when he tried to be too tough and confrontational in the debate. Palin, on the other hand, can surprise the world by being as aggressive as possible against Biden --- after all, her nickname on her state championship high school basketball team (she was point guard) was “Sarah Barracuda.”
On Sunday, along with the rest of the Republican world, I get on a plane to travel to St. Paul. Suddenly, my attitude toward the journey has become more than dutiful --- like so many others, I feel vastly more eager, pumped, energized, optimistic about the Republican Convention. In an election that’s all about energy shortages and potential energy shortages, the Governor of Alaska has given the best possible birthday gift to John McCain.