Like the rest of the US, I’m a bit flummoxed with John McCain’s pick for Vice Presidential running mate. At first brush, Palin seems like the worst kind of pandering. Not only did McCain pick her to try and appeal to disaffected Clinton supporters, but also to shore up his base which is uncomfortable with his history of “crossing party lines.” Both groups, women and the far right, were meant to be persuaded by this choice. The problem is, the notion that women will vote for a ticket that is antithetical to their most deeply held beliefs (equal pay, right to an abortion, etc.) simply because there is a woman on the ticket is, in a word, offensive. I think those skalliwags at The Daily Show got it right. (While very honest and I think accurate, this clip is a bit crass, though still PG).
So unless McCain is simply delusional and thinks that he really will draw Clinton supporters with Palin on the ticket, why would he pick Palin? I think he did so for two reasons. First, Palin is the anti-Dick Cheney. Where Bush selected Cheney to fill out his ticket’s political resume, McCain needs no such help. Palin, at least in appearances, seems to be the polar opposite of the powerful, patriarchal, insider “man behind the curtain.” More than simply not looking like Cheney, in choosing Palin, McCain says to voters, “Unlike Bush, I don’t ask anyone else to do my thinking for me. I am my own man–I don’t need to shore up my ticket’s resume.” Many have wondered through this election how McCain was going to distance himself from Bush (not an easy task given his voting record) without simply coming out and disavowing him. Well, choosing Palin is laced with subtle signals that differentiate McCain from Bush.
Secondly, choosing Palin is an interesting shell game. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Palin, who I am trying to hold off judgment on till at least the VP debate, but there are two very distinct and contradictory messages being sent by her selection. See, the US at large has no idea who Palin is, and rightly so–she is has no national political exposure and is the governor of a remote and sparsely populated state. All that we see is the headline: “McCain chooses woman as a running mate.” Wow, I mean WOW! Could you define “maverick” in any better way? McCain chooses a woman instead of any number of “rich old white guys” to be his running mate. This is the shell the US at large looks under. However, Palin is well known to the right-wing of the Republican party. She is a star on the conservative talk show circuit, and the Republican base is very aware of her. Further, she is so conservative that she makes McCain look like a New Dealer. This is the shell that the GOP looks under.
So though Palin may be completely unprepared to be president of the United States, and she may have little chance of securing female votes, she is in an odd way the perfect political pick for John McCain. In one fell swoop she allows him to distance himself from the Bush-Cheney area and at the same time reinforced his Maverick image for independents while appeasing his conservative base. I hate to say it, but I’m impressed. I don’t know how he’d be as president, but I bet you that John McCain is one hell of a poker player.
Of course, now that he’s dealt himself his own hand, he’d better hope that she’s a Queen, not a Quayle.