Monday, September 01, 2008

People should leave Sarah Palin's pregnant child out of this

I thought Barack Obama made a great choice when he named Joe Biden as his running mate, but John McCain really made things exciting when he named Sarah Palin as his.

Palin's vice presidential potential has inspired all sorts of incredulity and scorn. Three of my friends have described the decision as either pandering (to women) and/or desperate and one hyperbolically called it evidence that "John McCain hates America."

I'm not so sure it was such a desperate, pandering move. In a lot of ways, she seems like his best possible choice given the conundrums he faced. He needed someone to mollify the lunatic evangelicals who basically hold that party hostage but have never cottoned to him (and vice versa). He also needed someone who wouldn't dilute his reputation (legitimate or not) for being a "maverick." She meets both those standards in ways that Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty did not.

I really do not see the pandering angle. (Update: Actually, I do, though it seems more like a pander to the far-right wing of the party rather than to women. Disgruntled Republicans have actually been better at criticizing this move than Democrats.)

McCain's best options for running mates in this context were women (particularly Carly Fiorina and Kay Bailey Hutchison). Palin will certainly be trouble if she says a few stupid things while campaigning, but if she doesn't fuck up she could be real trouble for Obama and Biden (especially if they underestimate her the way their proxies have been).

I wonder if McCain had picked Mike Huckabee if people would have called that desperate or pandering. It would be pandering, though, just as Obama's choice of Biden, whatever his considerable talents and strengths, was, at some level, pandering. Sometimes it's hard to see where strategic ends and pandering begins.

An alternative question here is would anyone have called Barack Obama desperate and pandering if he had selected Hillary Clinton or Kathleen Sebelius as his running mates. If you're going to deride McCain for doing so, there's no reason not to.

A third question might be: if McCain's selection of Palin is actually an attempt to pander, and there is nothing at all strategic or substantive about her contributions to the ticket, is that necessarily so bad? Strike that question, actually; that would be bad. But, really, how likely is it that McCain picked someone he genuinely thought brought nothing but a uterus to the ticket?

Would it be so bad, though, if he considered her gender as being among her other vice presidential attributes? Half of the country is female, after all, and 100% of the executive branch has been male. Statistically we're overdue for a female president or vice-president; maybe someone really ought to pander in that way to that demographic.

But McCain is apparently pandering and desperate because his woman running mate has only been governor for just a little less time than Barack Obama has been a senator. I don't mean to make light of the experience argument, but as much as I like Barack Obama (and I like him a lot) this is not a comparison the democrats should be inviting. For one, he hasn't been a senator that long and he has no executive branch experience. Being Alaska's governor may not be such a big deal but there's a very fair argument to make that it's better preparation for being president than being a first-term senator. (Anyone who watched the Sunday morning political talk shows this weekend saw that the republicans already have rhetorical strategies for turning any questions about her qualifications for the job into questions about Obama's.)

The other reason to give up the experience line of attack is that, historically, nobody seems to really give a fuck. The evangelicals McCain will need to win in November already love Palin. Obama's status as a relative novice, too, didn't deter the almost 20 million primary voters who supported him. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all came to the presidency after relatively short gubernatorial careers (Neither Kennedy nor Eisenhower had a huge amount of political experience, either). Plus, Bush was a one-and-a-half term governor of Texas, which has one of the weakest executive offices in the country. Surely we can all agree that lowered the bar way below Sarah Palin's qualifications.

Today the democrats got another chance to alienate the electorate when Palin announced that her 17 yr. old daughter was pregnant. This followed a couple days where left wing of the internet really showed its classiness by speculating that Palin had faked her most recent pregnancy. Fortunately, and probably out of fear for being confused for one of his lunatic supporters, Barack Obama reiterated tday, in no uncertain terms, that he does not want Palin's, or anyone else's, family or kids used as campaign material. He also reminded us that his own mother gave birth to him when she was just a little older than Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter (and, for what it's worth, both he and Bill Clinton have half-siblings on their maternal sides).

The smug tone of the pregnancy stories really bothers me mainly because Obama really ought to win. George Bush is hugely unpopular; McCain's campaign has in many ways been a disaster; the democrats finally have a ticket that speaks passionately about revitalizing American manufacturing; that convincingly invokes Jesus Christ; that for once is on the winning side of a huge financial disparity.

This ticket's supporters on the internet, though, want to make jokes about pregnant teenagers and abstinance-only education, as if multigenerational households are an expendable demographic. I disagree with Sarah Palin on pretty much everything having to do with sexuality and reproductive education policy, but that has nothing to do with her daughter. For all we know, she has a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves under her bed and got pregnant after a long and extensive teenage sexual history. You know what you call a teenager who gets pregnant, or contracts a sexually transmitted disease, accidentally? Unfortunate, but common.


Fox said...

Great post, Bryan. Weighted and measured and well-said, as always.

I think that if the left wing bloggers - as you linked too - and their pundit friends on TV and in print don't settle down, they could cause severe damage to Obama.

Besides a recent CNN poll, Obama still has a 5-8 point lead (depending on the poll). Now is when the undecideds/independents start paying attention, and nasty politics - no matter what side it's coming from: remember George Allen's ugly "macaca" comment from '06 that pretty much destroyed him? - can sway voters to lean the other way.

I'm still learning about Palin. Things that worry me are her belief in intelligent design, her refusal to support abortions for even rape or incest victims, and this bizarre affiliation with an Alaskan secession party. Mind you, I don't mind one bit if she personally has these beliefs, I just mind if she tries to push them into legislation.

However, she has an undeniable allure about her. I think it's a brilliant pick - strategically - because it counters the fanfare and dazzle that surrounds Obama. (Now people on the right have someone with sex appeal.) Of course, that is superficial, but God, that's what both of these conventions have been full of, to me.

Right now I don't wanna vote for either candidate. I really don't. Of course, I will vote for someone... maybe I will just write-in Tina Fey (who Palin looks like, btw).

bryan h. said...

Thanks for the nice words, sir.

It seems like a lot of rhetoric surrounding Palin's extraneous details has settled down; today there's much more of a reaction to the content of her speech than to her or her daughter's sex life.

I don't remember either Bush-Cheney convention being as fired up as the McCain-Palin one was last night. It really reminded me of Obama's 2004 convention keynote: a relative unknown coming in and lighting it up. She did give a great performance, but, man, it was a tough, in some ways nasty, speech. She didn't come across as shy or retiring, that's for sure.

I really think the democrats underestimate her (and, if last night is any indication, her ability to motivate the base) at their peril. They need to take her, and her politics, seriously. No more condescension at questions of readiness or experience. They need to go right at her substance and make sure those swing voters know she's just a more charismatic Dick Cheney.

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