HOW THE WEST
MAY YET BE WON
John McCain rolls
his own "dice"
Friday, August 29, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Now, as the final echoes of Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama's Acceptance Speech fade into History, it becomes the Republicans' turn to have a week in the American political spotlight. And, as was the case with the Democrats a week ago, the first focus of this week is on who Republican Party nominee-presumptive John McCain might pick as his running mate.
The answer is that the GOP's presumptive Vice-Presidential nominee is Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Much is already being made about the fact that, as Governor Palin is a woman, McCain's choosing her is an attempt to "seal the deal" with those Hillary Clinton supporters who, perhaps, remain unhappy with Barack Obama being the Democrats' standard-bearer (and, yes, this also makes the apparent absence of Hillary Clinton at the final night of the Convention- and, certainly, neither her (nor, for that matter, other Party leaders) joining the ticket onstage at Invesco Field at Mile High- I noted in my Commentary about yesterday's final day of this year's Democratic National Convention even more the glaring).
However, I think that the choice of Governor Palin is much more a "shot across the bow" of the Democratic ticket that John McCain is not at all going to concede the American West that, as was so often stated at the Democrats' meeting, will be the key to victory for whomever is elected the 44th President of the United States come 4 November.
In his 1981 book The Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau divided Alaska between what he called 'Ecotopia'- which also includes the Pacific Coast (that is, western) halves of the western States on the Continent (except for southern California centered on the Los Angeles basin [northern California centered on San Francisco and the State's capital of Sacramento, however, yes])- and what he termed 'the Empty Quarter' (which he himself derived from the Arabic Ar-rub al-Khali, used to describe the vast desert portions of the Arabian Peninsula)- which also contains most of what was termed, at the Democratic Convention, the 'Rocky Mountain West'.
If, however, you are somewhat old-fashioned and wish to continue to divide your sections of the United States of America using State boundaries (or if, like me, you simply have to do so in order to understand the Politics of Statewide elections, including Presidential Elections [which, after all- given the Electoral College- are really 51 separate elections in each of the States of the American Union, along with the District of Columbia]), the fact remains that Governor Palin's State is so vast (the largest American State in area, in fact- far larger than second-place Texas) that it can be viewed as both an extension of the Pacific Coast States and what is traditionally considered the Intermountain West!
In addition, Governor Palin is a native of Idaho (though she grew up in Alaska) and, therefore, even more- if only because she was brought up by a family of Rocky Mountain Westerners (that is: in much the same vein that Senator Obama was raised in a family of Great Plains Midwesterners)- solidifies the so obvious attempt by the Republicans to hold onto a region of the Nation that has, of late, been traditionally Republican (despite all the recent Democratic Party gains pointed out at that Party's Convention held in that very region this past week).
Besides, it's all so very simple, really: if what will now be the McCain/Palin ticket allows Obama/Biden to cut into that region (assuming, for sake of this argument, that Obama/Biden can hold onto the States that have been trending to vote for the Democrat in the most recent President Elections), then John McCain loses in November.
Now, let's look at Sarah Palin, both as a woman and a Republican vice-presidential candidate in the context of this Presidential Election campaign so far:
Back to Governor Palin's gender: yes, it is also clearly a choice intended to try and pry away Hillary Clinton voters in otherwise more pro-Democratic States to the East... the problem is that a large number of those who were most enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton (and who were, therefore, the most disillusioned when Obama nipped Mrs. Clinton at the post for their Party's presidential nomination) are also the more feminist, in the more usual (however misleading) "liberal" use of that term-- these tend to be pro-Choice on Abortion, to take one obvious example, and Governor Palin is staunchly pro-Life... thus, the ability of a woman on the ticket (regardless of the Abortion issue) to gain a large swath of support amongst those who voted for Senator Clinton in the Democratic Primaries and Caucuses is still open to question-- however, having noted this, in a close election, just a small swath of Hillary supporters, especially female Hillary supporters, going over to McCain instead of Obama this coming November could be significant... we'll all just have to see.
As for what this might do within the Republican Party itself, particularly as regards John McCain's continuing attempts to unify it behind his presidential candidacy:
I have always felt that Senator McCain's choice for Vice President would be the more interesting, in any event, because he had to both appeal to a Republican "base" noticeably skeptical about the Arizonan's conservatism and afraid of his reputation as a political maverick and try to woo independent voters over whom both McCain and Obama must contest in order to, ultimately, gain the center and win this Presidential Election.
In a sense, Palin does do some of both: her credentials- as a sociocultural conservative and a committed Christian- does, in fact, very much appeal to important culture/morality-oriented factions (whether specifically religiously based or not) within the GOP and her pro-business economic conservatism appeals to yet another traditional wing of the Party. Thus, she does provide much in terms of making McCain more palatable to both the 'Huckabee' and 'Romney'- if you will- factions of the Republican Party.
But there are political dangers, having a lot to do with Palin's own strained relationships within the local GOP back home in Alaska. The State's senior United States Senator (indeed, the most senior Republican in the Senate), Ted Stevens, a powerhouse within the Alaska Republican Party, would seem to be most happy to have Palin leave the Governor's chair... it all reminds me very much of when New York State turn of the last Century Republican boss, Thomas Platt, maneuvered his reformist nemesis- Governor Theodore Roosevelt- out of that office by getting him nominated by the 1900 Republican National Convention for Vice President to run with President William McKinley, then seeking his second term in the White House (the V.P. slot was open because McKinley's first Vice President- Garrett Hobart- had died in office), albeit over the objections of Ohio Party boss (and McKinley mentor), Mark Hanna (it was Hanna who famously said, after being told that McKinley had died from wounds inflicted by an assassin, "Now that damned cowboy is President").
Finally, let me now close this piece by going over the very same criteria for each of this year's Major Party presidential candidates in choosing a running mate I had outlined in my Commentary of this past 28 June and which I used in critiquing Senator Obama's choice of Senator Biden as his running mate a week ago as I type this:
to here repeat--
a vice-presidential running mate for either of the two Major Party nominees seeking the Presidency (both of whom happen to be Senators) should:
1. be a Governor or former Governor;
2. not be too much of a "splash", "historic moment" or "sea change".
3. not be the so-called "obvious choice".
4. not be a response to the other guy's pick.
5. not be an attempt to repeat History.
6. be the best possible potential Vice President for the one doing the choosing.
As for 1., this is obvious: Senator McCain here did what Senator Obama failed to do, choose a Governor. "Point" to McCain.
Re: 2. This is actually rather hard to judge. At the vice-presidential announcement in Dayton, Ohio, McCain did refer to his choice as "historic" and, yes, it is the first time a Republican woman will be on the Party's national ticket-- but Geraldine Ferraro, back in the 1984, already cracked that 'glass ceiling' on behalf of the rival Democrats and it would have meant far more had the GOP named a woman to their national ticket within the first few Presidential Election cycles following '84.
1984 is now so far back in time that, or so one would think that- nearly a quarter century later- a woman being on either Major Party's ticket would not be all that much a surprise, especially considering how much a woman was seriously considered for the Presidency by the other Party this time round. There is more the danger that this might come off as something of 'Johnny (McCain)-come-lately'. Thus, give McCain 1/2 a point on this one.
As for 3., well it is again a "no-brainer" of an answer: no, Governor Palin was not at all the "obvious choice"!
Re: 4. This, too, is somewhat hard to judge: no, Palin is not an answer to Obama's choice of Biden; but, for the reasons I have already stated earlier in this piece, it is something of a response to the fact that the Democrats did not put Senator Hillary Clinton- or, for that matter, any other woman- on their ticket. Another 1/2 point here.
As to 5. This is not an attempt to repeat History at all. Senator McCain is certainly not trying to emulate 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale: after all, McCain did not make (and, in fact, would have been most foolish to have made) any specific promises to choose a woman, as Mondale had done during the presidential nominating campaign back in '84.
As for 6. I have the very same problem I had in addressing this issue as regarded Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate: I can't read John McCain's mind; I cannot know (at least at the moment I type these words) who might have turned him down. Thus, I have to assume that McCain, indeed, really believes Governor Palin to be the best choice...
One more, final, point about the choice of running mates by Major Party presidential nominees overall.
If nothing else- and regardless of who might actually end up becoming elected the next President (and, by extension, the next Vice President)- the two persons chosen by the 2008 Major Party nominees put most final pay to at least one element of the kind of national, presidential, politics the late Theodore White (famous as the author of the Making of the President series) referred to as "the Old Country" (a play on how political bosses- in both Major Parties, though moreso in the Democratic Party- once "packaged" voters on the basis of their ethnicity [in other words, on what was their respective "old country"] and, then, "delivered" said "packages" to the polls every fourth November) and that is this:
that we may well have seen the final "nail in the coffin" of choosing vice-presidential candidates on the basis of their direct (that is: solely related to what might be the running mate's home State compared to that of the standard-bearer) effect on potential Electoral College deliverance, for both Major Party running mates represent States with the smallest possible number of Electoral Votes, 3.
Thus, if, indeed, there is anything that shows just how "old school" the one-time more normal axis of "one candidate (for either slot) on the ticket from New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Massachusetts, the other from Ohio-Indiana-Illinois" that pervaded both the Democrats and the Republicans up till less than a century ago because of the Electoral College math of the time, it is who will be in the second slot of both Major Party national tickets this time round.