Give the Mayberry Machiavellis running McCain’s campaign credit: They’re willing to go for it. They play the game with gusto.
Sarah Palin, based on the little bit of video I’ve watched, is fairly bright. Like Obama and Biden (but very much unlike the current iteration of McCain) she can speak in front of the camera without cue cards. She’s inexperienced, yes, but she has the potential to surprise anyone in the Obama campaign who assumes she’s going to be a pushover, and that all they have to do is point and laugh in order to make the case that she has no business being McCain’s veep.
Yes, she’s got that “troopergate” scandal hanging around. Yes, she’s outside the mainstream in terms of her views about teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes and denying abortions even in cases of rape and incest. Yes, she apparently doesn’t know jack about all those serious foreign-policy issues that the McCain campaign has been claiming Obama doesn’t know enough about.
None of which really matters. She’s only the veep. This country’s voters were willing to put Dan Quayle a heartbeat away. Don’t tell me a sharp, cute, former state-champion point guard can’t clear that bar. She can.
What the Palin selection is about is just this: Changing the subject. When I walked into work on Friday, the day after Obama arguably destroyed the McCain campaign on the last night of the Democratic Convention, no one was talking about Obama. Everyone was talking about Sarah Palin.
Even if it comes out, as seems likely, that Palin has lied publicly about her role in the troopergate thing, and her role in the repurposing of the Bridge to Nowhere funds, and even if she commits a headline-grabbing gaffe every day from now until November 4, she’s a win from a political standpoint. Because she’s changing the subject.
As long as we’re all watching and listening to and talking about Sarah Palin, we’re not talking about the slam-dunk case Obama made against McCain Thursday night. We’re not talking about how McCain represents a continuation of the Bush presidency. It’s style over substance: See? I’m willing to choose a hot little firecracker like Sarah Palin as my veep. I’m not a stuffy old dude who has sold out his principles to ally himself with the forces of darkness in a last, desperate grab for the brass ring. I’m a maverick. I’m different. People are talking about me. (Well, about her.)
Not about that other guy.
I’d like to think it’s not going to work. I’d like to think Obama is too smart to fall into the trap of talking about Sarah Palin’s lack of qualifications.
Do you remember the vice presidential debate when Lloyd Bentsen absolutely eviscerated Dan Quayle with that “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line? Here it is in case you’ve forgotten:
All you Obama supporters who are gleeful at the prospect of going after Sarah Palin, watch that clip. You’re not going to get anything better than that. (Actually, you’re not going to get even that. Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle.) And then remind yourself who won that election.
Do not be distracted by Sarah Palin. She’s a sideshow. She’s a misdirection. She’s a wave of the magician’s hand to get you to look right while he’s loading up his sleeve on your left.
I’d like to think the trick isn’t going to work. But I’ve got grudging admiration for the people who tried it.