A Tale of Two Outsiders

As a early Palin-booster who's expressed disappointment with what we've seen from John McCain's running mate to date, I think it's reasonable for me to explain what, exactly, I was hoping for from the Alaska governor - who has, after all, been placed in an excruciatingly difficult situation over the last few weeks. The answer, I think, is something along the lines of what we saw from Mike Huckabee during the primary season. Huckabee was just as much of a political outsider as Palin (albeit one with more years in statewide office), he had the same sort of non-elite background - the degree from Ouachita Baptist University, the distinct non-yuppie family life, etc. - and the same dearth of foreign-policy experience, and he absorbed some of the same snobbish slings and arrows - from conservatives more than liberals - that have been hurled in Palin's direction. But in a highly-charged political environment, he also demonstrated enough of a facility for talking about politics and policy - which is an imperfect way to judge a potential President, but nonetheless one of the more important ways to judge that we have - to make himself a credible contender for the highest office in the land. Or at least I thought so. Yes, of course, he had all sorts of weaknesses, and one of his big policy ideas was daft, and he wasn't at his best talking about foreign affairs, and he favored cornpone humor over substance, and so on and so forth. But by the midpoint of the primary season, he was at least in the same ballpark as Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson or, yes, John McCain when it came to the question: Is this man a plausible President?

Now you may disagree - and if you do, you're probably either a disgruntled Romney backer or the sort of person who would never cotton to the notion of a one-term governor of Alaska as vice president anyway. (I exaggerate, but you take my point.) And even if you agree, you may say that the comparison is unfair - first, because Huckabee was unusually glib and charming, as politicians go, and second because he had a long primary season, much of it spent in relative obscurity, to achieve this effect, whereas Palin has only two months, all of them spent in the full-on glare of an obsessed and hostile press corps. Which is true enough! But Palin is where she is, and eight weeks is all she gets: The fact that she has a tougher challenge than Huckabee doesn't absolve her from the obligation to rise to meet it, and thus far she has not. I'm more inclined to reserve judgment on her present (and future) prospects than the disillusioned Noah Millman, whose reasons for being initially enthusiastic about her almost precisely match my own, and more likely to place the responsibility for the way she has been used to date with the uninspired, trench-warfare-plus-nothing McCain campaign. But the fact remains that she has given one fine speech, and two lackluster interviews, and has otherwise dodged the sort of rough-and-tumble venues and conversations that Huckabee welcomed, and which he used to make his candidacy for president seem more plausible than it initially appeared. Palin needs to at least approach the standard Huckabee set; she hasn't yet; and that failure is showing up in her approval ratings. There's still time for her to turn it around, and as you might expect, I'm pulling for her to do it. But at this point, there's an awful lot riding on that one vice-presidential debate.