I was thinking it would be Crist at the last minute. But McCain picked Sarah Palin, Alaska’s photogenic young Governor, as his running mate. Back in March, I would have said, “No way.” But I’m pleased with the choice.
Here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about — is this a “play it safe” pick or is it a gamble?
The “play it safe” reasoning is that Palin was the best available choice to appeal to Hillary Clinton supporters — to deny Obama that key constituency, without which he cannot win. Palin is not a well-known figure and new to the national scene, so she has not built up a squadron of enemies or gaffes or scandals. Presumably, she will be coached and educated and trained by the campaign’s handlers and molded into a good fit and a good complement for the candidate. She is likeable and has just a trace of an accent — enough to be endearing to most folks but not enough to be distracting. She seems to have done a good job as Governor, bringing competence, sound fiscal sense, and a nice spirit to the state. Best of all, she is a double-down on the integrity and ethics issues that McCain wants to make his signature issue — she has spearheaded an effort to reform the governmental ethics laws of Alaska and made elimination of corruption a centerpiece issue of her political persona.
But there is a risk of a huge downside. First and most importantly, this lays down the ‘inexperience’ argument against Obama, one of the strongest cards McCain has to play. Three years ago, she was the mayor of a city of less than six thousand residents and she hasn’t even completed her first term as Governor of Alaska. On the ethics side of things, she suffers from a minor ethics scandal concerning alleged intervention into the administration of the state police, but it looks to me like she’s handled it appropriately and it should blow over. Oh, and Joe Biden looks ready to eat her alive in a debate, but no one but policy wonks, political junkies, and the candidates’ immediately families, will watch the vice-presidential debate at all.
The big risk here is that she might turn out to be Dan Quayle all over again. Of course, if it’s gaffes you’re looking for, let me introduce you to Senator Joe Biden, the man who commended his party’s nominee for being “clean” and “articulate.” So if you’re using the “first, do no harm” rule, both candidates have taken something of a gamble.
One thing’s for sure. McCain didn’t need any help in Alaska, any more than Obama needed any help in Delaware.