A Ku Indeed!

Quick Thoughts on McCain-Palin

Posted in Politics by Chris on August 29, 2008

Obama’s choice of Biden struck me as safe. Barring the possibility that Biden opens his mouth and utters one of his typical stupid non-PC comments, there aren’t any great negatives. He brings experience, especially in foreign policy, both of which are signal weaknesses of Obama. But McCain-Palin? What does this ticket do for McCain? Whereas Obama’s choice might be seen as overly safe (a don’t rock the boat choice), McCain’s just strikes me as panic.

Ed Rollins wrote a piece today hailing McCain’s choice, calling it a “brilliant Hail Mary”. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think of Hail Mary plays as brilliant. They are desperation plays. Sometimes they work (not often), and they become highlight reel material. Most of the time they don’t. That’s why they aren’t used often, unless you’re in the hole. So to call a Hail Mary “brilliant” (especially before you see the receiver in the endzone) strikes me as some pretty strong spin. But what can you do — Rollins is a Republican strategist, so that’s his job.

Rollins is right about the Hail Mary part, though. Which isn’t good, because it makes McCain look desperate, and I’m not sure that’s the public face you want on your campaign this close to election day. Some quick thoughts, not knowing that much about Palin:

1. McCain wanted a woman, in the cynical hope that disgruntled Clinton supporters would be willing to vote for a ticket with any woman on it. Beyond the sheer cynicism behind such a move, and the willingness to play identity politics in a way that McCain would swear never to do, it seems like a ridiculous play. Disgruntled Clinton supporters are not stupid. They will not vote for an anti-choice, anti-gay rights candidate who has little in common with Clinton. At best, they’ll stay home. They surely will not be drawn to Palin at all. Unless, of course, they really are as stupid as this choice presumes them to be. Of course, assuming that they are not that stupid, they will realize the insulting nature of this play and be even more turned off by McCain.

2. Palin’s experience, before her breathtakingly short stint as Governor, was mayor of a small town. So much for the main McCain argument: that Obama is unqualified due to lack of experience. With McCain at 72, how could he choose a VP with far less experience than Obama? Silly move on this account.

3. Palin’s ethics issues. Are they trumped up? A vendetta? Who knows. And it won’t matter either, because by the time they are halfway through investigating the issue it will be election day. What was McCain drinking?

So what does Palin do? Well, she’ll clearly appeal to right-wing voters who may be “holding their noses” at the prospect of voting for McCain. But this move confuses me, for a few reasons:

4. I can understanding thinking that putting Biden on Obama’s ticket really does add Biden’s foreign policy experience to the administration, and the way things will be done. But does anyone really think that adding a person with “values credentials” to the VP slot has a similar effect on the administration? I somehow doubt it. Somehow I doubt that McCain will become the social conservative they want him to be simply because Palin is the VP. It’s window dressing of the least persuasive kind.

5. Social conservatives were not going to vote for Obama. At worst, they stay home. So what did McCain accomplish? He made sure that some conservatives go and vote. But did he achieve his goal — grabbing moderate Democrats? If he had, he did so before he added Palin. Palin adds nothing to the ticket to convince any such Democrats to “cross over” who hadn’t done so already. If anything, she may well repulse many moderate Democrats who might have considered such a move.

All in all, the play seems crazy, desperate, and in my opinion, doomed. If McCain wins, it will be in spite of Palin. If he loses, it may well be partly because of this choice.


9 Responses

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  1. Colin Caret said, on August 30, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Couldn’t agree more. The most glaring fact about this choice is how desperate it is. Of course if one is an Obama supporter, as I am, then the upside is that this clearly demonstrates McCain’s felt need to play defense at this point in the campaign.

  2. alexusmcleod said, on August 30, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I also agree with this. One of the most disturbing things about McCain’s choice for me, however, is the fact that he apparently knows next to nothing about his running mate. He met her only once before, according to the sources. This might be OK if the person he selected were generally well known–but she’s almost a completely unknown public figure, and then on top of that McCain himself doesn’t even know her? She has no experience, the person who selected her hardly even knows who she is (nor do most other prominent Republicans it seems), and McCain is in his 70s. This is just scary. If he actually wins, we’ll have a complete mystery person in the White House (who appears to be a gun nut and fundamentalist to boot)! Was this some kind of Daoist choice or something? Like the story in the Zhuangzi of Yao offering the empire to the hermit Xuyu?
    It’s scary on a number of levels–first, that Palin has a decent chance of becoming president if McCain is elected (his health is not the greatest)– second, if McCain can make such a brash, impulsive, and unreasonable choice such as this for such an important position it really says bad things about the judgment he himself will bring to the presidency. Yikes.
    We really need to elect Obama.

  3. Will Grass said, on August 30, 2008 at 11:07 am

    McCain isn’t dead in the water, by any means. In fact, I think this election is going to be as close or closer than the last 2, regardless of Palin. The youth vote is unproven, the electoral college is still around and as obsolete as ever, and people haven’t really changed their minds about America’s place in the world. The collective consciousness is still dealing with 9/11, and I think we will be until someone (Obama, I assume) finally gets our foreign policy under control and moves on. Bush did an excellent job, I must say, of keeping everyone focused on how scary the world is. 8 years of fear-mongering adds up. If the mantra hasn’t changed, McCain is a shoe-in, and we go to war with Iran.

    I think saying that McCain-Palin is doomed is a bit naive. You’re putting a lot of responsibility on voters who are more apt to vote down party lines than actually care what the other side has to say. I don’t think the average voter is that smart. Smarter than the average non-voter, maybe, but not geniuses, by any means.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the youth doesn’t turn out, McCain pulls enough disgruntled Hillary voters over, and carries the evangelicals (who, before the Palin VP nod, have said they may abstain from voting for McCain-doubtful). Everyone else votes down party lines and McCain wins. It’s not out of the question.

  4. Manyul Im said, on August 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I think this is a signal that the McCain campaign is changing message horses midstream. The “Obama lacks experience” shtick was keeping it close. It looks like they’ve decided that’s not going to go much further so they’ve now done an end-around reverse. I don’t trust them simply to have blown it, in other words. They’re going for something, though I don’t want to be too paranoid.

  5. Chris said, on August 30, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Will (and Manyul):

    By “doomed” I didn’t mean that his candidacy was doomed. I meant the strategy was doomed. The US is, in my opinion, far, far too conservative as a whole for any Republican ticket to ever be counted out before election night. Hell — we have the most unpopular president in recent history, the economy in the tank, an unpopular war, ethics scandals plaguing House and Senate Republicans and STILL the presidential election is close. Democratic candidates, in my opinion, are always swimming up river in national elections.

    I agree that Palin’s positive is to re-energize evangelicals. That is one of the two main goals behind the pick. That’s clear. But McCain needs more than that — he needs to pull over people who were going to vote Democratic. I think I tend to give these women Clinton voters more credit. I just don’t think their politics are so shallow as to be merely motivated by identity politics. I think when they realize that Palin ain’t no Clinton, and as a matter of fact is very anti-Clinton, she’ll grab few of those voters. I also think, as I mentioned, that for McCain to pull a play like this is so cynical and insulting to those Clinton supporters that I’d be surprised if there isn’t a backlash in that voting demographic.

    Manyul may be right that they have a plan. I don’t know. So far, I think McCain has run a joke of a campaign, so I’m not inclined to give him much of a charity reading here. I think it’s pretty much what I’ve mentioned — (a) shore up evangelicals and (b) grab what they perceive to be stupid, mindless identity-politic voting Clinton supporters. They’ll get (a), not (b), and that’s where the plan fails badly. And that’s not to mention the whole slew of negatives that McCain just added to his ticket, only a few of which I mentioned above, and which Alexus adds to in the comments. None of these things were his weak spots before — now they are.

    What’s funny is that if McCain had picked Kay Bailey Hutchison, he would have gotten (b), I think, in the way he thinks Palin will (but he’s wrong). Of course, he would have lost some of (a) with such a choice (abortion, mostly), and that’s why Hutchison wasn’t picked.

    All in all, it’s a clear Hail Mary, just as Ed Rollins pointed out. Thing is, the receiver isn’t going to make the catch.

    One further thing: I am now very interested in watching the Biden-Palin debates. Anyone has to admit that she’s monstrously outclassed here. He’ll wipe the floor with her. But that’s not the interesting thing. The American voter has shown in the past that they don’t _really_ care who is smarter, or who knows more. It’s who doesn’t make them feel stupid themselves. So Biden’s job is going to be a tough one: convincingly defeat a hopelessly outclassed debate opponent while at the same time not seeming arrogant or “elitist” (which is how it will be spun).

  6. Adam said, on August 30, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I agree with Chris that this will pull a lot fewer Hillary voters than some people think, especially with Hillary out there drawing contrasts.

    The real problem is that this pick was that it wasn’t just a Hail Mary. It was a Hail Mary called as an audible.

  7. Amy said, on August 30, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t know–what I find most disturbing is that we expect our presidential candidates to choose their vice presidents based on who will help them win, not who will help them govern. Which is not to say that I think McCain chose Palin because he thinks she’d be a good adviser, but rather that if he did, we would act as if he’d put the cart before the horse since he has to win the election before he can think about actually running the country.

    Also, I think Clinton voters who haven’t come over to the Obama camp are generally speaking not the most thoughtful voters. When the media told them the party was divided and Clinton voters might well stay home, they listened. When the media tells them that they’ll be swayed by the idea of having a woman on the Republican ticket, they’ll listen again.

  8. Chris said, on August 30, 2008 at 2:19 pm


    I agree. Much as I’m no fan of W, he chose Cheney on the basis of governing, not winning. I think Obama did the same. McCain did not. How could he — he only met her once, so her advising abilities can’t be that well vetted out.

    On the Clinton dissatisfied voters: I think they are vocal in a way that they do not intend to actualize in behavior. I think they have every intention to vote for Obama. That said, they can still get a lot of mileage out of complaining about the whole situation, so they are. Clinton supporters are not, for the most part, as I think that most of them do not make choices merely based on identity politics, going to vote pro-life and anti-gay (to name a few), even if there were two women on the ticket.

    That’s my intuition, anyway, but partly also based on some anecdotal evidence – I know quite a few dissatisfied Clinton supporters.

  9. Will said, on August 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    LOL the Palin-Biden debates, I didn’t think of that. Its like putting a three week old kitten in the ring with Mike Tyson. She’ll get destroyed.

    Maybe you’re right CP, the strategy may be make the Obama-Biden ticket look elitist. I can see this being brought up again sometime very soon. I can’t fathom any other possible reason (drilling in Alaska, maybe, is another?) I think a large part of Bush’s strategy was to make himself dumbed-down and relaxed enough to appeal to the NASCAR dads. God forbid we actually vote for someone smarter than us and qualified for the job.

    Thanks for the clarification, and I agree…the logic is doomed. Where is Elizabeth Dole? Seems like that would have been a better choice.

    CP, I agree its a lot of vocalization of disillusionment more than something they’ll act on. I think the die hard Clinton fans have about the same likelihood of voting for the GOP as the evangelicals not showing up to vote for the Republicans (be it McCain or whoever). They may bitch and complain a lot that it isn’t the right choice, but when the cards are on the table, they’ve got too much to lose if the other side wins.

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