I must admit, I was surprised by McCain’s vice presidential pick. Unlike many, I’d heard of Sarah Palin before, mostly because she was in favour of drilling in ANWR. Still, because of her relative lack of notoriety (and the fact she’d only been governor for two years), I thought McCain was going to choose a standard issue boring white guy who would be to politics what warm milk is to beverages. I was fully prepared to time my naps around this: in particular, Mitt Romney should be classified as a sedative by the FDA.
Palin isn’t like that. She’s different: however, I don’t buy the whole “Alaska hockey mom” thing; after all, she is a governor. You don’t get into any Governor’s Mansion by merely being normal, on the contrary. Mid to high level politics requires a different set of instincts and nerve endings that precludes most “normal” people. That said, I don’t think some of the commentary by some of Barack’s other supporters has helped: I wasn’t thrilled by the suggestion that her Down’s Syndrome child is actually her daughter’s son. Sorry, folks, there are pictures of her with a baby bump, and there’s a difference between that and stuffing a basketball in her skirt. Going on about this simply looks nuts.
Nor do I think it’s good politics to be saying she’s a “beauty queen”; yes, some beauty queens tend to reveal that they’re pretty dumb when they get asked about world affairs. However, if her answers aren’t stupid enough to elicit laughter, this too might backfire.
Furthermore, I heard a comment from CNN that really alarmed me: I can’t reconstruct the actual quote, but I certainly can recall the gist. The commentator basically said that the demands of taking care of a Downs Syndrome child and running for public office were incompatible, and nearly suggested she was neglecting her kid. Worse, the talking head in this case was male. Ouch: I could almost hear the scraping sound of disembowelling knives being sharpened echo across the ocean.
Anyway, these approaches also miss the point. Her big bugbear is sucking more oil out of the Alaskan wilderness; let’s go ahead and rape nature some more, shall we? Â Furthermore, for all her talk of “reform”, she simply wants to do things in the same way, perhaps even more vehemently than before. These are the genuine obscenities that should get us worked up; I know that the tactics of Karl Rove have conditioned people to look for the quick, easy kill on the basis of some scandal. Trying to go for one of those is going to be tough, and the risk of backfire is too much.
But as ever, Barack knows best. He and Joe Biden issued a gracious and polite statement. I think he knows that being too aggressive against Palin personally isn’t necessarily the wisest move. Furthermore, I think he also knows that McCain is taking a real chance here: Alaska is one thing, the national stage is quite another. If she messes up and confuses Iraq with Iran, it’s not like when McCain did it: everyone assumed he was having a “senior moment”. If she shows any intellectual cracks, she’s a female Dan Quayle. The microphones can and should be at the ready.
Barack is deliberate; I can imagine him reading her file, looking at videoed speeches and having quiet discussions with Biden and his advisors. I envisage they have a few ideas on what to do: but I suggest that one of the best ideas is the simplest. Just say, “I disagree”, or “we disagree”. No one can deliver that line better than Obama: “John McCain and Sarah Palin believe in continuing the same economic and foreign policy of the past 8 years, and infact, want to go even further – I disagree…John McCain and Sarah Palin want to follow the same environmental policies – I disagree.” The frame of the debate in this scenario shifts from personalities to policies, which is decidedly an Obama advantage.
Some people I know are tempted to be dismissive of Palin; there’s a chance that could be interpreted as sexist. Furthermore, the fact that Geraldine Ferraro was so warm and effusive in welcoming Palin’s candidacy does indicate that at least some women are seeing this as a historic pick. Please: take her seriously, take her calmly, just disagree.
So, things are a bit more complicated than they once were. I’m disappointed that my Romney induced naps turned out to be a pipe dream. Still, 2008 is on its way to being the best election ever.
Some people might take umbrage at that title. After all, the economy is in bad shape, the environment is in trouble, Russia is running rampant, and China appears to be in the ascendant. However, look at the situation: even the Republicans are having to move in a progressive direction, albeit nominally. Their glass ceiling was always thicker and more bulletproof than the Democrat one: the Democrats had their first female Vice Presidential candidate 24 years ago. The tickets taken together show that politics is opening up: none of the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates are part of a long-established political dynasty (Mccain’s family is admittedly high up in the Navy). Neither Barack nor Palin are particularly rich. This is also the most youthful election in many respects: this not just refers to the ages of some of the candidates, but it also refers to the engagement of young people in the process. Democracy is working: it’s vacuuming up the dust of yesteryear, and in the process, establishing a new set of norms.
No longer is it going to be “groundbreaking” or “historic” for there to be a Presidential candidate who is either a minority or a woman or both. These things have become normal thanks to Barack, Hillary and yes, both McCain and Palin. After this year, I doubt they’ll merit too much comment. If Deval Patrick runs one day, or Kathleen Sebelius decides to step up, no one will tell either of them that it can’t be done. Of course it can be done; it’s there to be done, and now it’s been done before. Thanks to the best election ever, while some of the candidates may never be normal, having the corridors of power open to anyone regardless of race or gender certainly is.