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Mr. McCain's Surprise

POSTED: August 31, 2008, 12:00 am

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It is safe to say that Senator John McCain’s choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate caught everyone by surprise. For months the Republican candidate had been touting his experience and subsequently implying his rival Senator Barack Obama had none. So his choice of the relatively unknown Palin, inexperienced in national politics, has many people, including quite a few Republicans, scratching their heads.

For certain McCain’s team has calculated the possible value of adding a woman to the ticket. After all, many women, particularly white working class women, expressed resentment over what they viewed as bias against Senator Clinton during the primary season. Many of those women conveniently forget that Clinton came into the Democratic primary season as the overwhelming favorite and it was her own campaign’s bungling that led to her defeat.

Nevertheless, there is lingering resentment among some women voters and no doubt the McCain campaign believes the choice of Palin will give those Democratic voters reason to cross over. It is no coincidence the governor made a point to reference both Geraldine Ferraro (by the way, was she at the Denver convention?) and Senator Clinton during the introductory press conference announcing her selection as the vice presidential candidate.

This choice does raise questions about Senator McCain’s judgment. For months now he has been harping on his “proven leadership” and the Republican Party “message” has been consistent in trying to raise doubts about Senator Obama’s capabilities. Now, the Arizona Republican has chosen a running mate who has far less experience than the Democratic candidate but is being positioned to be a “heart beat” away from the Oval Office.

Given John McCain’s age and the natural chase of mortality, should we feel comfortable that a neophyte governor from a remote state, with little diversity and so unlike the rest of the country, would be in position to move into the Oval Office?

Already questions are being raised about Governor Palin’s role in a scandal in her state. An ongoing investigation in Alaska could raise serious questions about her temperament and fitness for the vice presidency. Despite how little respect the office of Vice President is given, history should give all of us reason to care about who has been chosen as the candidates’ running mates. The tragedy in Dallas 45 years ago and the near assassination of President Reagan should be fair warning that who sits in the number 2 seat really does matter.

As Senator McCain prepares for his big moment next week in St. Paul Minnesota at the Republican National Convention, more questions will be raised, and rightfully so, about his vice presidential pick. It will either turn out to be a stroke of genius on the part of McCain or one of the biggest blunders in presidential campaign history. Judging from her performance at last week’s press conference announcing her selection as Senator McCain’s running mate, Governor Palin looked at once both capable and one gaffe away from disaster. Only time, and a few thousand, campaign stops will tell.

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