So, Senator John McCain has chosen Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his running mate.
It’s taken me a while to get my head around this. Sarah Palin is a political neophyte — if your main charge is that Barack Obama is inexperienced, then you have to see Sarah Palin as INEXPERIENCED. All of her avowed positions are far far to the right of mainstream American opinion. It’s impossible not to believe that the campaign picked her in a blatant attempt to pull off a cynical two-fer: (a) The ultra-right goes ga-ga over her ideological credentials; (b) low-information “Hilary die-hards” decide to vote against everything Senator Clinton believes in so as to get a woman — any woman, dammit — into the executive wing. The latter part is so blindingly obvious that, I think, the only people who will fall for it are people who would have found some reason to vote for McCain anyway.
What to do? How to react? The Obama campaign has a lot of people way more plugged in than me, but below the fold, I give my two cents:
First, if they’re clever, they’ll be aggressive in attacking anyone who goes after Palin with any sort of sexist attack. The Hilary people are still smarting over the bias they saw in the media coverage and in the failure of the Democratic establishment to countervail it. Obama has the opportunity to take the high road and earn points for it. So if Democratic surrogates start playing up the beauty queen angle or harping on the idea that McCain picked her only for her gender, Senator Obama should push them down hard. Not only is that the right thing to do. It also reinforces his own claim to maverickhood, while underlining his call for a politics transcending the politics of personal destruction. It’s really win-win. And since with this issue, as with virtually every issue this cycle, he actually holds the superior position, he doesn’t have to wallow in the mud.
Second, lay off attacks on Palin’s “experience”. It’s OK to point out the idiocy of thinking that, because Alaska is just across the Bering Strait from Siberia, somehow its governor is automagically an expert in Russian affairs. But don’t harp on the 20-month thing, if only because it keeps alive questions about Obama’s tenure in the Senate. Palin is underexperienced on the face of it; no need to keep drilling it home.
Third, focus your response on the process by which she was picked. Apparently there was remarkably little vetting; they didn’t even check the hometown newspaper archives. Senator McCain met her once and talked on the phone once, for something like half an hour tops. Many other, more obviously qualified, more serious candidates were passed over. All signs point to this being a last-minute, from-the-hip choice. Is that really something we want in the leader of the Free World?
Fourth, it’s OK to ask: Heaven forbid something happens to John McCain early in his term. Is Sarah Palin really the person we want ascending to the Presidency, even temporarily? This helps to underscore McCain’s age, a known millstone in his polling.
But above all, take the high ground and be anti-misogynistic. That is the best way to keep the Hillary supporters and to defuse the gender implications of this choice. It has the rare benefit of also being the right thing to do.