I want to consider the mulitiple effects of Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate. Her selection had one primary or intended effect and numerous secondary effects, one or more of which may overwhelm the primary effect (all of which I offer provisionally in the spirit of exploration).
From the reportage of Stephen Hayes, I take Palin’s record as a reform candidate and governor of Alaska as the key factor in her selection. Palin’s record enhances John McCain’s message of reform and signals a transition in the campaign solely from a critique of Obama’s inexperience to one of “shaking up” Washington. Before his selection of Palin, McCain was on a glide path to an honorable defeat in an impossible political environment. Palin helps give him a fighting chance of victory.
Before her selection, I would not have believed that any Republican vice presidential candidate could generate the excitement Palin has. I thought the best McCain could do with this selection was no harm. On the contrary, however, Palin has galvanized a variety of heretofore apathetic Republican and conservative constitutencies to support the ticket with enthusiasm.
One can already observe this effect among evangelical Christians and prolife advocates, but also among among other groups such as voters in small town America. Palin explicitly appealed to the latter in her derision of Obama’s two-faced disparagement behind closed doors in San Francisco of those who cling to guns and religion.
Palin’s disparagment of Obama in her speech at the RNC effectively got under Obama’s skin. By the next day, for example, Obama was standing up for his work as a community organizer. When Obama responds defensively to Palin, praising himself and whining about her impercipience, he looks like any other politician.
In the future Obama will have the self-discipline to let Biden and other Democrats including Obama’s countless camp followers in the media to respond on Obama’s behalf. At the least, Palin will effectively perfrom the traditional vice presidential candidate’s role of attacking the opposition ticket.
Palin also gives the Republicans what they otherwise sorely lack in terms of star power. Palin may be the most widely sought after speaker and fundraiser on behalf of the Republcan Party and Republican candidates around the country this fall. Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that Palin is an an attractive, conservative happy warrior.
Likability is a rare personal commodity among politicians. Palin has it. She is a natural. Part of her likability results from what appears to be her natural disposition. Part of her likability derives from the combination of her personal and political stories. She is in any event appealing beyond the causes for which she stands. In this respect she seems like a successor to Ronald Reagan.
Finally, Palin points the way toward a viable Republican future. By selecting Palin, McCain has smartly skipped a generation to anoint the future leadership of the Republican Party. Next time around, the competition will be among the likes of Palin, Jindal and Pawlenty to fashion conservatism appropriate to contemporary circumstances. Most importantly, in the season of our discontent, Palin provides ground for optimism that the Republican Party has a future.
UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin has her own long list of what I term secondary effects, some of which supplement mine.
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