McCain’s choice for VP, Sarah Palin, is certainly an interesting one. I think James Fallows has summed it up very well:
If someone is campaigning for the presidency or vice presidency, there’s an extra twist. That person has to have a line of argument to offer on any conceivable issue. Quick, without pausing in the next ninety seconds, tell me what you think about: the balance of relations between Taiwan and mainland China, and exactly what signals we’re sending to Hamas, and what we think about Russia’s role in the G-8 and potentially in NATO, and where North Korea stands on its nuclear pledges — plus Iran while we’re at it, plus the EU after the Irish vote, plus cap-and-trade as applied to India and China, and what’s the right future for South Ossetia; and let’s not even start on domestic issues.
Let’s assume that Sarah Palin is exactly as smart and disciplined as Barack Obama. But instead of the year and a half of nonstop campaigning he has behind him, and Joe Biden’s even longer toughening-up process, she comes into the most intense period of the highest stakes campaign with absolutely zero warmup or preparation. If she has ever addressed an international issue, there’s no evidence of it in internet-land.
The smartest person in the world could not prepare quickly enough to know the pitfalls, and to sound confident while doing so, on all the issues she will be forced to address. This is long before she gets to a debate with Biden; it’s what the press is going to start out looking for.
So the prediction is: unavoidable gaffes. The challenge for the McCain-Palin campaign is to find some way to defuse them ahead of time, since Socrates, Machiavelli, and Clausewitz reincarnated would themselves make errors in her situation. And the challenge for Democrats is to lead people to think, What is she were in charge?, without being bullies about it.
Possible gaffes aside, I also feel this selection will force the McCain campaign to take their eye of the ball. If they have any chance of winning, they need to continue to keep the pressure on Obama, attacking him and making the campaign about his unreadiness. But this selection completely undermines McCain’s ability to call out Obama’s readiness to lead and it also forces McCain to defend this very risky selection. All the energy and time that will be required to deflect the criticism for this choice isn’t really time McCain can afford to waste.
And as far as comparing Palin to Obama, there’s no evidence that she’s even thought much at all about foreign policy while Obama has a track record of taking foreign policy positions and showing wise judgement, especially on the Iraq war. It’s simply intellectually dishonest to say that both are on the same level regarding foreign policy matters.
So while this pick may have caused a stir and has dominated the news, this is a long and grueling campaign with not a whole lot of margin for error. Maybe it works out for McCain but that’s a big “if”. And if he wins, I sure hope he doesn’t kick the bucket any time soon.