All day yesterday I was receiving phone calls from people who weren’t that into politics, but who nevertheless wanted to discuss politics at length and in depth. What they all wanted to know was what the hell McCain was thinking when he chose Sarah Palin for his VP slot.
In the near term, of course, McCain succeeded with the most short-range of his goals: sucking the air out of the room after Obama’s masterful Invesco Field coronation – er, excuse me, speech. But that’s going to get him only through the weekend news cycle. Sooner or later, Palin will have to perform, and perform brilliantly. Is she a fierce attack dog at the podium or an Admiral Stockdale with a vagina and good hair? Stunningly intelligent and well-rounded, or simply a provincial grandee who can speak authoritatively only of property taxes and where to put the new Wal-mart? We don’t know, and neither does Obama. All we can be sure of is that the Democrats’ opposition research teams are putting in overtime trying to unravel her.
What McCain accomplishes by choosing Palin is this:
- She is a woman and thus capable of luring Hillary’s holdouts.
- As a hunter, fisherman, and outdoors enthusiast who is married to an Eskimo, she has mad Western-state street cred for ruggedness.
- With a blue-collar husband who is also a union member, she represents a radical departure from the usual Ivy League pedigree.
- She is a Christian and a conservative who lives by her anti-abortion principles.
Today, Politico.com writes that choosing Palin was an act of pure desperation on McCain’s part. Maybe so, but the bravery of the move is admirable. McCain, in one stroke, retools his brand to become the true outsider, the true anti-establishment maverick. If Obama chooses his angle of attack unwisely, he runs the risk of sounding elitist, misogynistic, and urban-centric.
Palin is, as much as anything, a symbol – a reflection of the conservatives’ best selves. Strong yet feminine, successful yet earthy, confident yet humble, and did we mention her baby has Down Syndrome? Palin is the conservative archetype – a stand in for every virtuous woman with children and a folksy drawl. When Obama accuses some Americans of clinging to guns and religion, McCain wants to say, Obama is talking about her. And did we mention her baby has Down Syndrome?
Of course, this all assumes the rest of the game goes according to McCain’s playbook and that Obama falls into the trap. More likely is that America will see McCain’s choice of Palin as a cynical stunt or Hail Mary pass. More likely is that America will see, at the end of the day, Palin is exactly what she says she is – a governor of a sparsely populated state and suburban mommy – and nothing more.