In the past few days, I’ve been critical of the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, and, at times, this criticism has extended to Mrs. Palin herself. I don’t deny this criticism, and in fact, stand by everything I have said – I do not believe that Palin is qualified to be President, and, issues aside, I do not believe her to be significantly better than Obama.
But my personal views on Palin are not the subject of this post. Believe me, there will be more on that in the coming days. When she was originally selected, I believed it was done as a cheap attempt to get headlines, make news, and grab a few extra votes – without consideration of the potential negative effects of picking of picking an inexperienced, unknown running mate – and setting that person up as the frontrunner for the next election.
Now, however, while I’m still opposed to having Palin as the Veep, I’m starting to believe that more thought went into her selection than I originally thought. After watching the RNC, and, most notably, McCain’s speech, as well as reading press reaction to it, I now believe that McCain selected Palin in an attempt to regain his maverick image and to compete with Obama on the “change” issue – by running two people not afraid to criticize their own party, and who, in one way or another, are reformers (Palin may have a flat resume, but one thing she has done is fight corruption). In short, he is swapping out the “experience” issue for the “change” issue.
He couldn’t be making a bigger mistake. I don’t know why the McCain campaign has decided to change direction, particularly since he was not in any real danger. Experience was McCain’s greatest asset in this election – the one thing Obama could not compete with him on. Obama could attack McCain on issues as much as he wanted, talk about change as much as he wanted, give substance-lacking speeches as often as he wanted, and still be unable to compete on the experience issue. Obama knew this, or he would not have pick an old Washington insider as his VP. Change, on the other hand, belonged to Obama. As a young, Black Washington outsider, he was the definition of change, the symbol of everything that George Bush and John McCain were not – and could never be. In sacrificing his advantage on experience (which he did by selecting Palin) to try and compete on change, McCain may have, when all is said and done, made things much easier for Obama. If McCain had given up his advantage to compete on an issue he had a legitimate shot at winning, it might not have been so bad. But the idea that McCain can beat McCain on change seems absurd.
In switching from experience to change, McCain is trying to revert to his primary strategy. But his opponents were different and the situation was different a nine months ago than it is now. McCain was able to win the change issue in the primaries because he was the candidate who – of those considered “acceptable” – voters could separate from the President most easily. That doesn’t hold true now. Unfortunately, with the selection of Palin, neither does the argument that the Republican ticket is significantly more experienced than the Democratic ticket.