The Palin Pick: Benefits and Baggage

Where are the Elizabeth Doles of today?

The question is actually anachronistic, as Elizabeth Dole is still active as a Senator, running for re-election in North Carolina. But after serving as a Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Transportation, Sen. Dole’s experience would not help in recasting the McCain Campaign as youthful (Dole is 72 years old as well).

The Republican Party is not short of experienced female politicians. In the Senate there is Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the most senior female Republican senator from Texas, or Olympia Snowe, serving her second term in the Senate for Maine. Hutchinson is 65 years old and Snowe is 61 years old, but young enough to be among the The White House Project’s 8 female presidential picks of ’08. Both Hutchinson and Snowe would have reinforced the moderate image in the McCain ticket. Hutchinson has consistetly refused to outlaw abortion and has advocated gun control. Snowe is also a moderate, most recently known for her actions in the Gang of 14 that forged a compromise between Republicans and Democrats.

But in this race of identity politics, one of the heavy criticisms by pundits and myself has been the candidates’ lack of executive experience. Neither Joe Biden, Barack Obama, or John McCain have served in an executive position. Fortunately, there are a few experienced female Republican Governors as well. Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii and M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut are both enjoying their second terms in office. But neither of them possessed what the McCain campaign was looking for, namely a youthful, ardent, yet staunchly conservative image for the Republican Party. So who could fill this position?

The McCain campaign will say it the answer lies in Sarah Palin, the newly minted Governor of Alaska. After serving as a mayor for Wasilla city, a small town of 6,000 people in Alaska (1992-1996), Palin beat out the Republican incumbent to become Alaska’s first female governor 18 months ago.

At issue with Palin’s nomination is her voter-attraction rating, which has its pluses and minuses. In respects to policies, she is an attractive choice for the disgruntled conservatives who feel McCain is too much of a maverick, and in the realm of identity politics she can appeal to a younger generation and disgruntled women, many of whom are still reeling from Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Yet, in naming Palin, McCain has removed some of the power and force behind his own candidacy. As a 72 year old Presidential candidate, McCain is the oldest to seek the office of the presidency, making Sarah Palin a more than possible replacement. McCain’s open endorsement of Palin for presidency removes his ability to criticize Obama’s lack of experience (who has spent ten years in the Illinois Senate and four years in the U.S senate).

According to Dan Balz of the Washington Post on August 29, 2008:

One Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid view, said in an e-mail, “I would rather be arguing with conservatives about abortion than with the Democrats about a lack of experience on our own ticket.”

“She really destroys the ‘not ready’ mantra,” another strategist noted.

And in reviewing Palin’s credentials, her policies as well as experience may turn off a wide variety of voters. Among Palin’s more conservative views is being a strong supporter of:

* teaching Creationism in schools.

* the Pro-Life agenda

* Drilling for oil and use of fossil fuels (see her rejection of McCain’s stance)

– She is also firmly against Man-Made Global Warming (she sued the U.S Department of Interior for placing the polar bear down as an endangered species)

Palin is a fresh face for an old campaign that was suffering the challenge of a new and youthful Democratic opposition (in fact, you can see a fashion image of her in the February 2008 edition of Vogue magazine). And at 44 years old, Palin is older than previous notable Vice Presidents such as Richard Nixon at 40 years old or Teddy Roosevelt, who was 42 years old (the youngest Vice President was John Breckinridge, who was 36 years old).

In respects to legislation, Palin mirrors John McCain in ethics reform, working as Ethics Commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (2003-2004) and filing official complaints against the Alaskan Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich and former Alaskan Attorney General Gregg Renkes. Both officials resigned due in a large part to Palin’s disclosure of their misconduct. She has also tangled with some of the big oil companies, raising oil revenues for her home state.

But it is not her political experience that makes Palin the choice among choices for the McCain campaign. It is her image. Both young and dedicated to ethics reform, Palin also embodies many of the principles of the Republican Party. Palin has never divorce, having married her high school sweetheart, and embraced her five pregnancies, the last being a boy born with Down’s syndrome in in April of this year. The only dent to her familial armor is the recent scandal involving Palin getting her ex-brother-in-law fired.

In the end, it will come down to policies vs. identity politics. Which one will trump the other, remains to be seen.