If you know me, it takes a lot to render me speechless. And yet this morning, I am.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Senator John McCain choose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate.
I cannot believe what a bad choice he has made. I am stunned. And yet quite happy that McCain made such a choice, as it will undermine him in the general election.
Why do I feel this way?
1. It will never seem as anything other than a cheap political stunt meant to woo disaffected Clintonistas … who will never vote for a staunch anti-choice woman in any significant way, not matter how angry they are that Obama has the nomination. Additionally, Clinton was qualified for the presidency where Palin is not.
2. McCain would have carried Alaska anyway … and it only provides 3 electoral votes. [Note: Delaware only has 3 electoral votes as well, but Biden is well known and respected in neighboring Pennsylvania, which has 21 electoral votes.]
3. She has been governor for only a year and a half, and thus has less experience than Senator Obama.
4. She has no foreign policy experience, which means that Senator Biden will crush her in their debate.
5. McCain undercuts his own attacks on Senator Obama for his “inexperience.”
6. She is virtually unknown on the national stage, and thus has no built-in constituency to boost McCain’s appeal.
7. Her administration is under investigation for abuse of power allegations — although it doesn’t sound like it is very serious.
8. Under normal circumstances — when both political parties chose two white men as their nominees —, the selection of a running-mate isn’t that important. A good example is 1988, when Michael Dukakis chose Texas Senator Lloyd Bentson as his running mate. Bentson had many years of experience on the national stage and Texas brought 29 electoral votes (which went to Bush in the end). George H.W. Bush choose Indiana Senator Dan Quayle, the low-point of vice presidential selections in my mind. In the end, the Bush/Quayle ticket sailed to victory.
This election is very different, however. Voters who like Obama but are uncertain about his experience can be reassured by his selection of Biden and make it easier to cast their ballot for Obama.
Palin, by contrast, brings McCain nothing, beyond a little splash as the first woman on a Republican ticket. In some ways she’s the opposite of Biden: young, unknown, inexperienced.
I’m sure that this selection will attract a few votes, and it is in a general sense a step in the right direction in making the major parties’ tickets more inclusive. The fact that her son serves in the armed forces; that she cancelled the “bridge to nowhere”; and that she is popular in Alaska simply don’t make up for the drawbacks of this selection.
But McCain had better choices. Olympia Snow of Maine, for example. Why not her? She’s pro-choice, and the Republican base wouldn’t have worn it — despite the fact that she’s a brilliant woman who would make an excellent president or vice president.
Or Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, or North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole (wife of former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole), both of whom have far more experience than Palin. I have no idea why McCain wouldn’t have chosen either of them. [Perhaps they turned him down?]
I will be interested to see how this plays out, but I honestly believe — speaking as a political historian and not a Democrat for the moment — McCain stumbled badly in his choice.
Speaking as a Democrat and a supporter of Senator Obama’s, of course, I’m thrilled!
UPDATE: The Obama Campaign Response:
Obama spokesman Bill Burton released this statement on Sen. John McCain’s pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate:
“Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies — that’s not the change we need, it’s just more of the same.”
**UPDATE #2: Paul Begalia (Democratic strategist) makes some excellent points:
John McCain needs what Kinky Friedman calls “a checkup from the neck up.”
In choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate he is not thinking “outside the box,” as some have said. More like out of his mind.
Palin a first-term governor of a state with more reindeer than people, will have to put on a few pounds just to be a lightweight. Her personal story is impressive: former fisherman, mother of five. But that hardly qualifies her to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
For a man who is 72 years old and has had four bouts with cancer to have chosen someone so completely unqualified to become president is shockingly irresponsible. Suddenly, McCain’s age and health become central issues in the campaign, as does his judgment.
In choosing this featherweight, McCain passed over Tom Ridge, a decorated combat hero, a Cabinet secretary and the former two-term governor of the large, complex state of Pennsylvania.
He passed over Mitt Romney, who ran a big state, Massachusetts; a big company, Bain Capital; and a big event, the Olympics.
He passed over Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas senator who is knowledgeable about the military, good on television, and — obviously — a woman.
He passed over Joe Lieberman, his best friend in the Senate and fellow Iraq Kool-Aid drinker.
He passed over former congressman, trade negotiator and budget director Rob Portman.
And he also passed over Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas.
For months, the McCainiacs have said they will run on his judgment and experience. In his first presidential decision, John McCain has shown he is willing to endanger his country, potentially leaving it in the hands of someone who simply has no business being a heartbeat away from the most powerful, complicated, difficult job in human history.
**UPDATE #3: And what does fascist Pat Buchanan have to say? (via Politicalwire.com):
“I think this is the biggest political gamble, just about, in all of American history.”
— Pat Buchanan, quoted by The Guardian, on Sen. John McCain’s pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.