I’m still trying to figure out whether this choice of McCain’s is desperate or brilliant. The arguments for both:
Desperate: This has the appearance of an appointment made in haste. It’s been established that Joe Lieberman, McCain’s first choice, was not acceptable to the Republican base, and it appears that Palin was picked very late in the game. All the indications are that Palin’s vetting was shallow; indeed, Talking Points Memo indicates that the Republican team has just now hit the ground in Alaska to do the deep digging. And certainly the ongoing information suggesting that Palin used her office to try to force the firing of her sister’s ex-husband, and that she did fire his boss when she couldn’t get the ex-brother-in-law fired, suggests that McCain’s team was not aware of this abuse of power on Palin’s part. As does the unfortunate situation with her daughter. As do her misleading statements about her support for the Bridge to Nowhere (brief: she supported it before she condemned it). As does her apparent past membership in the Alaska Independence Party.
Brilliant: McCain needed to differentiate himself from Obama while seizing hold of the “change” meme to pick up independent voters, but he also had to play to his base, who were late to fall in line behind the one-time “maverick.” Picking Palin on the basis of who she was (conservative, anti-choice, pro-guns, a short history as a reformer) helped shore up the base.
But more than this, maybe there’s a new calculus in play, a short-term thought process that says that the American people are going to be more likely to think whether a candidate for the second highest office in the land is “like them” than they are to worry about the person’s fitness for the job. In this short-term way of thinking, someone can be good to vote for simply because they are empathetic, because the voter wants to be that person. It’s kind of a “politician as celebrity” play.
Whether the choice, which looks to me like pandering, will work is still at play. Gallup and Rasmussen both show Obama widening his lead over McCain after the pick, primarily by picking up undecided voters. But polls have been wrong before.
Update: Illuminating in light of the above: McCain campaign manager Rick Davis says “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” So in other words, the McCain camp is betting on the celebrity view of politics that I describe above. Which is ironic, given their ads bashing Obama for being a celebrity.