The Palin Pick

Okay, I’ve had some time to digest why I think the nomination of Sarah Palin is wrong, and I’m now ready to make the coherent argument.

Coming into the conventions, Republicans who considered themselves likely voters indicated in most polls that, on average, 87% of them were ready to vote for McCain as President. Contrast this with Obama, who had only 83% of likely Democratic voters in his pocket. The reason for Obama’s poorer showing, heading into Denver, was singular: the Hillary hangover.

Let’s consider who those likely voters that weren’t with their party’s presumptive nominees were. For the Democrats, it wasn’t the liberal base: those folks have been with Obama over Hillary for quite some time, given their varied stances on the Iraq War. [Regardless of the effect that Obama’s moderation of his stance might have on those voters, Obama voters don’t seem inclined to flee him even though he’s moved to the center a bit.] No, it was three groups in Hillary’s core that Obama wasn’t reaching: working-class folks, women voters who still wanted Hillary as President [which I get, I really do; in the reverse situation, you’d probably have some black voters who were reluctant to be behind Hillary with the taste of the promise of a President Obama still on their tongues], and older voters. Joe Biden, with his age, roots, and experience, ameliorates two of those three things. And Billary probably did their dead-level best to unite the party behind Obama in Denver; sure, there are going to be some defectors, but those folks were most likely already leaning that way before Barack ever set foot in Colorado.

For the GOP, it’s mostly voters from the base, the kind of folks who think McCain is too much a maverick and worry if he’s conservative enough. Palin might have the sheen of a moderate, corruption-fighting maverick from Alaska, but the first quotes I saw about her were from Ralph Reed and James Dobson—the very folks that were wary of McCain. Palin’s history—mainly her narrative about choosing to carry a Down’s syndrome child to term—solidly puts her in the conservative end of things. I see video clips of her shooting a gun and know that my dad is sitting in Tennessee, smiling that a pro-gun governor from the west kicks ass.

But here’s the difference in the calculus: if you make the argument that the bases aren’t going to defect to a third-party candidate [in this case, Bob Barr for the GOP], why not go to the center? Obama’s pick of Biden moves him towards the center, as Biden picks up the few hawkish Democrats and those in the center that were for the war but who’ve not liked how it’s been prosecuted [hello, right here] as well as helping Obama with the working-class gruffs who love that he rides the train home to Delaware every night, rather than living in Washington. [And I love that, too.] Palin, on the other hand, seems to be designed to do two things: 1) shore up the GOP base and 2) pick off Hillary supporters purely by being a female. Ummm … that seems like a grand miscalculation of the likelihood of centrists moving to McCain.

As I was writing this, Kari and I were trading emails about the Palin pick [amongst other things; our friendship is mostly based on these emails we trade when we need to talk things out, hehehe], and she pointed me to Andrew Sullivan’s piece on how Palin is not, in early polling, pulling the undecideds:

But among the critical undecideds, the Palin pick made only 6 percent more likely to vote for McCain; and it made 31 percent less likely to vote for him. 49 percent said it would have no impact, and 15 percent remained unsure. More to the point: among undecideds, 59 percent said Palin was unready to be president. Only 6 percent said she was. If the first criterion for any job is whether you’re ready for it, this is a pretty major indictment of the first act of McCain’s presidential leadership.

One other striking finding. If McCain thought he could present Palin as a moderate, he was wrong. A whopping 69 percent view her as conservative (37 percent as very conservative), and only 13 percent see her as moderate.

From this first snap-shot (and unsettled) impression, Palin has helped McCain among Republicans, left Democrats unfazed, but moved the undecideds against him quite sharply. I totally understand why.

So, who would I have picked, were I McCain? I would have taken Joe Lieberman in a heartbeat, concerns about the conservative wing of the GOP defecting and/or staying home notwithstanding. Here’s the thing: the folks on the right-wing of the GOP are scared of Obama. They don’t like his politics, but they realize that he resonates with Americans in many of the same ways that Reagan did thirty years ago. Remember, the GOP loves Reagan [and with, I would say, fairly good reason, the failures of trickle-down economics notwithstanding; all in all, I think Reagan did a very good job]; they see Obama as someone who will do the same thing for the Democrats. Also, conservative voters know that one main reason W won in 2000 was the Nader Effect. Conservatives like holding the White House, and I think that, in the end, they would’ve held their noses and voted for McCain-Lieberman.

Why do I care? Really, it’s simple: I want the best two candidates possible. I voted for McCain in the Alabama primary because I thought he was the best of the GOP field; I’m planning on voting for Obama because I think he’s the better candidate. But just because I now find myself in the Obama camp—a weird place for me, as I’ve voted Dole, Bush, and Bush since I turned 18—doesn’t mean that I want to see the GOP roll over and play dead. I want the best thing for this country, and I think the best thing for America would be a spirited, principled discussion between the two sides. And, in the case that Obama lost, I would want McCain to have the best partner in governance on his side—and I think that’s Joe Lieberman, not Sarah Palin.

If you follow my delicious bookmarks, you’ll see that I’ve bookmarked a lot about Palin already. I’m this fired up about it because I think it’s the wrong decision. I wanted the right one, because I want the best thing for this country.