I'm shocked and oddly excited about McCain's choice, even though I'm not particularly a fan of Sarah Palin, nor do I think it was a smart decision on McCain's part. Maybe it's just because somebody I've actually met is running for the second-highest office in the land. It may also be a little bit of Alaska pride. Alaska often seems to feel, with some justice, like the neglected youngest child in the family (and it's spoiled like one too). Having the governor as a major-party veep candidate is sure to electrify the state, especially at a time when Alaska's national reputation has been sullied by scandals, indictments and the "Bridge to Nowhere" brouhaha.
There's no question that Sarah Palin is a gifted politician. She obliterated a sitting governor in the Republican primary and saved a corrupt and arrogant state party from itself. She promised cleaner government, and she has by and large delivered on that promise. (There is currently a scandal afoot re: whether her administration pressured a police commissioner to fire a trooper who was involved in a nasty custody battle with the Governor's sister, but I suspect there's more smoke than fire there. She's too smart to do something so transparently stupid... probably the work of an overzealous "Palin-bot," as they are called in Alaska.) And, as the media never fail to point out, she is hot. I never would have expected that the sentence "Don't look at the Governor's legs" would pass through my brain, but it happened.
That's about as much as I can say in her favor. My biggest beef with her... well, my biggest non-ideological beef with her... is that she also came in promising a government that would listen to the public, but her administration has been just as opaque and imperious as the one it replaced, albeit in a different way. She's mercurial, often needlessly confrontational, and attention-hungry, and it's not at all clear who she listens to or why. Granted, it's impossible for me not to evaluate Alaska politicans through the lens of how they treat my former employer and its clients, and she disappointed me on that front.
Taking off my erstwhile-Alaskan hat and putting on my armchair pundit hat, Palin's selection strikes me as a desperate choice by McCain. Faced with an opponent who is both the potential first black President and a reincarnation of JFK, it looks like he decided that a ticket of two old white men wouldn't cut it. Sarah Palin brings youth, diversity, and flash to the ticket. But with her experience limited to less than two years as governor of a small and idiosyncratic state, along with a couple terms as mayor of a small town, it's hard to imagine that voters will want her to be a heartbeat away from the launch codes. I also suspect that those Republicans who hoped for a "real conservative" to balance McCain will be disappointed when they look at her record in Alaska. Just before I left, she championed an expensive government handout-- a $1,200 "energy rebate" for every man, woman, and child in Alaska, which will be added onto a Permanent Fund Dividend that is already likely to top two grand. (Note: I am not opposed to energy assistance per se, I just think the government can do better things with that money than shelling it out to people in my income bracket and richer. I won't be getting the rebate or a PFD myself.) I also suspect that Biden will clean her clock in October's vice presidential debate.
Despite that electrifying-the-state business I mentioned earlier, the reaction in Alaska has not been uniformly positive. The outgoing Senate President -- a woman, by the way, and a Republican, who represents the Governor's home town -- said she thought it was a joke when she heard the news, and asked, "Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?" The Speaker of the House -- also an R, but a man from Valdez -- helpfully observed, when asked about the Governor's qualifications to be veep, that "she's old enough. She's a U.S. citizen."
Perhaps what is most disappointing to me is that there is another Republican woman from Alaska who would have been a great choice. Everything I know of her, including many interactions with her in person, have convinced me that she's smart, principled, and sincere. (Obligatory disclaimer: she's been great to my former employer.) She's Lisa Murkowski, Alaska's junior Senator. But McCain didn't go that way, so we're going to see how Sarah does.