At this point, I'm no longer that all that worried about Sarah Palin crashing and burning, Quayle-style, because John McCain plucked her from obscurity before her time. Now I'm worried about one of the GOP's most interesting talents being absorbed, and formed as a national politician, by a McCain campaign that's been deeply unimaginative on every front except the wars to win the weekly news cycle - and that seems happy, after the brief burst of risk-taking and creativity that produced the Palin pick and McCain's strikingly post-partisan acceptance speech (and gave them a big bounce in the polls, not coincidentally), to slip back into a cynical and deeply unimaginative style. I know that the people who've decided she's Monica Goodling with a shotgun aren't going to be persuaded by me on this point, but I think Palin really does have the potential to embody the kind of change the GOP desperately needs: In a party that's dominated by entrenched interests, she demonstrated that it's possible to take on the establishment and win; in a party increasingly riven by ideological feuds, she's demonstrated that it's possible to be a populist and a pragmatist, a social conservative on some fronts and a libertarian on others. But a vice-presidential run isn't the ideal place to develop that potential in the best of times, and a vice-presidential run under the tutelage of the McCain campaign is likely to produce a lot more of what we saw from Palin in her interview last night: Rigorously memorized, carefully regurgitated talking points, a determination to avoid making enormous gaffes, and not much else. Like Jonah Goldberg, I want to see Palin operating outside her comfort zone; like Ed Morrissey, I want to see a more fleshed-out vision of what McCain-Palin reformism would mean; like Noah Millman, I've been less than enthused with how the McCain camp has used her thus far. But based on the kind of campaign that McCain - or Steve Schmidt, more aptly - has run to date, I think what we've seen is exactly what we're going to continue to get: They've taken their one "different kind of Republican" risk, it's given them the boost they'd hoped for, and now it's just going to be a war of talking points and spin from here on out.
If Palin's smart - if she's the politician I hope she is, rather than an Alaskan Goodling with snazzy glasses - she'll push back against this tendency, and try to use the next two months as an opportunity to define herself substantively as something more than a careful memorizer of the briefing books she's handed. That's more or less the advice I offer her in this week's NR - but with the recognition that it's much, much easier said than done.
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