Let’s be blunt: the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, as John McCain’s running mate is a choice made from a position of weakness, not from a position of strength. Palin is a woman, and so her pick is historic, the first woman to serve on a Republican ticket, only 24 years after the Democrats broke that particular barrier. Maybe in 2032, a person of color might even show up on the GOP ticket.
But Sarah Palin is 44. She’s been Alaska’s governor for just over a year; before that, she was Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a city of 5,470 people. She has the least significant experience of any candidate to serve on a national ticket in modern history. She has no national security experience whatsoever. Her areas of strength are pushing for drilling for oil, which hardly makes McCain look less in the pocket of big oil, and being incandescently anti-choice, which is not the way to the hearts and minds of erstwhile Clinton supporters, and might indeed serve to highlight McCain’s anti-choice position.
It is the experience thing that will hurt the most, though. Don’t forget, Sarah Palin would be a heartbeat away from the presidency, the heartbeat of the oldest man ever elected to the office. I hope John McCain lives a long, long life, certainly another decade or two. But we all grow old, and we all die, and the older we get, the less time we have. Palin does not strike me as a woman who could slide into the presidency at a moment’s notice. And her very presence on the ticket will undermine any attempt to paint Obama as an inexperienced buffoon; Obama has more national experience, more life experience, and more gravitas than Palin.
John McCain is an ardent craps player, and as anyone who’s played craps knows, it’s a game of fast action, quick swings, high risk, and high reward. McCain’s sitting on the pass line here, trying to roll a six. And maybe he’ll get it. But he’s just as likely to crap out. Sarah Palin’s performance over the next few months will determine whether this was a brilliant or brutal choice. But give McCain this: it wasn’t a safe choice. And it will be interesting to see what the choice brings.