There has been much discussion recently about whether the so-called "Bradley Effect" will contribute to the outcome of this presidential contest; whether voters in the private confines of the voting booth will actually pull the lever or punch the ballot for an African-American candidate. When Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, ran for governor of California in 1982, the polls had him widely ahead on Election Day. He lost, it is believed, because those polled were not truthful when asked if race would affect their choice.
Many pundits caution that such racial prejudice still lurks in the background today. They argue that despite Obama's comfortable lead, the Bradley Effect could rear its head at the last minute and become a significant factor in the outcome of this election. Others believe that race has already been factored into the polls and is the major reason why Obama is not leading by a much wider margin with all conditions seemingly pointing his way.
An Obama victory on November 4 would be the death knell of the Bradley Effect. With an African-American in the White House, our country would finally be post-racial. The next generation of minorities born in this country, whether African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American or Indian-American, would truly not comprehend that race was once a barrier to high public office, much in the way that young women today cannot really fathom that they did not always have the right to vote.
The Bradley Effect thus behind us, the legacy of the 2008 presidential election would be what I call the "Palin Defect." I believe that the majority of independent swing voters who are on the fence about whether to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama will ultimately choose Obama in the voting booth because of Sarah Palin. They will not be able to shake their nagging feeling that Palin is just completely unqualified to be the vice president; that her views and campaigning style are divisive, her knowledge base is laughable and she is downright dangerous for our country. While she may possess style and be able to deliver a performance, she has negligible substance -- something we just cannot afford to live without in these complex times.
So despite their affinity for McCain, they will ultimately be swayed by the thought that on day one Sarah Palin would be a heartbeat away from a president who would be 72 years old with a history of melanoma and with what clearly seems to be her own separate agenda. And they will be reassured in their vote for Barack Obama by his much more reasoned and thoughtful selection of Joe Biden as his VP.
In retrospect, McCain's choice of Palin would be seen as a major cause of his defeat and the primary reason many of those even in his own party turned against him. The Palin Defect would thus forevermore dictate that: (1) the choice of a vice presidential running mate actually does matter and selecting a mate perceived as unqualified has real consequences; and (2) failure of the first real public test of a candidate's decision-making process, priorities, and judgment in the act of selecting a running mate can prove fatal to a candidate's prospects.
The Palin Defect would force future presidential candidates to place paramount importance on a running mate's actual ability to step in on day one should something happen to the president with the necessary seasoning, judgment, gravitas, and intellect to handle the job. A selection would no longer be able to be motivated strictly by political pandering or "playing to the base" the way that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin and George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle were. Going forward, presidential candidates would truly have to put "country first" in choosing a vice-presidential running mate; otherwise, they could potentially suffer the outrage and backlash of the public and the media as they begin to expose the charade.
Will the 2008 election be the birth of a new guiding principal -- the Palin Defect -- in presidential elections?
Thankfully, we'll all know soon enough.