WELL... WHAT WILL JOHN
McCAIN NOW HAVE TO DO?
Whatever he might do, it
has to get underway at the
Sunday, August 31, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Let me make one thing most clear at the start: Sarah Palin notwithstanding, this is still more Barack Obama's election to lose than it is John McCain's to win--- it's just not as much more so as it was only a few short days ago. Put another way: Governor Palin is not at all the political "silver bullet" that will- somehow, alone- do in the Democratic Party's national ticket.
As I noted in my Commentary written on the day Palin was picked, most women who supported Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nomination contest are not going to be all that supportive of Palin's conservatism on sociocultural issues such as Abortion--- and, where a Hillary supporter might actually be the more amenable to voting for McCain because a woman happens to be on the GOP ticket (presumably because a connection would be felt to Palin as, say, a fellow mom and also because sociocultural issues would not be so important to such a hypothetical female voter), it is likely to be in a State- or portion of a State- where McCain would be expected to be at least competitive, if he were not expected to win that State outright, in any event.
But, again as I wrote the other day, Sarah Palin could (key word here: "could") pry a sliver larger than not of "Hillary women" away from the Obama/Biden ticket that, in a close election overall and/or in a State in which McCain and Obama will find themselves in a closely fought contest, might (I repeat "might") make a significant enough difference to give the McCain/Palin ticket a somewhat better chance than it otherwise might have at winning it all come 4 November.
In other words: going into his own Party's Convention, Barack Obama had a small, yet still manageable, "margin for error"- one where a few minor missteps (short of "major gaffe" status) would not necessarily prove fatal: however, at least for now (for McCain's own "margin for error" yet remains even smaller than Obama's, as will shortly be made clear in this very piece), a McCain/Palin ticket makes Obama/Biden's "margin for error" now noticeably narrower--- but not solely because of Governor Palin's presence on the GOP ticket!
All along- no matter who John McCain might have picked as his running mate (so this goes all the way back to when the Arizonan first emerged as the apparent Republican standard-bearer back in March)- Senator McCain has been walking a political tightrope thinner than that Barack Obama himself has walked and yet continues to walk (as noted in my Democratic Convention wrap-up) because George W. Bush (a Republican, after all) has such anemic approval ratings going into his own Party's Convention.
The incumbent President's overall approval rating (that is, among all Americans- regardless of Party or ideology) has been in the "3 out of 10" range pretty much all through the presidential nominating process; more to the point, Bush's disapproval ratings have been averaging about that same "3 out of 10" rate among his fellow Republicans (though this has varied much more within the GOP itself than overall throughout 2008 so far: GOP approval ratings for Bush had approached 80% at one point and have been as low as 60% at another--- thus 70% is a good "ballpark" figure for Republican support for the job George W. Bush is doing as President)--- that's the bad news for John McCain.
The good news for McCain is that most of the GOPers' disapproval is far more about an perceived lack of competence on Bush' part than it might about some wholesale abandonment of basic conservative Republican principles and policy options by nearly 1/3 of the Republican rank-and-file. That is: most of those Republicans who so disapprove of 'Dub-ya' do so, not because they suddenly no longer wish to see the enactment of conservative economic policy- where not also conservative sociocultural policy (though, 'tis true, an economically conservative Republican is not necessarily a socioculturally conservative Republican in more than a few areas of the Nation, including most of the Northeast USA where I happen to reside); instead, these Republicans are ticked off because they feel that the current President hasn't, of late, been able to effectively implement a fair number of such policies.
Simply put: a competent Republican presidential candidate might well, and relatively easily to boot, win back such GOP voters as these.
McCain's problem was (and, despite Sarah Palin as his running mate, still is) that his "maverick" reputation- one that has, at times (though, based on the rhetoric heard from the speaker's rostrum at the recent Democratic Convention, not nearly enough times [;-)]), allowed McCain to wag his finger in a gesture of admonishment to his own Party while, at the very same time, shaking hands as part of many a political concordat with Democrats on the United States Senate floor- has made the archetypal harder-core conservative within the GOP (whether economic, sociocultural- or both) altogether wary, where not also rather suspicious, of the Arizona Senator's "real" politics; and, for the still active remnant of the 'Contract with America' Republicans, McCain was/is even worse than this-- if only because, whenever he has been seen so "dining with the devil", to these he hasn't appeared to have brought his longest spoon with him.
This is precisely why his choice of a vice-presidential candidate was so important, as well as more interesting a pick (of course, this before we could even know who that pick actually was): for, not only was McCain forced into doing a high-wire act on a fairly thin wire, he was also- at the same time- juggling a full set of steak knives!
If Senator McCain had chosen one of the "usual suspects"- or, at least, the usual type of suspect- he would have done little to mitigate the difficult political position in which he had found himself: walking that tightrope high above the crowd, juggling his steak knives, not having the option to fall-- that is, trying to show how "good" a conservative Republican he actually was while, at the same time, trying to distance himself from a not all that popular Republican incumbent President as he got closer and closer to his Party's Convention.
For instance: had McCain picked, say, a (male) current or former Republican Governor (or United States Senator) from the South (whether Deep or Border) with impeccable sociocultural conservative credentials that were the equal to, where they did not overshadow, his economic conservatism, he might well have appealed much more to the- for lack of a better term- 'Mike Huckabee' wing of the GOP, but only at the expense of support from the what we might, if only for the sake of this argument, call the 'Mitt Romney' faction (former Governor Romney, while also socioculturally conservative, ran for the GOP presidential nomination much more on his economic conservative credentials as a businessman [which is how he once became Governor of one of the most, if not the most, liberal States in the Nation]): Republicans not so socioculturally conservative could the more support a 'Romney-type' than they might feel comfortable with a 'Huckabee-type' running mate for McCain)-- though this is not to say that such 'Romney type Republicans' would not have ended up voting for McCain over Obama come the Presidential Election anyway; but a maverick like McCain trying to unite his Party behind him could not afford to have such voters even thinking of, perhaps, not voting for him come 4 November!
And the reverse would have been the case had McCain picked, say, a current or former Republican Governor (or, again, United States Senator) from the Northeast or the Upper Midwest less committed to sociocultural conservatism than economic conservatism (or, say, a Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who, while socioculturally conservative is still, at heart, the 1960s "traditional liberal" on other matters- even though he is now a pariah to the Party that nominated him for Vice President eight years ago now [in at least some senses, Lieberman has become this Presidential Election's 'Zell Miller', only far less "in yer face"-- though the ex-Marine (and one-time Executive Secretary to Georgia Governor Lester Maddox) Miller was hardly the quintessential 1960s-style liberal Democrat at any time during his political career])-- in which case, it would be 'Huckabee'-type Republican who would be feeling so alienated from John McCain as the GOP standard-bearer.
In essence: had Senator McCain chosen, as his running mate, a "usual suspect" from either faction that had been, respectively, supportive of his two main rivals for this year's GOP presidential nomination, many rank-and-file voters supportive of the faction thereby "left out" would have known exactly how Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters felt when Barack Obama clinched the other Major Party's presidential nomination and, thereafter, did not name Mrs. Clinton (or, for that matter, any other woman) to the Democratic ticket.
Governor Palin's presence on the Republican ticket mitigates quite a lot of these negatives that could have been, but aren't: her sociocultural conservatism- which is just as fervent as that of any of the Southern Republican Governors whose names kept bubbling up while all the speculative talk regarding the GOP 'Veepstakes' was still being heard- seems not to all that overshadow her economic conservatism in the same way that it can so easily do re: a politician from a region of the country that is so strongly socioculturally (as well as religiously) conservative, such as the American South. In addition, her uniqueness as a national candidate- not only because of her gender, but also because the State of Alaska she governs is one of America's more unique States- in effect, "softens" her candidacy for # 2 enough to allow many who would have had to swallow harder in order to vote for McCain in the General Election to not have to ingest such a bitter pill.
Having said all this, however, I repeat: Sarah Palin is not a "silver bullet", thus she alone will not elect John McCain President.
For, in the last analysis, only John McCain can gain John McCain residence in the White House (and this is, of course, as it should be: as, in the main, very few- if any- Americans vote for Vice-President)--- thus, the Arizona Senator still walks that rather thin political tightrope, only now without all those steak knives! ;-)
No matter what: McCain simply has to distance himself from George W. Bush at least somewhat if he hopes to actually win this Presidential Election (and this, too, has been true since he first clinched the nomination this past Spring), but he also has to do so without alienating too many ordinary Republicans (of whatever ideological bent) along the way: this is because, for all intents and purposes, 'Dub-ya' is on the verge of becoming DPW- as in 'Dead President Walking'.
Yes, President Bush will, constitutionally, still have the responsibility to exercise the powers and duties of his High Office until Noon Eastern Time [1700 UTC] next 20 January: a crisis- that Hurricane 'Gustav' bearing down on the U.S. Gulf Coast (especially threatening- YIKES!- 'Katrina'-ravaged New Orleans) as I type this; having to mitigate Russian Federation chicanery in the Caucasus; or (Heaven Forfend!) a terrorist attack- if not here on our soil, then against American interests elsewhere in the world- will require George W. Bush to respond, since- obviously- only he can respond.
However, once President Bush plays his role as titular Party leader at the Convention in Minnesota this coming week (assuming, of course, that 'Gustav' doesn't wreak havoc on his travel plans) and then leaves it to then become John McCain's Convention in order to better allow the GOP to become the Party of McCain/Palin, 'Dub-ya'- at least politically- pretty much, as the proverbial "lame duck", all but disappears. America- and the World- will, once John McCain has accepted his Party's nomination, care far more about what John McCain and Barack Obama are all about than what George W. Bush is up to (except, again, in a crisis that requires presidential leadership: even in such a case, there will be just as much- if not more- talk about 'what might McCain have done in this situation?' and 'how would Obama have handled this?').
Meanwhile, McCain has to still get out from under the rather heavy weight of Bush/Cheney policy (but- note- only where he truly disagrees, in his own heart and soul [if not also his own gut] with a given such policy: if the McCain/Palin ticket tries to finesse/fake it [that is: tries to pretend to not be in favor of a Bush Administration policy the standard-bearer really does support], it will be seen as hypocritical and it will backfire) and, had he picked anyone else but a Sarah Palin to be his running mate (which, as I've said, would have risked alienating those Republicans who couldn't possibly get fired up about such a pick), he would have been on a rather "short leash" in this regard.
Instead, Governor Palin on the ticket allows this "leash" to be let out a more substantial distance. Where a Republican of some ideology or faction within the Party might see a given move more towards the political center this Fall on McCain's part as disrespecting the Republican Party (where not also disrespecting President Bush himself), McCain can now say, in effect, "wait a minute! I've put someone on my ticket whom you should be able to support, regardless of what kind of conservative you might be!" Meanwhile, having a much longer "leash"- even while it still ties him to the very same Republican Party of a very unpopular President- allows John McCain to much more appeal to the independent voters for whom he will have to compete with Barack Obama if he wants to be President.
Sarah Palin for Vice-President makes it a little bit easier for the Arizona Senator to appeal to at least some among those voters who are not Republican and who do not approve of the way George W. Bush has done his job, period- while, at the very same time, not all that much offending those who still very much like what the Republican Party stands for but still don't much care for President Bush because of what they perceive as his incompetence, all the while still holding on to that majority of Republicans who, all along, have felt that George W. Bush has unfairly gotten a "raw deal" as regards how he is being perceived "out there".
And this is precisely why Barack Obama's "margin for error" has been significantly reduced going into the Fall Presidential Election campaign by John McCain's having selected Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Now, rather obviously, John McCain has to set the tone for all I have outlined above at his Party's Convention this coming week-- and there is no way he can at all afford to wait until afterwards. As Barack Obama had to come off as presidential at his own Convention, John McCain has to come off- at his Convention- as firm, yes, but also appealing to those who might otherwise seriously consider voting for the Obama/Biden ticket: yet, at the same time, he still cannot cause himself the loss of support among those within his own Party while doing so...
yes, indeed, it is a high-wire act and it is quite exciting to watch--
and even more so because, again, John McCain simply doesn't have the option to fall.