Second Thoughts On McCain's VP Pick of Governor Sarah Palin

My first reaction on Friday and Saturday - along with most of my Democratic friends -- was that Sen. McCain's selection of an inexperienced novice governor with ultra-conservative views on social issues -- from a small state that has a fraction of the population of Brooklyn -- to be one heart beat from the presidency was a strategic blunder of the highest magnitude from which he would not recover.

The fact that Governor Palin made an overt reference to Hillary Clinton in her introductory press conference, apparently in the hope she could attract some of the disgruntled Clinton supporters, made little sense. She and Sen. McCain must know that her ultra-conservative views that appeal mostly to the Religious Right wing of the GOP would not go over well with most, if not virtually all, of Hillary's voters. In short, her issue positions would trump the fact that she was female--to assume otherwise is nothing short of patronizing to Hillary's women supporters.

For example, Governor Palin is on record opposing all abortions, even when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Surely women Clinton voters will be more turned off by that extremist position than be attracted to vote for the Republican ticket because Governor Palin is a woman.

Governor Palin is also on record preserving the option of "discussion" of "creationism" in public school classrooms, i.e., that the universe is about 5,000 years old and the first two humans on earth were Adam and Eve, scientific evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

And yet...and yet...Karl Rove had a candidate in 2000 and 2004 who held Sarah Palin's views on most of these social issues. And the Democrats had two candidates whose views were similar to Sen. Obama's.

And I was convinced that George W. Bush would lose...twice.

So much for my political acumen.

The fact is, Sen. McCain, Rove and other conservatives are gambling that, despite the problems in the economy and the overall unhappiness of the 80% American people with the direction of the country, the country remains more conservative than liberal. And they appear to believe that, despite these far more adverse facts on the ground in 2008, it is more important to re-run the 2000 and 2004 strategies of revving up the Republican social conservative and evangelical base than reaching out to more centrist independent and moderate Republican voters.

Therefore, what this 2008 election may come down to is -- for the third time in twelve years -- which party does a better job in turning out their base and new voters.

Certainly Sen. Obama's campaign's demonstrated record of increasing record turnouts and new voters in their "change" base is an undisputed fact. And their grassroots organizations and fund-raising prowess are perhaps the most impressive in this country's history in either party. If turnout is the ultimate decider, even the brilliant Karl Rove must be daunted by what he sees in the Barack Obama organization and realize that this is a brand new ballgame and not even close to what the GOP ticket faced in 2000 and 2004.

Yet...one must admire the chutzpah of John McCain choosing Sen. Obama's "change" and "maverick" theme when he selected Governor Palin over Senator Clinton's "experience" and "ready to be president" theme. And irony. Even if there is a serious argument that Governor Palin's two years as governor are comparable to Sen. Obama's eight years in the state senate and two years in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Obama has 30-year veteran Joe Biden to work with closely as president and if, God forbid, Biden should succeed to the presidency. How does Joe Biden compare to Sarah Palin on readiness to be president?

Come on. Let's get serious.

One good thing is plain about the two tickets: We actually may see an honest debate between liberal and conservative positions on issues and which of the two candidates can better appeal to the broad center -- between these two philosophical bases of the two major parties -- where general elections are won.

I see Sen. Obama's true centrist positions on social issues - faith, pro-2d Amendment, and especially, pro-individual responsibility and family values, including in the black community - as much different from the portrayal (rightly or wrongly) the Republicans got away with the ideological - dominated Al Gore and John Kerry.

The greatest risk of all to Sen. McCain in his choice of Governor Palin is what can be called the potential of a "James Stockdale" moment.

That is a reference to the late Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, who ran as Ross Perot's vice presidential candidate in 1992. Admiral Stockdale, a congressional medal of honor winner and a seven-year POW in North Vietnam, began his turn at the October 1992 vice presidential debate with Democrat Al Gore and Republican Dan Quayle with the memorable opening line:

"Who am I? Why am I here?"

Admiral Stockdale -- and his presidential ticketmate, Ross Perot -- never had a chance to recover from that "deer in headlights" moment. Rightly or wrongly, most Americans couldn't imagine the good Admiral and war hero being one heartbeat from the presidency.

Certainly Sen. McCain's high command, as enthusiastic as they now seem about Sarah Palin, must have some concern about the inexperienced Ms. Palin on the national stage conveying such an unplanned, spontaneous Stockdale-moment -- either on the campaign trail with a live mike or in her one debate with Sen. Joseph Biden.

She may be a true maverick and reformer and a burst of new energy for the heretofore unenthusiastic evangelical Christian right base of the GOP. She has certainly made a favorable impression on me as smart, politically savvy, tough-minded, and charming.

But her margin of error may be as thin as Admiral Stockdale's. And when she is asked why she would require a young woman impregnated by her father not to terminate her pregnancy even in the early weeks and, instead, be forced to have that baby, it will be interesting to see whether she has an answer that won't do to Sen. McCain what Admiral Stockdale did to Ross Perot.

But one thing is clear - John McCain must have taken this risk into account and decided that it was time to roll the dice and take the chance -- or else the Obama-Biden ticket, up 8% in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll on the day of the announcement of Governor Palin as Sen. McCain's choice, would win anyway.