Thoughts on Sarah Palin

They're a little scattered, since I spent the speech lying in bed and wheezing.  So, bullet points.

  • This woman is an Obama-level political natural.  She is a ferociously good speaker, and almost preternaturally composed.  
  • Sarah Palin is what the McCain camp has badly needed:  an attack dog who can be deployed against Obama.  She slides the stiletto in without either losing her femininity or coming across as catty, and given that she's married to an eskimo, it's going to be hard to fit her into the narrative of conservative closet racists trying to perpetuate white domination.
  • She's going to be a hard act for McCain to follow tonight
  • The Democrats are, as my colleague Clive Crooks notes, in trouble.  Whatever you think of her as a potential president,  she is a politically brilliant choice, and Democrats are going to have a very hard time finding traction to attack her.
Well, the Democrats have a problem. They had a few days of calling her a clueless redneck, a stewardess, a nonentity, and she has hurled that back in their bleeding gums. (If I were Joe Biden, I'd start practising for October 2nd right now.) Even before tonight's speech, they had backed off the "no experience" strategy, because (as the Republicans intended) that was sending shrapnel in Obama's direction. Their line right now is their default mode, that McCain-Palin is four more years of George Bush. But this too is a completely untenable strategy, since the Republican ticket now looks stunningly fresh to voters, as fresh in fact as Obama-Biden. Where they will have to end up is obvious: McCain-Palin is an extreme right-wing ticket. It is a team that will prosecute the culture war against all that is decent and civilized in the United States: that must be the line.

  • Many Democratic bloggers are itching to go after this woman for all of her perceived flaws.  I understand why, but if they do so, they are very likely to get McCain elected.  If I were a Democratic strategist right now, I would be telling the campaign to pretend she doesn't exist.  There is simply no way to attack her without alienating the swing voters they need by sending the message:  "People like you are idiots who can't be trusted to make important decisions", and also, triggering the social opprobrium that falls on men who say nasty things about women.  What can I say?  Sometimes sexism works in womens' favor.
  • The McCain/Palin ticket represents something that I think is fairly troubling:  a sort of parody of traditional gender roles.  McCain is, and is running as, a hyper-macho flyboy, one whom I personally find disappointingly adolescent.  Palin's speech seemed to imply that her main qualification for office is having five kids and a great husband.  What man would have characterized himself as a "hockey Dad" when introducing himself as a candidate for the second highest office in the land?  Being a parent is hard and important, but it is no more a good qualification for higher office than is being a journalist, which is also hard and important.  Palin's entire persona seems crafted to be the anti-Hillary: no man will find her a challenge to his masculine ego.  I do not like the fact that this seems to be more successful than running on, say, actual policy positions.
  • I have no reason to think that she would be a particularly bad president.  Obama hasn't any more relevant experience than she has; he's simply been coaching for the thing longer.  If he can get up to speed to be president in 18 months, presumably so can she, and I think its reasonable to expect McCain to live that long.  We do not elect presidents because they are experts on everything that will come up during their presidency--they couldn't possibly be.  We elect them because we think they have good judgement and values that match our own.  Contra my Democratic friends, I'm not sure that voters will see "But McCain really might die in office!" as a bug, rather than a feature.
  • The "hockey Mom" schtick is a political lie.  You could not possibly be a hockey Mom and the vice president of the United States, or for that matter, governor of Alaska.  Todd is a hockey Mom.  Sarah Palin, whatever she has done in the past, is now exactly like male politicians:  someone else is doing the main work of raising her kids.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that, of cours, and as political hogwash goes, it's pretty low-grade.
  • She really is more like ordinary voters than the other politicians here.  Wail all you want about how she's super-pro-life, has five kids, and lives in a tiny town.  Sarah Palin is not a member of an upper-middle-class elite that has been groomed all its life to seize the power they've been told they're entitled to.  She doesn't vacation in Europe or go to the opera.  Neither do most of the voters she's trying to attract.
  • I'll be surprised if McCain doesn't get a sizeable convention bump.  Democrats are in denial about the trouble--which I too find inexplicable--that the Obama campaign is in.
  • As a person I like her.  Politically, I dislike what she represents:  populism, culture warmongering, and especially, the notion that if a woman is to hold power, she has to make herself non-threatening by emphasizing her domesticity and fertility.  I don't blame her for doing these things, since they seem to work. But I don't like living in a society where this works.
  • Obama is already having HUGE trouble with the union rank and file in the old guard unions.  I don't know what's happening in up-and-coming unions like the SEIU, but in traditional unions like the Laborers, leadership endorsement has failed to translate into support from the membership.  The fact that Todd Palin was a steelworker is probably going to pull more of those people into the Republican camp, though of course, McCain's stance on trade will continue to cost him a lot of votes with the Steel and Auto workers.
  • We might as well not bother to talk about policy issues in this campaign; we're now in all out culture war, with the coasts and the heartland fighting for control of Ohio.