Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin: Upsides, Downsides, and a Warning

Now that the shock—SHOCK—of McCain’s running mate selection has worn off, I’d like to share my thoughts on how this stunning move changes the race for Democrats. Palin can be both good and bad for Democrats, depending on how Obama decides to take her on.

First, the good news. This probably takes the experience issue off the table for Republicans. Senator McCain cannot hit Obama after adding a first term Alaska governor to his ticket. That said, were McCain to run another “Is he ready to lead?” ad, the Obama campaign could not hit back without stipulating that experience is important. So it’s possible that we haven’t seen the end of the experience attack, but I doubt that either campaign wants to go there right now.

The other piece of good news is that many Clinton voters feel as though McCain is pandering to them. From The New York Times:

Some Clinton stalwarts took offense, saying they felt as if Mr. McCain had decided that, for women disappointed that they could not vote for Mrs. Clinton, any woman would do. “It’s an insult,” said Jan Roller, a Clinton delegate from Cleveland, as she arrived home from the convention. “You have to be qualified for the job.”

Gail Collins has a good piece on this, as does Taylor Marsh. The best commentary, of course, comes from Jon Stewart.

Now, the bad news. McCain has seriously bolstered his “change” message. He now has a history-making running mate and both candidates can point to specific acts of breaking with the party and standing up to the establishment. Obama’s change message might now have some serious competition.

The other piece of bad news is that Palin’s selection has seriously energized the Republican base. Today's tracking poll report from Rasmussen talked about how adding Palin has given McCain a boost:

There have been significant changes in perception of John McCain in the two days of polling since he named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Since then, 49% of Republicans voice a Very Favorable opinion of McCain. That’s up six percentage points from 43% just before the announcement. Also, 64% of unaffiliated voters now give positive reviews to McCain, up ten points since naming his running mate.

Democrats still have the advantage in voter identification, so as long as we are able to unite our party, Obama should still win this election. What concerns me, however, is the effect on down ballot races and ballot initiatives. Were evangelicals to stay home on Election Day, and Obama to attract enough new, younger, liberal voters to the polls, Democrats would have a chance to win elections in places where we haven’t won before. Senate races in Alabama and North Carolina are within reach, according to recent polls. But an energized evangelical race might put those contests out of reach for Democrats.

In my own state of Florida, where an anti-gay marriage amendment is on the November ballot, evangelicals energized about the top of the ticket are now more likely to come to the polls and vote for the amendment. Just a few days ago, gay rights advocates were encouraged by a poll that put the amendment within defeat. The poll found that support for the amendment was at 57% with a 4% margin of error. It must have the support of at least 60% of voters to pass.

If the media spends some time talking about how much she appeals to the evangelicals, that might actually help Democrats among independents who believe that human activities are harming the environment, that intelligent design is not real science, and that women who are raped should be allowed to have an abortion. However, the focus thus far has been about her gender and her (lack of) experience. Unfortunately, we cannot count on the media to spend much time on the issues.

Now, a warning. We have to be careful about how exactly we criticize Sarah Palin. There are still some very hard feelings about the sexism that pervaded the Democratic primary. I know that because I myself had them. (But I'm not allowing them to cloud my judgment about who to vote for in November.) Democrats should criticize Palin for her actions as a public official and her stands on the issues (drill, drill, drill, bomb, bomb, bomb and science schmience). Joking around about her beauty pageant background, belittling her as a token (especially when our own historic candidate has a thin resume), and using terms that demean women--such as bimbo--will only bring up bad memories and force some progressives to defend a candidate whom we do not like.

I don't relish the idea of being told (again) that I'm bitter and need to get over the primaries (the former, but not the latter, is accurate), but I won't avoid calling out sexism when I see it. I cannot, in good conscience, sit silently as another woman is demeaned the way Hillary was just because she is a Republican who hates me and things I am a threat to "family values."

We'll have to wait another week for McCain's post-convention bounce in the polls to recede to see exactly where we are, but I'm not worried. This election is still Obama's to lose. We just need to do our part.


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