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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Avoiding the McCain-Palin Trap

I have to admit some significant disagreement with how most Democrats (including the Obama campaign) are reacting to the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running-mate. Many are simply deriding Palin as a lightweight or someone obviously unqualifed to be commander-in-chief–another Dan Quayle. Others watched the event in Dayton and found the whole thing laughable.
To be sure, I’m a poor judge of the visual side of campaign events. But what I saw in Dayton was (1) the “maverick” GOP presidential candidate introducing his “maverick” running mate, although Palin, even more than McCain, is actually a conservative ideologue whose selection thrilled both cultural and economic factions of the Right; (2) a direct appeal by Palin to HRC supporters to consummate Hillary’s campaign by shattering the splintered “glass ceiling;” (3) a compelling personal story of a woman who (a) has one son with Down’s Syndrome, (b) another who is being deployed to Iraq on September 11; (c) is married to a Native American (at least technically) union worker and athlete; and (d) has bravely defied her party and oil companies in Alaska.
If I’m wrong and other Democrats are right, then Palin’s obvious and laughable lack of gravitas and preparation for the vice presidency under a 72-year-old president will become apparent soon enough. But if I’m right and others are wrong, then focusing criticism of the choice of Palin on her qualifications could be a very large mistake, particularly in terms of women who might otherwise have little reason to support her, but who are sensitive to gender-based double standards. Credentials aside, Palin is very vulnerable because, like McCain, she’s mainly “above party” because she dissents from Republican orthodoxy in Alaska from the Right. Both cultural and economic wingnuts love her passionately. And as I said in my last post, she crucially reinforces McCain’s phony “maverick” image with her own phony maverick image.
Ignoring all that in favor of mocking her for what many Democrats are privately calling her “obvious” lack of credentials for the White House is a big and unnecessary gamble, and quite possibly a trap. We should all take pains to avoid it.

15 comments on “Avoiding the McCain-Palin Trap

  1. ThinkGuy on

    The comments on this thread prove why we Democrats always lose election, will lose this one, and deserve to. All of you, falling all over yourself about this “choice”…and in typical cowardly fashion of our party “advising caution”. Who needs the media to play this chick up, when the Democrats without a Backbone society will do it for them? How about going after somebody where they live for once? Obama did it for 45 minutes, ONE night…and now that’s off the table and we have to tread lightly? Again? How has that worked for Democrats so far?
    And now we have to make sure Joe Biden doesn’t go after her too hard in the debates because he doesn’t want to look like he is beating up on a woman??? The author of the Violence Against Women act now has to pretend this tart is a “worthy adversary”, so he doesn’t look like a chauvinist??
    Folks, Sarah Palin is a bimbo. Plain and simple. Furthermore, anyone who may have decided to vote for the McCain ticket based on her presence on it is someone I can easily loathe for any number of reasons.
    To begin with, she’s a nobody. A nothing. Words cannot describe how laughable the “Obama is a celebrity” argument has become in the wake of this VP pick. A former beauty queen, who spent a short time as a sportscaster on television. That’s not only celebrity, that’s B-List celebrity.
    So, let us move on to her political world. 3 years ago, she was Mayor of a city of only 9000 people. (One of Alaska’s largest.) Then, roughly 17 months ago, she became governor of Alaska.
    These facts have already been put together by the fools that actually think voting Republican this year is somehow intelligent, to indicate that she has more experience than Barack Obama.
    In a swimsuit competition, maybe. But practically speaking, to conclude that this poster girl who has spent barely a year and a half in one of the weaker gubernatorial posts in the nation, in a state with one of the lowest populations, preceded by the stint as Mayor of what amounts to that place in “Northern Exposure” has more experience than Barack Obama again should cause laughter in anyone with any degree of acumen.
    Obama has been a United States Senator for 4 years. This position requires him to have participated on the national stage, and by extension the international stage. Things he has to be educated on in order to vote intelligently are things that Palin would in all likelihood, need Wikipedia to understand.
    Don’t believe me? Look up her position on Iraq. She herself has said she “doesn’t think much about it.” By the way, her son is going there in a month.
    In other words, Obama does not have a lot of seniority in the U.S. Senate, but his foreign policy experience certainly exceeds that of Palin, whose foreign experience basically consists of her being able to stand on her state’s shore on a clear day, and make out Russia in the distance.
    Lest I forget another talking point, she has 5 children. She is governor and has five children, one with Downs Syndrome. And the point?
    “She does it all, and is governor at the same time! What a woman!”
    What a crock, you mean. The average CEO does more work on the job than the governor of that particular state, and even if that were not true, women with children hold down careers all of the time. Yes, even women with sick children, and woman with children that have Down Syndrome. This fact is only amazing to people who are still crawling towards the light of the 21st century, squinting and complaining as they realize, “wait a minute, a woman can do more than one thing at a time! Even if neither is in the kitchen!”
    In other words, backwards, thick-skulled Conservatives. You know, the type that would be the first to lambaste any Democratic woman who dared pursue a political career with that many children in tow, because her place would be ”in the home” or perhaps supporting her Promise Keeper of a husband.
    (The type that would go after any Democrat who used a position of power to get a sister’s ex-husband fired from a state job…yes even if that man was a bastard. But allow a Republican woman to use the power of her office for personal revenge, and it’s suddenly an admirable step forward for women’s rights?)
    Either way, the door does not swing both ways, and while there is nothing at all wrong with having 5 kids and being governor, it hardly warrants the heroic status people are already granting to her. A true feminist (which she is ridiculously called, as though a Republican Conservative even knows the meaning of the term) would not want any special prizes or recognition for being a mother and a working woman at the same time.
    Nor does she warrant hero status for her position on any number of issues. (At least, not to reasonable, fair minded people…none of whom ate likely to ever vote for McCain anyway.)
    No reproductive rights. And while this may make this MILF a darling of the right-wing, more than half of Americans do not support the overturning of Row V Wade as she does. And any disaffected PUMA voter, still reeling over the Hillary loss should not even have to think twice about jumping ship. If they do, they were voting the gender, and not the issues, and that is all there is to it. Hillary herself said ”No way, no how, No McCain”. Ergo, to fall for this obvious pandering on McCain’s part (something he has become quite good at this year) does nothing but point out the ignorance of some Hillary fans.
    And if you think this was not about getting Hillary voters, think again. Watch an ad or two, or listen to a speech from McCain, and how he has played up, quite clumsily, how Hillary was “overlooked” this election cycle. Or Palin’s own saluting of Hillary Clinton during her introduction to the nation. I suppose the pick of Palin had nothing at all to do with that? I cannot suppose it, for I possess at least a 2nd grade education.
    “But she can eat moose burgers, and she hunts! With a gun and everything! That’s a real American!”
    Everybody up there eats moose. It’s like their beef. And how many times do we need to here inane stories about how Republicans are enamored with things that go “boom boom” and kill things? We get it, gun lovers. That’s why we are at war…you and your ilk like to blow stuff up. But I won’t spend any more words talking about the foolishness of most gun enthusiasts….I have a day job, after all.
    And lest anyone point out that Obama is at the top of his ticket, and Palin is only on the bottom of hers, I’d like to point out just what an old man McCain is. And how he is not the healthiest of people. To pretend that we can all ignore the very real possibility of The Beauty Queen being the leader of this country in a heartbeat is irresponsible.
    She’s attractive, they say. Maybe. It takes all kinds.
    She’s intelligent. That remains to be seen, but so am I. I’m not impressed by that.
    She’s very nice? So was my 9th grade math teacher, and I wouldn’t put her in any position of power if my life depended on it.
    She has a career and raises children at the same time. So did my mother, without the benefit of an entire nation of rednecks, Christian bigots, and lazy voters attracted by shiny objects singing her praise for it all over the world.
    Palin sucks. McCain, who picked her, sucks all the more for doing so. He is a pandering, lying, confused, and desperate old man, whose honorable service in the military does not even come close to qualifying him to be President of the United States.
    Though even I will confess John McCain is 10 times more qualified than Sarah Palin. But then again, so is Donald Duck.
    Friday at 11AM was the moment the Palin choice broke. An hour or so after that was when Democrats, coming off the best convention speech in history, folded, once again, and lost this election, thereby once again, leaving the country open to the destruction it will certainly succumb to.

  2. Brian Gaerity on

    48 hrs after the announcement of Sarah Palin as McCain’s VP choice, the verdict appears to be in: Gov. Palin is a hit. The press coverage has been overwhelmingly positive (Maria Bartiromo is practically fan-girl #1, attributing to Palin a level of expertise in energy similar to T. Boone Pickens’). She’s been referred to as a “maverick”, an “executive,” a “reformer,” with a “winning personality” and “more experience than Barack Obama.” Any potential negatives — lack of national experience, a potential abuse-of-power scandal, her conservative social positions — have so far deflected off of her or added to her appeal.
    There are two amazingly ironic things about this pick. One is that Gov. Palin will quickly become a “celebrity,” first within the Republican Party and then nationally (driven mostly by the mainstream and conservative press). She will get rock star coverage, especially if she uses her “Northern Exposure” charm wisely. It’s possible that she could even upstage John McCain, which may turn out to be her biggest liability. The irony lies in the fact that the McCain campaign will encourage this celebrity treatment and then bask in its glow, while at the same time maintaining that Obama is a “bad” celebrity (i.e., a “manufactured” and “self-serving” one; Palin’s celebrity will be “totally incidental” and a result of a “genuine outpouring of support for her compelling life story”).
    The second irony here is gender. I believe that she is getting positive coverage BECAUSE she is a woman. Her story would not be nearly as interesting if she were a man. (By the way, I don’t think that’s unfair. Women have been getting the short end of the stick for too long.) Because she’s attractive (yes, this still matters — how else do you explain John Edwards?), confidant, appears to be genuine, and doesn’t have a controversial political history, she will not have to sell herself to the American people the way Hillary Clinton had to. John McCain looks progressive for choosing a woman, and Palin looks “post-feminist” for being both a mom and a successful politician.
    My advice to the Obama campaign: acknowledge that Palin (and the McCain/Palin ticket) is an experienced, strong, and formidable opponent. The best thing to do right now is start the raising the bar, such as:
    “We’re impressed with John McCain’s pick for VP. She brings significant experience in government that we look forward to hearing more about. We trust that she’s ready to lead and brings a firm grasp of the pressing issues facing our country: the worsening housing crisis, a fragile economy, a fragmented and volatile world order, and, of course, energy. In particular, we’re looking forward to Gov. Palin’s ideas, other than off-shore drilling, for creating a new energy policy based on renewable, sustainable and affordable sources. We understand that she wants to open up the Alaska wilderness to offshore drilling, but at best that’s a stop-gap measure. We hope that she brings fresh ideas to the table and is willing to work across the aisle to craft a comprehensive new policies.”
    No mocking. No trying to peg her as “inexperienced.” Let Gov. Palin tell her story and then look for any areas where she could be vulnerable. If she’s as good as everyone says, there may be few weaknesses to exploit other than the obvious, i.e., foreign policy and the economy. But wherever there is a crack, the Obama campaign must quickly find ways to effectively and credibly communicate it. See if she loses her cool or badly mangles a question. The press will take over from there.

  3. Jon on

    Another excellent post on this, Ed — and good comments in general.
    joekelley, criticizing Palin for her reproductive and career choices may resonate with some voters, but it’s an extremely anti-feminist position and is likely alienate far more people than it attracts.

  4. joekelley on

    My wife is an extremely moderate progressive schoolteacher who doesn’t follow any of the inside baseball of this pick.
    But what she did find very negative, and persuasive in a way that attacks Palin directly on her supposed strengths, is that Palin is leaving a four-month-old Down’s Syndrome child to be cared for by a nanny to go run for VP.
    My wife’s opinion is that she and a lot of her otherwise strongly-Edwards-supporting peers were very reluctant to support Edwards even before the revelation of his infidelity (which, of course, has destroyed him with them), because he was similarly leaving his critically ill wife to run for president.
    I think that this line of attack might be fruetful. It turns Palin’s supposed strongest strength into a liability with exactly the demographic she is most trying to appeal to.

  5. mark on

    Good advice from Ed.
    One problem with the suggestion that Geraldine Ferraro be enlisted in this fight. She was on NPR today and when asked who she supported for president, declined to answer. It doesn’t look like she is going to help out.

  6. Brian Gaerity on

    Couldn’t agree more that the Obama campaign must not belittle Sarah Palin. The best approach is to take her at face value. Acknowledge her experience and credentials. Treat her and McCain as formidable adversaries (which they are). Gov. Palin has a lot going for her, not the least of which is that she is a likable, telegenic, self-assured, self-made conservative politician — which is exactly the type of candidate against which Democrats have a terrible track record. Go after her policy positions, yes, but do not in any way belittle her accomplishments. Gov. Palin will either rise to the occasion (in which case the election will be too close for comfort) or she will simply be mediocre (Obama wins easily). It’s unlikely she will crash and burn, but if so, it will be by her own hand. Who knows? The pressure of a national campaign may be too much to handle at this stage in her career. I just feel for her family — let’s hope they’re all as strong as she appears to be. In any case, it’s far too soon and we know too little about Gov. Palin to make any credible predictions about exactly how this will play out. At this point, all we can say is that John McCain likes to take big risks. Whether that goes over well with voters, we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, the Obama campaign needs to stick to the issues and keep hammering away at Bush and McCain, and highlight the fact that Gov. Palin is an arch-conservative with no political capital in Washington (i.e., how could she possibly help McCain implement policies at home or abroad?).

  7. ding on

    @LeoinNYC: “this would be a great time to talk about the Supreme Court. I would talk a lot about the Ledbetter v. Goodyear case which allows them to talk about how conservatives treat women’s issues without talking about abortion.”
    Absolutely. Issues that impact women are about more than reproductive justice; a lot of our issues can be traced back to economic access.
    You’re also dead on about the appeal of the folk narrative to the public; I’d thought we’d learned our lesson to distrust the ‘folksy’ but, apparently, we can’t get enough of it.

  8. LeoinNYC on

    A lot of people are picking up on this supposed scandal, which is again, a BIG MISTAKE. A guy was abusing her sister and she tried to get him fired. Even if what she did was completely unethical, women everywhere are gonna be on her side. In fact by trying to capitalize on the scandal, you’re just going to put the story out there. Not helpful. Democrats need to SLOW DOWN, take a deep breath and THINK about how to respond to Palin. She is a lot more dangerous than she seems at first glance. The conventional wisdom is that she’s a lightweight and therefore a joke. But that’s what people thought about Bush too. People
    are going to LIKE Palin. The GOP is going to LOVE Palin. Hell, I like Palin a lot and I disagree with her on every issue there is. Think about her supposed weakness — she was the mayor of a town with 5000 people.
    That’s right — she was the mayor of a town with 5000 people. Norman Rockwell and Frank Capra are getting gay-married in heaven right now! She is gonna go on interviews, and they are going to ask her about policy arcana, trying to highlight her lack of experience, and every other sentence she says is going to be, in a slightly apologetic tone, “Well I don’t know a lot about [issue X — and neither do average voters] I’m not from inside the beltway. What I do know is that Washington needs change — just not the kind that Barack Obama wants. Let me tell you a story… [Insert folksey, sweet Alaska story here.]”
    She is built for TV. Americans are going to LOVE her. The Christian RIght is going to love her.
    And the trick will be to wear away at her over time, slowly and steadily. With a smile and a light touch. At every opportunity every female Democrat need to be out there saying, I like Sarah Palin, I respect Sarah Palin but her ideas are wrong for America. Did you know that she wants the government to force women to carry a pregnancy to term, even in the case of rape and incest?” And so on. And they need to sort of conceed the “folksey, regular guy” battleground to Palin and let Biden be the huge wonk he is. He needs to pepper every conversation, speech, and interview with the names of all the foreign leaders he’s met, the presidents he’s advised, etc. “Oh, and by the way, I wrote the Violence Against Women Act.” No mention of Palin, from him, Ever. Little by little, over time just wear down the sheen of Womaness and let her obvious lack of qualification come to the fore. Tread lightly, Democrats.
    p.s. — this would be a great time to talk about the Supreme Court. I would talk a lot about the Ledbetter v. Goodyear case which allows them to talk about how conservatives treat women’s issues without talking about abortion. He wants Justices like Alito and Robert, so let’s make Ledbetter a household name between now and November.

  9. daily_ray on

    Sudden appearances by Hilliary and Ferraro would appear a defensive move and as Palin is in for the duration, I don’t think there’s any rush to respond immediately to their pandering for HRC supporters. I find it hard to believe that that will be a major threat of any kind. It can be squelched pretty quickly I suspect. But I do agree there is a need for an offensive strategy because the possibility here is that independent and undecided voters may become sympathetic to Palin’s story and confuse the “change” narrative. That is the intention I assume, to confound Obama’s narrative. I agree, this is very touchy.

  10. edkilgore on

    Think it’s too late on Ferraro. She was all over Fox News this morning aruging that many pro-HRC women are going to be strongly attracted to Palin. And Palin herself shrewdly included shout-outs to both Ferraro and HRC in her announcement speech.

  11. Austin Avery on

    What about taking the Republican tack on this. Repeat that she is unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency, and repeat it over, and over, and over, and ….
    Either that, or as they suggest over at Democracy Arsenal, ask her what the difference is between a Suni and a Shi’ite.

  12. LeoinNYC on

    Absolutely agree! They need to BACK OFF for a little bit and think up an actual strategy. My first thought is that they should capitalize on her praise of Hillary with a, “she’s no Hillary Clinton” line-of-attack. Likewise, they need to get Ferraro out of mothballs and on TV asap to talk about why Palin is bad for women. In a respectful way. Because I think that Palin is GREAT — I mean really, she seems like she is the best of the GOP. I disagree with her on just about every issue but she seems like the real deal — not a crony or a hack. So trying to smear her is gonna backfire big time.


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