Balanced tickets

Jay Cost has an interesting take on McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for VP. I mostly agree  with him (except that I think he is wrong to say, in passing, that Obama should have chosen Clinton over Biden).

I think many people are surprised to discover that McCain intends to carry a positive message into the fall. Many of us had assumed that this election would be a referendum on Barack Obama, with McCain serving as an inoffensive backup for those too unsure of the junior senator from Illinois. Just a few weeks ago, I used this logic to argue that McCain should select Mitt Romney, as he was the best among the viable picks to go after Obama.

John McCain clearly does not share this view of the race. By picking Palin, he is signaling that he intends to win this election not just by attacking Obama, but by offering an affirmative message of his own.

What is that message? It is that he represents change, too. It's not the "drastic" change that Obama represents, but rather "common sense reform" (scare quotes reflect what we will hear from McCain-Palin, not non-partisan reality). McCain is indicating that he, too, is a candidate whose election would alter the status quo - not as much as Obama's election would, but alter it nonetheless.

Indeed, it is interesting to consider the two tickets. The fresh but inexperienced candidate is at the top of the Democratic ticket; the experienced pol who, even after all these years, "calls it like he sees it" is at the bottom. With the GOP, it's reversed. These tickets are mirror images of one another. The message to voters from McCain? If you're unhappy with the status quo in Washington, but are worried that Obama-Biden would be too drastic a change, vote McCain-Palin.

So, the public gets a pretty sophisticated choice this year. It's not a choice between change versus more of the same. It's a choice between degrees of change. I like this. And while I have no idea how Palin will play, I like that McCain believes he has to offer something positive and new to win.

In my Monday column for the FT, I argue that the Palin pick, though an enormous risk,  may well have been a risk worth taking. I'll post the column after the jump.

So John McCain is no longer a maverick. Here is one Democratic talking point that will need some work, and it is by no means the only one. In naming Sarah Palin - the young and only recently elected governor of Alaska, a small-town mayor before that - as his Republican running mate in the US presidential race, Mr McCain has taken an extraordinary risk. It was certainly the act of an unorthodox politician. Was it, though, the act of a reckless and stupid one? I think not.

The instant reaction among Democrats was astonishment. Quickly that gave way to outrage. James Carville, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, said he was "vexed, completely vexed" by the choice. Paul Begala, another friend of the Clintons, in almost his first sentence on the matter, sneeringly attributed Mrs Palin's poise to her time as a beauty queen. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House of Representatives' Democratic caucus, said: "On his 72nd birthday, this is the guy's judgment of who he wants one heartbeat from the presidency? Please." The prevailing attitude was a hair's breadth from laughter at the bimbo from a state that does not count.

Will these people never learn? Let me try to walk the experts, with their many years of experience, through this thing.

The McCain campaign staff could not have scripted a more helpful response. They are anything but embarrassed by a focus on Mrs Palin's inexperience, and the more spluttering, condescending and incredulous it is, the better. The reason is obvious: Democrats' amazement at the suggestion that Mrs Palin is fit to be vice-president has disturbing implications for Barack Obama's own fitness to be president. She, after all, has had two years running a state. He has had no years running anything. Also, if experience matters as much as the Democrats now say, you want it at the top of the ticket, do you not?

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