Why Palin Spells Danger for Democrats

Sarah Palin is a disastrous choice for America.

As a candidate, she is a political gimmick: woefully inexperienced in national politics, and dangerously unqualified for the international reach of the Vice Presidency.

As a symbol of female progress, she is a travesty: she opposes a woman's right to chose in almost all circumstances, even refusing the right to abortion to victims of rape, and to women whose health would be put at risk by birth.

As to judgment, she fails the litmus test for the 21st century politician: she does not believe that global warming is caused by human activity.

The choice of Sarah Palin for VP is shamefully irresponsible, transparently political, and disastrous for women across America.

It is also brilliant.

Brilliant because she appeals directly to those voters Barack Obama dismissed during the primary as "clinging to guns and religion," and threatens to become the champion of those white working class Americans with whom Obama has always struggled to connect.

Brilliant because her story is a dream for the religious right, who will gather behind the McCain ticket and energise the base as they did for George Bush - oh, and that story just got better, not worse with the revelation of her daughter's pregnancy, thanks to Bristol Palin's pledge to keep the baby and marry the father.

Brilliant because she is the kind of figure Obama has spent so much time praising - she has genuine (if limited) non-partisan credentials, and she is a true Washington outsider. More than that, she has a whiff of hockey-mom amateurism that threatens to strike a chord in small towns like the one she represented as mayor.

And brilliant because in this election that will be about the economy, and more specifically, about gas prices, Sarah Palin's signature issue as Governor of Alaska is increased drilling, and energy independence.

This strikes me as the key strength of Sarah Palin: the McCain campaign will make her name a synonym for energy independence, for increased drilling, and for lower gas prices.

Those electoral strengths are coupled with her gender, which will have a galvanizing effect on some women - not on the majority of Clinton supporters who will instantly be turned off by her stance on abortion - but on the less partisan women who supported Hillary not for her policies, but because they felt like this was their moment to be recognized and represented.

It's a powerful combination in an election that will be decided in a handful of battleground states and demographics: Palin will play well in the suburbs and small towns of Ohio, and Pennsylvania. She will play well in blue collar neighborhoods and among gun owners, she will threaten the majority that Democrats need among women, and she will help McCain to hold the states won by Bush on the strength of the religious vote.

This young governor of Alaska is a powerful presence on the ticket, and the Obama campaign must know it.

What the Democrats need to do now is to turn the second "unlikely story" of this election from a fairy tale into a horror film. They need to re-write the narrative of Palin's politics and her personality. They need to generate distrust. They need to make her look flimsy, and unqualified; unappealing and unprincipled.

The real canniness of McCain's pick is in how hard this is going to be to achieve. The counter attacks almost write themselves:

Pillory her inexperience and the Republicans will point out that unlike Obama, Palin has at least run a state for two years; scoff at the small town she was mayor of, and the Democrats risk alienating voters in the thousands of comparable towns across America, and amplifying her accessibility to rural voters.

Demonize her for her views on abortion and they further fire up the right; mock her for her lack of international expertise, and she could end up looking more and more of an All-American girl.

Any attack on her as a mother (abandoning her six month old infant and her pregnant seventeen year old to serve her own ambitions) is way out of bounds in the aftermath of a Primary campaign that, with the benefit of hindsight, looks increasingly fueled by misogyny.

Indeed, the increasing sense of collective guilt among those in the media for the way in which Hillary Clinton was treated is going to make attacks on Palin dangerous and difficult for Democrats. They will have to tread carefully to avoid allegations of sexism that risk cementing her support among women, who will admire her as a hard working mother of five, coping with the stresses of a child with Down Syndrome and full time job.

Democrats need to take Joe Trippi's advice, and realize the scale of the problem McCain's choice represents.

They'd better hope she starts making some mistakes, that the news networks stop talking about hurricane Gustav and start focusing on some of the stories being dumped out of Alaska in its wake.

They'd better make sure voters notice that Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton, that she embodies all the failed politics and ideologies of the Bush administration, and that she finally shows McCain up for the cynical, and hot headed politician that he is.