Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin a surprise? Shouldn’t have been

(Originally published 8/30/08)

Sarah Palin is a politician whose name you probably never heard before this week –- or maybe even yesterday.

Why would John McCain pick a former “Miss Wasilla” and first runner up in the 1984 Miss Alaska beauty pageant, even if she is the state's popular governor? She’s unknown outside the Last Frontier.

The national media is playing Palin’s pick as a surprise. But is it?

Conservatives who were unnerved at the idea of McCain picking a moderate are assured with Palin on the ticket. An avid hunter and fisherman, Palin is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. Like Joe Biden’s son, Beau, Palin’s eldest son serves in the Armed Forces and will be deployed to Iraq by the time voters decide who should lead them. And her pro-life politics are more than just talking points: In April, she delivered a son she and her husband knew would have Down syndrome.

Politically, the pick looks like a slam dunk: Voters concerned about McCain’s age? At 44, Palin is the youngest governor Alaska’s history. Running against an historic ticket that features the first African-American presidential nominee from a major party? Palin is also Alaska’s first female governor.

The pick is obviously meant to attract disaffected women who were disappointed that Barack Obama didn’t choose Hillary Clinton as his No. 2. And Palin’s personal story will likely resonate with them. A beauty queen, yes, but an athlete, too; she eloped with her high school sweetheart; her five children range in age from 19 years to just four months; a self-professed “hockey mom,” she will connect with mothers across political and generational spectra.

As an elected official, she has broken with members of her own party. Her battle to root out political corruption in Alaska nearly cost her her own political career when she exposed powerful fellow Republicans. She’s been active on energy issues, pushing for drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. As governor, she has crusaded against wasteful government spending vetoing “pork barrel projects.”

It’s no wonder McCain is comfortable with her. She’s all but a younger, female version of himself.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Palin has executive experience, something McCain, Obama and Biden don’t. And in this year of “change,” the pick leaves the McCain ticket with 22 combined years in Washington, while the Obama-Biden ticket tallies nearly 40.

The only question is whether Palin can match Biden at the vice presidential debate on Oct. 8. But even that may work in her favor: Biden will come in a heavy favorite and have to find some way to meet those astronomical expectations without coming across as too aggressive against a woman who once was named “Miss Congeniality.” In that way, McCain seems to have neutralized Biden’s well-earned reputation as a fearless attack dog: His biggest asset as a VP candidate.

When word leaked out yesterday that Palin was McCain’s pick, I was among those who had their doubts.

But considering what I’ve learned about her in the last 24 hours, I’ve come to think that it would have been folly for him to choose anyone else.

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