Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palin VP pick great for McCain and the country

By Rick Morris

When evaluating John McCain's shocking selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to run as his vice presidential nominee, it's difficult to separate the enthusiasm I feel as an American from the realities I see as an analyst. But I will try.

In the many conversations I have had with FDH Lounge Dignitaries in the past 24 hours since news got out, I have noted that this is the kind of development I don't disappoint myself by even getting my hopes up for anymore (and speaking of our Dignitaries, props to Chris Galloway for calling her to my attention first on our debut program back in January 2007). Having grown up under Ronald Reagan, I was naive enough to think that the Republican Party could keep things going after he moved on from the scene. But a toxic combination of greed and stupidity over the past two decades proved sadly that he really had not fundamentally transformed what had been a soulless institution controlled by cynical Rockefeller Republicans before he came along. The contrived efforts to deny the people's choice, Pat Buchanan, the 1996 presidential nomination and the complete failure of Republican one-party government this decade (with four years of a bloody but no-urgency status quo in Iraq before 2007 and a pork-barrel explosion that Republicans were supposedly sworn to oppose) left me as somebody who really only had a lot of respect for about a half-dozen governors and members of Congress. Sarah Palin is on that list, and indeed, last October in this very space, I hailed her and another member of that list (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal) as future presidential material.

"In Alaska, Sarah Palin kicked the crooked Old Boys Club right in the gonads en route to seizing the mantle of America’s best governor. The rancid mix of pork and crony capitalism that RINOs in the country’s northernmost state have foisted on the public for decades crumbled at the feet of a real reformer from within their own party. While insiders decried her unwillingness to turn her back on wrongdoing within her own party, she has been rewarded with insanely high poll ratings and has become the first elected official from Alaska to be mentioned as a viable future candidate for national office. If the Republicans end up looking for a way to take down a President Hillary in 2012 by eviscerating her advantage among women voters without having to compromise any principles whatsoever, we could see a Palin presidency that rallies the American people by dumping the deadwood of both political parties right in the Potomac."

Most members of the political class are just taking up space, cynically plotting moves that will help them to move up the ladder. Empty suit Mitt Romney, the "Say Anything" weasel, is the epitome of this animal. While I will not deny that Palin surely has ambition -- you couldn't experience an unprecedented rise, at an early age no less, from America's furthest frontier to the national ticket -- she's in public life for the right reasons. She got her job by beating one of the country's most crooked and ruthless party machines in a cage fight, something nobody had ever pulled off before. As a reformer, she reinforces John McCain's message in a completely tangible way. It's easy to imagine this team going to battle to defeat wasteful government spending and making the government do business in a revolutionary and more efficient manner. Republicans have talked about doing this for decades, and frankly, even the sainted Gipper himself didn't live up to his vaunted statements on the subject. The McCain/Palin team has the message of busting up the way the good old boys do business rooted in their very DNA and that is refreshing and promising.

This move by McCain was so bold and mind-blowing that I am still in shock. I literally cannot imagine any other politician having the calzones to do something like this. Professional politicians are trained always to make the safe move, no matter what. Romney or any of the other usual suspects on the short list would have been the pick for 99% of other politicians, but I give McCain credit for realizing the full extent of what he is up against this year. The successful Democratic convention evidently disabused McCain of any notion that he is neck-and-neck with Barack Obama. I knew that, wittingly or otherwise, the way that the media was setting bar so low in terms of the Clintons and Democratic unity that the week would end up satisfying most skeptics. Did anyone really think that Bill and Hillary would be stupid enough to leave any major questions hanging about how much they say they support Obama?

The somewhat insipid "celebrity" line of attack against Obama has worked better than I thought it would so far, but I have worried that the McCain people were drinking their own Kool-Aid in terms of how long that effect would last. I live squarely in the midst of swing voters in one of the biggest swing states; people are so concerned about a multitude of issues this time relative to most other recent elections -- more so even than 2004, which was somewhat similar to this one in terms of foreign policy and economic concerns. Obama can be beat with a negative campaign, but it's got to be focused on issues, not personalities, because Reagan Democrats will only be angered by a vapid non-issue campaign.

The almost-complete takeover of the McCain campaign by shallow refugees from the Bush team shaped the substance-free ad campaign of this summer. Seemingly, they were going to sell McCain on the deluded notion that he had legitimately evened up this race and could make a "safe pick" like slick Willard Romney. Although I have so many Republican friends who have cursed this side of him, Thank God right now for McCain's maverick streak, because it led him to the boom-or-bust gamble that was in reality his only chance to complete the comeback and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a Republican year that actually looks even worse than the post-Watergate 1976. McCain's not my cup of tea, I repeatedly and strongly endorsed Fred Thompson in this space, but what his haters in the GOP fail to realize is that -- notwithstanding his moderate image -- he deviates as much from the party line to the right as he does to the left. In Sarah Palin, he's now solidified an image of a team that will come in swinging 2 by 4s from the right. I could not be happier about that. Plus, she reinforces his message about throwing off the yoke of the environmental extremists who are keeping us from recovering all of our energy needs at home. That's huge in a year like this.

Additionally, Palin has a refreshing persona that is so far removed from that of the plastic career politician. Like others in her family, she hunts, fishes and lives a true frontier lifestyle. She lived the pro-life belief system by not aborting her son Trigg with Down's Syndrome and speaking publicly about joyously embracing God's Will with such a child. Her husband still is a true blue-collar guy in every respect -- and when is the last time anyone on a national ticket had a spouse that could say that? For anybody wanting to take all of her positives about not being a lifelong career politician and spin them into negatives, I would ask how people could possibly advocate changing our country but trusting only career politicians to do that? This recent column I wrote about the evils of the political class in both parties seems more relevant than ever. The fact that Democrats are bashing her for his alleged lack of experience (when she has executive experience in the public and private sectors that Obama and Biden lack completely) is laughable. I know that she can't say anything quite this blunt, but she should have a rejoinder a bit more politically correct than this one ready as a counterattack: "No political party that nominates for president a man with Barack Obama's resume should accuse us of tokenism for nominating me for vice president!"

As I have noted, though, the pick has some danger because she is a national unknown and is vulnerable to being negatively defined by the opposition. Just ask Dan Quayle about first impressions. And because she, as a God-fearing, self-made woman, represents such a threat to man-hating professional agitators in the interest groups that control the other major political party, she is already under fierce personal attack. No denunciation will be thought too low or scummy; to prove this, check out the fact that the immature Koskids are already attacking her as an unfeeling mother for campaigning despite her infant son's disability. The worst sewage in the American political system will be thrown at her, so good counter-attacks will prove necessary. Democrat leaders from coast to coast are soiling their drawers at the notion that she will peel away just enough disaffected Hillary voters to put McCain over the top. Based on her bravura performance yesterday, I expect that her convention speech will be supremely well-regarded and I actually expect her to hand smug old Joe Biden his lunch in the vice-presidential debate.

Speaking of Biden, I can objectively state that his pick had pluses and minuses for Obama. Notwithstanding the nonsensical blather about how Biden is really an agent of change ... having served in the Senate since 1973 (overlapping Hubert Humphrey among others), voted the party line lazily and robotically since then ... yeah, I don't think that's going to fire up the "Free Mumia" college kids that make up Obama's base. But, realistically, Obama probably didn't lose a lot of idealists with that pick and he definitely made himself more palatable to voters who previously considered him a crazy radical. I have said myself that while I oppose Obama strenuously, his recent cynical moves to the middle have convinced me that we would survive his presidency just as we somehow did Bill Clinton's. But Biden's condescending schtick is going to prove an awful match in the debates for the smooth, confident and, dare I say, telegenic, Palin. When they debate, look for Biden's stuttering and stammering to turn off as many voters as his Mr. Ed choppers will.

So again, the Palin pick does not lock up anything for McCain, but it has a high upside and it certainly keeps him in the game. His decision to snub the advice of the business-as-usual robots around him and make the bold, daring pick was great for his campaign and also for a party that now has a future star and leader to rally around enthusiastically. For once, it's actually a positive that the Republicans are an unimaginative royalist party that automatically elevates whoever is next in line to the presidential nomination, because she now is first in line whenever the McCain era of control ends -- be it in 2009 or later. Anybody attacking her now as being a cynical, worthless pick for McCain is proving that they are:

A) an ignoramus who knows nothing about her life story and political history
B) a cynical hack peddling garbage for Obama who doesn't care about the truth
or more likely
C) both


Jacob Rosen said...

McCain is as much in line with the republicans as any other senator. He has become the head of the party, and despite some of the more moderate policies of his past, he has changed many of those beliefs (Iraq, gas tax, oil drilling) to conform to the needs of the GOP in 2008. Between him and Palin, they are both pro-life, against gay rights, and support the NRA. That trio of issues will do nothing to take over Hillary Clinton democrats (a breed that is the most important in this coming election, because Obama is polling so far ahead among independents already).

Check out that article by Baseball Prospectus writer Nate Silver's website. It shows recent numbers from Rasmussen that indicate Palin is not that popular among women, but could be very influential among conservative-leaning men. She should definitely light up the base, but the big question is whether McCain can keep Obama's democratic retention numbers low.

I agree with you in the fact that this could be the riskiest VP selection since Dan Quayle. Also, listening to a lot of conservative-leaning, pro-life, Catholic voters down here in Dayton, the pick excites them. However, since the tide is turning and the country is more democratic by affiliation than it has been in a long time, I doubt how that will be that helpful in the long run. She has the prospect of becoming an "American sweetheart", but she could also fade away from the news in the next 66 days.

Rick Morris said...

High risk, high reward indeed, Jacob, but the strong tide that you cite that Obama has right now mandated a huge swing for the fences. The reason that the battle to define Palin right now is so fierce is that Republicans cannot afford for her to (unfairly, in my admittedly biased estimation) get painted as an albatross and Democrats cannot afford for her to become a crossover sensation.

True, she doesn't have much in common at all with Hillary politically. Women who strongly identified with Clinton on the issues will be lost causes; those who in our increasingly label-oriented society merely wanted to see a woman break through can be persuaded. I'll concede that that's probably a small minority of Hillary's voters, though.

Nate Silver's going to be right about her being big with Bubbas, that's for sure. I have a number of friends who have similar political views to mine (even if I'm more of a political nerd than them!) and almost across the board, the view is the same: they were sullenly going to cast a vote for McCain just to vote against the policies of the other political party and now they're energized. It's like a shot of B-12, a wholly unexpected reason to feel enthusiastic about being for something instead of being resigned to casting a vote against something else.

One thing that true believers on both sides of the spectrum have in common is that they want to believe in something and in someone. As much as some of the rabidly pro-Obama people make me want to laugh because I think they're getting played, I understand the appeal of wanting to believe in an inspirational leader who can rally the country to improve things. McCain voters now have that, the person who I feel strikes a emotional stronger chord with the base than any national candidate since Reagan -- and we saw how he "grew" the base. He did what I always want to see candidates on my side do; appeal to the middle on your own terms rather than splitting the difference on issues and selling out your beliefs. Palin's appeal to people who may not agree with her on every issue could become the major factor in this campaign; if she successfully appeals to enough people like me who weren't already persuaded simply to pull the lever, McCain will win.

At any rate, what I find hilarious is the chatter by lefties on blogs and message boards about the trumped-up enthusiasm for Palin that is allegedly being manufactured from the top down at Vast Evil Right Wing Conspiracy, Headquarters, Inc. What a hilariously out-of-touch thing to believe, because she is striking that chord and your conversations as well as mine prove it. Now what we shall see, Jacob, is the end result of this, who wins the battle to define her to the American people and what the ultimate effects of that will be.

In one of the most fascinating election cycles in our nation's history, we just got a guarantee that the unprecedented two-month sprint to the finish line will become that much more interesting. Hang on for a bumpy ride!