Orthogonian Joan of Arc
It's obvious to me that McCain picked Palin because she is a conservative Christian who could rally the base and activate the GOTV operation that Rove built while being vaguely sellable as a "reform" maverick to the media and possibly a few independents.(He reportedly wanted Lieberman and was told that Lieb couldn't bring in the Christians because of his pro-choice record, so he had to go to the D-List.) They see this as a close election that requires a base strategy. The Christian right loves Palin and are feeling their oats big time that they wielded enough clout to force a choice like this and it's quite an achievement when you think about it. (If only progressives had that kind of clout...)
But it's as much of a gamble for them as it is for McCain as Steven Waldman points out in this piece on beliefnet.
Sarah Palin: A Big Gamble for Religious Conservatives
It's been a long time since religious conservatives have been this elated about anyone. They raised Sarah Palin's choice immediately and rallied rapidly to her defense when news broke that her unmarried, teenage daughter is pregnant.
After a year's worth of stories about whether the religious right was "dead," they now seem to be flexing great muscle, helping to bring about the most antiabortion ticket running on the most antiabortion platform - ever.
But there's something else going on here, and it has at least one Christian leader worried. Mark DeMoss, former chief of staff to Jerry Falwell and now a leading Christian public relations executive, is hoping that Palin turns out well but has been shocked and worried by the reflexive Christian embrace of her.
"Too many evangelicals and religious conservative are too preoccupied with values and faith and pay no attention to competence. We don't apply this approach to anything else in life, including choosing a pastor." Imagine, he said, if a church was searching for a pastor and the leadership was brought a candidate with great values but little experience. "They've been a pastor for two years at a church with 150 people but he shares our values, so we hired him to be pastor of our 5,000 person church? It wouldn't happen! We don't say, 'He shares our values, so let's hire him.' That's absurd. Yet we apply that to choosing presidents. It blows my mind."
A Matter of Validation
Why does this happen? In part, it's about validation. Christians in America feel that national leaders and mainstream media hold them in contempt, so having a real evangelical in power tells the world, "we must not be as crazy as people think we are," DeMoss explains. He refers to the "Yellow Pages mentality" among some Christians: a reference to the idea that some churches publish directories of Christian-run businesses so that other Christians can only patronize them.
To be clear, DeMoss isn't saying Palin is unqualified. "The reality is, we don't know - and neither does McCain if he only met her once." The other Christian leaders who rallied around her didn't know much either. "I'm not hinting something's amiss but we don't know her and the people who gave her glowing response Friday didn't know. The euphoric rush to anoint without knowing -- it's a dangerous thing."
There's one more dynamic that may play out. The more Palin is criticized, the more Christians will come to her defense. That's especially true if critics mock her religion, but almost any attacks on her may enrage Christians. In 2004, one of the techniques the Bush campaign used to rally Christians was to portray him as a man of faith being mocked by liberals and the mainstream media. That just made him seem persecuted, and therefore more Christ-like.
A Comparison to Hillary Clinton
We've already seen that on the gender issue. McCain adviser Carly Fiorina said she was appalled by the Obama campaign's attempts to "belittle Gov. Sarah Palin's experience.... Because of Hillary Clinton 's historic run for the presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Gov. Palin."
Watch soon for Christians to cast criticism of Palin as being anti-Christian.
There are several possible risks to evangelicals of having embraced her so rapidly. It's clear that appealing to religious conservatives was key factor for McCain, so if Palin ends up sinking the ticket, religious conservative leaders will be blamed. They'll lose face within the party and also among rank-and-file evangelicals who might reasonably have expected that their leaders checked out Palin before endorsing her.
Of course, if Palin turns out to be a great national hero, religious conservatives will look not only powerful but also sage. In short, just as John McCain took a big risk with this selection, religious leaders have gambled their credibility on the same bet.
Who knew that the Conservative Christians were such "throw the dice" kind of people? Maybe they have more in common with McCain than they realize.
It's very difficult to know how the Jerry Springer stuff is going to play out. It's never a "good" thing for a politician to have the media drooling and licking their chops over their personal life, but they often not only survive but thrive as a result, depending on the transgression. Edwards betrayed his cancer stricken wife and that's just too much for most people to bear. Clinton had a few furtive sexual encounters that were exploited by his political enemies which ended up gaining most people's sympathies. You don't know where these scandals will go, but you do know that they will distract from the normal coverage of issues and policy. (That, of course, would suit McCain just fine. The last thing he wants is for this campaign to be about issues.)
So, I still don't know about the effect of Sarah Palin. A lot of this is untrod ground, with her being a female with young kids and a very conservative Christian to boot. Anybody who says they can completely predict the outcome of this "scandal" is fooling herself. This is new territory.
Waldman's article bolsters my opinion that Palin is highly unlikely to be dropped from the ticket short of something truly catastrophic. The Religious Right has a strong hold on the GOP and they just won't stand for it, particularly now that they've been catered to. The question is whether Palin will, on balance, keep the base of the GOP together to fight the cruel liberals and their partners in crime, the hostile liberal media, who they portray as being condescending and elitist toward all conservatives.
I don't have the answer, but I do know that this kind of thing is often more complicated than people think. The instincts that make us gloat over the headlines on the new issue of US Magazine, may not have the desired result. As much as McCain says "celebrity" is something to condemn, in America of 2008, we know that isn't true. This is the land of average folks becoming "stars" on reality TV.
Palin could become the winner of America's Working Mom from all this --- at least to those who don't know enough about politics to realize that she wants her church and the government to be our "Dad." If you haven't read Nixonland, you won't understand it when I say that it's possible that Palin could end up being the orthogonian Joan of Arc. That's certainly what the Conservative Christians are gambling on.
*And no I'm not "worrying" too much. I'm making a counter argument about this feeding frenzy that people should consider. I don't know if it's right. I'm often wrong. But I'm also not a mindless cheerleader and I can see land mines in all this which may not detonate, but which should not be ignored. Palin's candidacy, like Clinton's and Obama's is not like any other candidacy we've seen and it brings with it some new factors. (I don't think we've contemplated having a female president with an infant before, even in the movies, much less one who wants to take away a similarly situated woman's right to choose not to have it.)
Update: Tom Schaller, a very smart observer of the right wing also issues a similar warning.
I would just add this. The Democrats could conceivably make this pay off with lots of chatter about hypocrisy and teen pregnancy (sorry Tris.) But I doubt it. If the shoe were on the other foot, I think the Republicans could force Palin off the ticket. But if you are going to play this game like Republicans, you'd better learn how to play it right. Pointing out hypocrisy, which, when it comes to personal issues,most people practice without a second thought, isn't going to get it done. It takes and finesse in equal measure, not
Are Dems this good at this particular kind of politics?
In 1952, Nixon used the word “traitor” to describe Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, and Harry Truman. Outrageous!, Democrats responded. Whatever do you mean?, Nixon said in wounded tones, claiming he’d been misunderstood; he only meant they were “traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation’s Democrats believe.” Today, it’s obvious that he meant to suggest, you know, the crime of treason.
The bonus: His charge also revealed liberals as shrieking and hypersensitive. That’s the problem with FNB politics, and Reagan showed it better than anyone. He used to make jokes: About Africans, “When they have a man for lunch, they really have him for lunch.” So, when gubernatorial candidate Pat Brown distributed a pamphlet (“Ronald Reagan, Extremist Collaborator—An Exposé”) of such quotations in 1966, it backfired. Reagan was making a joke! Why are these liberals so humorless?
Update II: Jay Rosen has a fascinating and thought provoking piece up on this topic:
John McCain's convention gambit calls for culture war around the Sarah Palin pick. And now the Politico is reporting just that: Palin reignites culture wars. An option is forming. This is my attempt to describe it before her big speech in St. Paul.
“She’s from a small town, with small-town values — but apparently, that’s not good enough for some of the folks out there attacking her and her family. Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Washington talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit.” —Fred Thompson addressing the Republican convention, Sep. 2 2008.
John McCain’s convention gambit is a culture war strategy. It depends for its execution on conflict with journalists, and with bloggers (the “angry left,” Bush called them) along with confusion between and among the press, the blogosphere, and the Democratic party. It revives cultural memory: the resentment narrative after Chicago ‘68 but with the angry left more distributed. It dispenses with issues and seeks a trial of personalities. It bets big time on backlash.