Thursday, September 11, 2008

The ghost of Ferraros past

It's convention time, and things look grim for the Party's Presidential nominee. Despite his best efforts, he hasn't been able to figure out a way to catch up to the dynamic and popular nominee from the other party. So he decides to shake up the race with a big surprise: he selects as his running mate a woman known to only a handful of Americans.

The gamble appears to work. The selection generates a lot of excitement in the party, and the ticket is receiving the lion's share of media coverage. Most importantly, the ticket accomplishes what few thought it ever would: new polls show that it is now slightly ahead of the opposition to win the election.

Unfortunately, the excitement doesn't last. People begin to ask whether this obscure person chosen as the Vice Presidential nominee has the experience necessary to lead the country should she get elected and something happens to the President that suddenly thrusts her into the most powerful leadership position in the world. Worse, the news cycle begins to become dominated by attention to her personal scandals. The bloom is off the rose, and come November the ticket loses the election.

The year was 1984, and the ticket was Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro for the Democratic Party. Now it's 2008, and like Mondale, John McCain has chosen to energize his base by selecting a Vice Presidential nominee who represents an exciting change from expectations. Credit where credit is due: I didn't think that McCain would ever catch up to Obama in the polls, but his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has done just that.

I honestly believe that the new momentum that Palin has given McCain will quickly dissipate, just as Mondale's selection of Ferraro did, and for the same reasons. First of all, the race will quickly return to focusing on Obama and McCain, with the VP nominees as little more than a sideshow. Although McCain may have caught up with Obama in national polling, I saw something yesterday that I think is very telling about how weak his candidacy actually is. McCain yesterday held his first public event since the Convention in which he did not appear with Palin at his side. The turnout was so small that he and his supporters were actually drowned out by Obama supporters who came to heckle the event. Compare this to Barack Obama, who only needs to appear in a public park to draw as many as 72,000 people.

Second, Palin's lack of experience is a negative. She's been the Governor of Alaska for less than two years after being the mayor of a town of 5,000. I don't think Democrats should focus on talking about this, because harping about it may win her sympathy more than it hurts her. Better to let the situation speak for itself: The McCain campaign is so afraid of Palin making major gaffes when speaking that they have refused to make her available to the press and the public except under carefully controlled circumstances.

Third, Palin's tenure both as Mayor of Wasilla, AK and as the state's Governor have been plagued by scandal, cronyism, mismanagement and gross hypocrisy. Every one of these things has already caused headaches for the McCain campaign, and they will continue to do so.

Fourth, Palin's extremist views make her a candidate without broad appeal. I not saying this is definitely a detriment, after all, George W. Bush's views are no less extreme than hers, and people voted for him. But the problem exists none the less. As one pundit pointed out this week: "Palin is a right winger. She opposes abortion even in the case of rape, incest AND even if the health of the mother is in jeopardy. She favors shooting wolves from airplanes and has addressed her husband's Alaska Independence Movement affiliation which calls for a vote on Alaska separating from the United States."

I don't think Palin will save McCain. Should be a good show, though.

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