Sunday, September 07, 2008

Response to Professor Nacos' "To Counter or Not to Counter Attacks by a “Pit Bull with Lipstick”"

My response to Professor Nacos' latest post about the Republicans' candidate for Vice-President:

Professor Nacos,

From what I've seen, the negative talk against Governor Palin by Dems and some in the media has been harsh. The first attacks were leveled against her, and the McCain campaign and Palin effectively responded. The attacks were blunted for a moment while the Dems, media and the rest of us learned about Palin, but the attacks are picking up again.

Senator McCain surprised me by going in an unexpected direction with his campaign, by presenting himself as a virtual Independent and GOP reformer, and skillful timing. He effectively timed the announcement of his Palin pick to blunt the DNC bounce for Obama and then timed her unveiling at the RNC to fuel his RNC bounce. Round 1 of the Palin period of the campaign goes to the GOP. The Dems were knocked off balance and placed on the defensive for the 1st time in this election contest. It was only a learning or feeling out period, though. Now that Round 1 is past, and both sides have established their strategies and know each other, we can watch the real contest unfold. This election just got interesting.

Assorted observations:

Age-wise, Palin is 44, Obama is 47, and Bill Clinton was 46 when he became President. The age issue is an asset for the Dems in this election, but how do you raise it without sounding age-ist and alienating a large segment of the electorate? Biden turns 66 in November.

McCain's arguments against Obama resonate in large part because they're borrowed from the arguments formulated by Clinton against Obama.

It was a surprisingly dumb move by the Dems to disparage Palin as a small-town mayor in general, given Obama's controversial statements about small-town America during the Democrat primaries, but especially so when Palin is a sitting state governor, no longer a mayor. It practically invited the obvious counter-punch against Obama's experience.

So far, Governor Palin has shown herself to be a better counter-puncher against the Obama campaign than Senator Clinton was. Palin, it appears, is no Dan Quayle.

The Dems have to take special care attacking Palin, because the obvious avenues of attack boomerang back to Obama or Biden. For example, you point out Alaska's low population to devalue Palin's experience; however, Dems VPOTUS candidate Biden's state has an approx 900,000 count population compared to Alaska's approx 700,000 count population, while Alaska is geographically the largest state with its own unique governing challenges whereas Delaware is the 2nd smallest state. (I say this mostly tongue in cheek, but recall that popular TV series West Wing featured a President who was governor of New Hampshire.)

It's undeniable that Governor Palin owns the executive advantage in this election, which matters given that 4 of our last 5 presidents were governors while the other president was a 8-year VP. Which is to say, it doesn't help the Dems to highlight that the GOP VPOTUS candidate's experience compares favorably to the Dems POTUS candidate's experience. Even the scrutiny of Palin's controversies serve to highlight Obama's controversies (condescending against small town America, Rev Wright, Ayers, Rezko, etc).

The better criticism of Governor Palin's political experience is to point out that Alaska has an exceptionally large budget for an exceptionally low population, which is not representative of the rest of the US, although again, governing Alaska carries its own unique challenges.

Regarding your point about Sarah Palin's family under public scrutiny, it struck me watching the RNC how comfortable her children and husband looked in front of the cameras and under the lights, especially her youngest daughter. I don't know what kind of politics they play in Alaska, but the Palin family seems surprisingly well-trained for the political game. At least, they're certainly photogenic. Moreover, Palin's reaction to public scrutiny of her daughter's pregnancy was to push Bristol and her fiance out front, which shows Palin to be a counter-puncher rather than a cover-upper. It also shows that Palin teaches her kids to step forward, not back down, when faced with adversity.

My criticism of Palin regarding her children: While it reflects very well on Palin as a parent that her eldest son Track volunteered to serve as a soldier (balance: Biden's son is also a soldier deploying to Iraq, which reflects well upon him as a father), I wish she had kept her son off camera and didn't announce when he was deploying to Iraq as an infantryman. Remember how Prince Harry was pulled prematurely from his tour of duty in Afghanistan? Conceivably, Palin's son - Biden's son, too - can be serving in Iraq as the son of the VPOTUS, a high value target.

I don't understand the assertion that Governor Palin wasn't properly vetted by Senator McCain. What evidence is there of that? Certainly, Palin has appeared to be an effective pick so far with multiple strengths added to the campaign. If McCain did pick Palin based solely on 'gut', that's some kind of instinct. Also, if McCain meant to fish for the Hillary vote instead of energizing the GOP base, he easily could have picked another GOP woman. For example, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle actually appealed to my tastes (as a voter!) more than Governor Palin during the RNC speeches, and Lingle reminds more than Palin of Senator Clinton or even Geraldine Ferraro.

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