Now that the left blogosphere has thoroughly embarrassed itself with its collective hissy fit over the selection of Gov. Palin for Republican VP, perhaps we can look at what McCain has actually done. Too much of the noise is about Palin herself and not about what McCain has achieved in the context of the campaign.
The Democratic campaign has been woefully short on both ideological and strategic analysis of political conditions, bouyed by the false belief that the Republican brand was DOA this year (Don't we always think that?) and that the Democratic nominee would be a shoe in for President. The selection of Palin exposes the weakness of the Democrats by demonstrating what McCain is doing to strengthen his own hand. I point the reader to Ed Kilgore (post 1, post 2), BTD (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4) and Chicago Dyke for clear eyed analyses of the political impact of McCain's move. Here is my own.
First and foremost, this is not about Democrats. This is about tensions and contests within the Republican Party. McCain is handling his intra-party conflicts better than Obama. There is doubt about where to take the party after the failures of Gingrich and Bush/Cheney, and McCain is answering them. With the choice of this person rather than another established party insider, McCain has expanded the leadership options. This was done at the risk of of ticking off the party establishment (the establishment that has been pissing on him since 2000), but will please many rank and file.
Second, McCain is protecting himself from electoral defections from his own side. His least committed constituents are cultural conservatives. These are the people who would go with Bob Barr. With Palin on the ticket, McCain neutralizes that effect, probably changing what would have been a higher attrition level compared to Obama's vis-a-vis Naderite/Green voters to a lower one.
Third, he reinforces his own "maverick" brand. This has always been more image than reality, but what foundations it does have are rooted in his reputation for abruptly taking an unconventional stand and for fighting party corruption. (That a member of the Keating 5 should become a poster child for clean government simply shows that political irony is dead, but that's another topic.) Superficially, Palin is a "daring" choice, and her reputation as someone who will buck the party elite will play well. Appearance and narrative trump reality in this case, as they always have.
But it leads to the fourth point, which is that Palin's political identity as someone who will challenge the party will resonate outside of conservative circles with right-leaning Independents. Too many people yammering on about Independent voters make the mistake in thinking that they are independent and not just slightly disaffected voters who will vote pretty consistently for Democrats or Republicans unless given something very enticing to shift their preferences. More often, these voters will sit out an electoral round if they have doubts about their habitual choice. This is the problem that McCain has been facing because the maverick brand was weak and because Ron Paul pulled a lot of people into his camp and they have not returned. Palin brings the myth of the frontier, clean government credentials, a libertarian streak, and sex appeal. This is an image that will sell to right-leaning independents.
Fifth, this choice strengthens McCain's claim to be a change agent, which co-opts the Obama theme. McCain was relentlessly pushing this message in his announcement and it has been taken up by operatives throughout the party. We're maverick outsiders who will be both conservative in our values and aggressive in shaking up DC business as usual politics. Unlike the theme of healing divisions, though, McCain promises to open up a can of whupass. Like sex, violence sells.
Sixth, McCain capitalizes on the debates about experience. What he has done is actually quite sophisticated. It is very short sighted to say that he can't use the "lacks experience" argument against Obama anymore now that he has chosen Palin. Wrong. He now can say he put Palin in a position that is appropriate to her political talents and promise, but which takes account of her actual experience. For the Left to argue that she is unqualifed for VP when her political career is extremely similar to Obama's is political suicide. If the Obamacans honestly cannot understand that Obama and Palin have comparable political biographies, then they are too stupid to be let out in public without a keeper.
To take up my previous posts about how Republicans will focus on Affirmative Action, not race, in this election, choosing Palin allows the Republicans to present an argument that they are not racist or sexist, but that they oppose unjustified promotions above your pay grade. The history of questionable election victories surrounding Obama will become an issue.
Seventh, this is an historic VP choice for Republicans, and they will not see it as tokenism because of Palin's credibility within her party. If it also picks up swing (or revenge) votes among Democrat women, it's icing on the cake, but do not for a second underestimate the effect this has with conservative women.
With the Palin choice, McCain is talking to his base and securing that support. I also think he is trying to establish a political coalition apart from Bush-Rove-Cheney. It is a risky choice because the results, good or bad, will be dramatic, but it is the right kind of political choice. McCain has clarified his ideological stance with his current and potential supporters which empowers him in the GE campaign.
McCain's choice also shines a spotlight on the potentially fatal weakness of the Obama campaign, which was to take the Democratic base for granted. Women voters won't go Republican because of Roe v. Wade and blue collar voters won't go Republican because the economy blows chunks and the Republican candidates are old rich guys who can't "connect". The Obama campaign treated the Clinton Democrat constituency and our champions with disdain and hostility, right down to the roll call vote. "You have no where else to go," is what we were told week after week when we said, no, stupid, it's not race, its the economy. It's the lack of partisan committment. It's the refusal to address our concerns about the social safety net. The magnanimity of the Clintons and their unshakable loyalty to the party, fully on display at the convention, threw the petty selfishness and insecurity of the Obamacans into relief.
The general election is now in doubt for the Democrats because Obama has spent most of a year kicking the Clinton Democrats, the base of the party, to the curb. His refusal to even consider our candidate for the ticket shows he puts his emotional satisfaction ahead of the political needs of the party. The campaign's first reaction to Palin was an attack on the person, exactly in the mode of their hateful attacks on Hillary - sexist, disdainful, mocking, and crude. This doesn't speak to the Democratic base and it only riles up the Republicans to defend their candidate.
If the contest is about ideology and the damage the Republicans have done to the nation, the Dems have a chance. If it is about personal qualifications and penney-ante scandals, Democrats lose.
It's all about the basics.