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Sarah Palin for VP? Might be Genius   August 29th, 2008
       

 
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It's official: McCain's choice for vice-president is Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin .

Who?

Exactly. I hadn't ever heard of her before today. I think that's true of most of the country, Republicans included. From Alaska? That doesn't bring much potential to influence swing states or any large regional voting blocks. She definitely appears to be conservative so it doesn't seem like Republicans should have a problem with her, but her anonymity isn't likely to excite many Republicans either. So what's the point?

My first thought was that Gov. Palin, like Senator Biden, were "safe" choices. Neither one really excited any of their respective bases, but didn't particularly do anything to harm their respective tickets, either. Biden is a good liberal and Palin appears to be a good conservative. In both cases it seemed like the point was more about keeping the focus entirely on the presidential candidate while making sure the vice presidential candidate didn't do any damage. They were "safe" choices that didn't upset the status quo of each ticket so it'd mostly be a pure Obama vs. McCain match-up.

Of course I quickly realized that the move could be interpreted (and may very well be) a none-too-subtle play for disenchanted Hillary Clinton supporters. Leading up to the Democratic National Convention there was plenty of news and polls suggesting a good number of Clinton supporters might rather vote for McCain than Obama. By giving those people a woman as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, perhaps the idea is that many of those former Clinton supporters will be even more motivated to vote for the Republican ticket. I'm not sure whether that will actually gain them any Hillary votes, but it certainly won't lose them.

Then I started reading liberal blogs and commentary about the choice. Incredibly, they were attacking her for her lack of experience and that "the question of experience is off the table." They expressed concern that someone with no experience, like Palin, would be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Amazing, I thought, considering the Democratic candidate for president. As I continued to read their attacks and criticisms and questions about Palin, I found myself applying their same attacks and criticisms and questions at Obama.

That's when I realized that, in addition to Palin appearing to be a consistent conservative and in addition to possibly attracting some Hillary supporters, this might be a very well-planned, strategic decision for exactly that reason: Every time someone questions Palin and the risk of her inexperience should she arrive at the Oval Office, a lot of people are going to be applying those very same questions and attacks to Obama and thinking, "Well, yeah, but which is more worrisome... that inexperienced Palin might become president someday or that inexperienced Obama will be president tomorrow?" Every time anyone criticizes her lack of experience, they indirectly will be highlighting Obama's lack of experience. In the vice presidential debates, Senator Biden will have to tread very carefully in touching the topic since any question asked of her will be applied to Obama in the minds of many viewers.

Despite the fact that some Democrats are saying that this removes inexperience as an issue in the campaign, I think it actually brings it to the forefront. Every single thing the Democrats say against Palin is, in the minds of many people, going to highlight the very real concerns about Obama. If Democrats think we should be worried about Palin's inexperience as vice-president, doesn't that mean we should be even more concerned about Obama's inexperience as a presidential candidate?

I certainly don't know if the strategy will work, but I think it's clear that this is the strategy. By selecting a woman as the vice-presidential candidate, that will appeal to some women. By selecting a consistent conservative you don't turn off the Republican base. And by selecting someone with little political experience, the Republicans actually highlight the inexperience of the Democratic presidential candidate. And Gov. Palin is a true Washington outsider with a record of really shaking things up.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It is a bit of a gamble on McCain's part but it might be a stroke of genius.

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