Progressive Revival

John McCain has certainly revived his maverick label by picking–or plucking from obscurity–freshman Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. (WaPo coverage here, and NYT coverage here.) Like every candidate, there are pluses and minuses with her.

On the plus side, Christian conservatives (as God-o-Meter knows and shows), are going to be delighted. She is a self-described “hockey mom” who is pro-life and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. She is a moose-hunting mother of five, her latest–born just last April–has Down syndrome, and she never considered the option of abortion. She has bucked  the scandal-plagued GOP establishment in Alaska, and has shown a mild green streak without really undermining her state’s interests in mining and Big Oil. She is against taxes (except, apparently, when it came to building stuff in her own town), and against gay marriage. Check, check, check.

She is a sweetheart, a 44-year-old fresh face who is as far outside the Beltway as you can possibly get without being Russian. And she is so attractive the Obama camp will have to be careful not to look like they’re bullying her, or patronizing her.

And those things are also major downsides in the general election. Will someone like Palin really pull in those supposedly disaffected Hillary supporters? Not likely, not after Bill’s show-stopping speech.

Moreover, how can the McCain camp work the “inexperienced” wedge against Obama when Sarah Palin will be a heartbeat away from an Oval Office that would be occupied by John McCain, who would be the oldest man ever elected president? She has less than two years as governor, and before that the sum total of her governing experience was as mayor of Wasilla, a town of less than 7,000.

If Obama has been painted as little more than a good-looking Esquire cover guy, how about Palin, a former beauty queen who was runner-up in 1984 as Miss Alaska? Some will think McCain picked his daughter, others his third wife. (What is it with Republicans and beauty pageants, anyway?) Palin is sharper than Dan Quayle, but still…

Imagine the Biden-Palin VP debate. Voters want change, but they also want ballast. And they want someone who can step in. Sure, Palin is a wonderful mom. But she is the mother of FIVE, and the last a special needs infant born just FOUR MONTHS ago. She’ll have to have Mary Poppins and a couple Super Nannys with 911 on speed-dial if she hopes to fill the 24/7 job as Vice-President.

Her environmental cred may not stretch too far, either. Check out the dissection by the HuffPost’s Chris Kelly of her Polar Bear record and her January NYTimes op-ed in which she said all was well with the big critters. Now that the polar bears are actually swimming across hundreds of miles of open water looking for receding ice floes, you can imagine the video in the camapign ads to come.  

And while she has a reputation as a whistle-blower on ethics, she is also under investigation for a firing and other machinations related to penalties against her estranged ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. Add to that the fact that the dominant Republican Party in Alaska is a cesspool of scandals and indictments, and Palin’s odor of sanctity may not endure.

So what does the choice of Palin say to all those “new” evangelicals? Will her fresh face attract them? Or will she come across as the old religious right in a new guise?  

Palin could prove to be McCain’s salvation, and a necessary gamble given his own weaknesses. (Funny, McCain’s people were saying the other day that the choice of Biden pointed up Obama’s weaknesses, and did not compensate for them…) But the audacity (nice word) of his choice could also smack of desperation.

My sense is that the positives balance out the negatives, and McCain can’t afford a “wash” in terms of gains and losses. Palin will reassure the Religious Right, and surely draw in those voters, especially Christian “soccer moms,” who see her as “one of us,” only with a hockey stick. But with all voters growing in their suspicion of the use of religion in politics, as shown by the latest Pew poll, Palin’s best weapon may be firing blanks.

PS: I wasn’t sure, but it’s pronounced PAY-lin. We’ll all know that soon enough.

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