Election 2008

Sarah Palin pros, Sarah Palin cons, Sarah Palin inexperience
Kiichiro Sato/AP

Conventional Wisdom Split on Sarah Palin

September 02, 2008 05:04 PM
by Josh Katz
The parsing of John McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate includes examinations of the Alaska governor’s résumé, her family, and her value to the ticket.

The Palin Bump

At first, many analysts saw the Sarah Palin pick as a brilliant tactic to lure female voters to the Republican camp who were angered by N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s loss to Obama in the primaries, and Obama’s subsequent decision not to choose her as his running mate. But, in the Christian Science Monitor, John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson say that Clinton supporters are not going to vote for McCain, and the rise of Sarah Palin is not going to change that.

Palin’s opposition to abortion and defense of gun ownership will turn off Clinton supporters, USA Today argues. Palin will, however, appeal to the extremely important contingent of independent voters and moderate women. The white female independent voting bloc accounts for “about 14% of the electorate and has been evenly divided in polls between McCain and Democrat Barack Obama,” according to USA Today.

Palin has been a shot in the arm to McCain’s conservative Republican base. In the days since McCain chose Palin, Republican donors have funneled $7 million into his coffers. Before, “Many had the feeling that they were watching a rerun of Bob Dole’s losing campaign and were unenthused about McCain’s candidacy. Until now,” the Monitor writes.

Palin is also attractive to blue-collar voters, according to the Monitor; blue-collar Americans “who are likely to be intrigued by a former beauty queen and star athlete who knows her way around a commercial fishing boat, hunts moose, and is married to a champion snowmobile racer—Alaska’s equivalent of a NASCAR driver.”

Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times agrees that Palin is the perfect choice when it comes to attracting working class voters; who can better empathize with the plight of working families: Biden, a trial-lawyer friendly senator since the Jurassic era, or a woman with five kids (including a son in the Army and a young daughter, we’ve just learned, who is pregnant) and a blue-collar spouse?”

On NBC’s “Face the Nation,” Rudy Giuliani fired back at those who criticize Palin’s experience, according to the Monitor. “She’s vetoed legislation, she’s taken on corruption in her party and won. She took on the oil companies and won. She administered a budget successfully,” he said. But Giuliani claimed that Obama has “never run a city, he’s never run a state, he’s never run a business, he’s never administered a payroll, he’s never led people in crisis.”

By picking Palin, McCain has also undercut the media attention surrounding Obama following his prominent acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The move has shifted that attention back to McCain as the Republican National Convention takes center stage this week, the Monitor notes.
David Harsanyi of Real Clear Politics has a unique take on Sarah Palin. He claims that her values match those of a libertarian more than “any national candidate in recent memory.” Harsanyi notes that Palin “vetoed 300 pork projects in Alaska in her first year in office,” and has dedicated her career to the ridding Alaska of government corruption. She is hailed in Alaska, “arguably the nation’s most libertarian-minded populace.” Harsanyi doesn’t deny Palin’s social conservatism, but he says it is “reform-minded conservatism.”

The Palin Problem

Many of the arguments against Palin have centered on her lack of experience. “Given that McCain has described his Democratic opponent as unready to lead and called the fight against Islamic extremism as ‘the transcendent challenge of our time,’ his choice of Palin is puzzling,” according to USA Today. The newspaper does not buy the assertion that Palin actually has more experience than Obama, claiming that the last year of campaigning has given Obama more experience than many politicians ever get.

E. J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post says that, “By all rights, there should be a revolt at this week’s (now-delayed) Republican convention against John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.” If Republicans were appalled by Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, then Palin should evoke strong emotions from them as well, according to Dionne. “There are many who say that in choosing Palin, McCain has taken the issue of experience off the table. I disagree. Now, the balance on experience shifts toward the Democrats.”

In a Miami Herald op-ed, Richard Cohen agrees. “She is nonetheless eminently unqualified to be president of the United States. That 3 a.m. call had better be a wrong number.” Cohen also indicates that McCain’s old age and health suddenly appear that much more ominous with Palin waiting in the wings. “John McCain, for political and personal reasons, has left the United States of America to Sarah Palin. At this moment, she seems shockingly undeserving.”

David Brooks of The New York Times highlights all of the similarities between McCain and Palin, and finds many. They are both reform-minded individuals who often look beyond politics, Brooks writes, but that is exactly why he is wary of the Palin choice: “So my worries about Palin are not (primarily) about her lack of experience; My worry about Palin is that she shares McCain’s primary weakness—that she has a tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political philosophy.” According to Brooks, “most issues are not confrontations between virtue and vice.”

Bristol Palin’s Pregnancy

The news that Palin’s unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant has generated mixed emotions. Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times rebukes Palin for her public support for her daughter’s child, claiming “There’s no way to put a positive spin on a teen in this kind of trouble.” She goes on to say that, “Palin should have acknowledged the disappointment and pain any mother feels when she learns her teenage daughter has stumbled onto this tough road.”

The Wall Street Journal takes a different perspective on the matter; the paper argues that whatever occurs in Palin’s home should stay private, but implies that, if anything, the issue might ultimately reflect well on Palin. Conservatives have already pointed to the matter as proof of her stringent pro-life ideals; and the fact that Palin chose to keep a child with Down syndrome is further evidence. “Whatever one thinks of Mrs. Palin’s candidacy or of her pro-life views, every American can appreciate the difficulty of the personal decisions she and her family have had to make—and admire the sight of a family that has the courage of its convictions,” the Journal writes.

Michael Graham of the Boston Herald also feels that the pregnancy debate is a boon to the McCain-Palin ticket. Much media attention is now focused on Palin, which should boost the ratings for her speech at the RNC. Also, Graham argues that many non-Hillary supporting mothers will relate to Palin’s story. “Her daughter’s pregnancy highlights another part of Palin’s appeal. Her normalcy. Here’s a woman who has run a business, raised a family, who is sending a son off to Iraq, who has another son with a disability, and now has to help her teenage daughter face motherhood.” According to Graham, “Sarah Palin is as accessible as Obama is exotic. Her life story is simultaneously exciting and mundane. All the way from Alaska, she comes to America as The Girl Next Door.”

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