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What's Wrong With McCain's "Palin Strategy?"

September 15th 2008

Books - S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp

John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate has brought out a number of interesting positions opposing the pick. People from all walks of life, but mostly one side of the aisle, are examining McCain’s selection and critiquing it for its seeming “strategy,” which, if you read between the lines, is a pseudonym for “cheap ploy.”

Since when is “strategy” a bad thing, especially in a contest? Football coaches, corporate executives, ad agencies, military generals and chess players the world over would be nothing without strategy, and we’d chastise them for ignoring it. Yet, John McCain makes a strategic choice in running mate, and it’s seen by some as dirty or patronizing.

Consider the following detractors, and their arguments against McCain’s veep strategy:

The frighteningly mature and silver-tongued 13-year-old daughter of a friend of mine, upon hearing the news said, “What do they think, women are stupid?  They choose an inexperienced person from Alaska and expect women to automatically vote for McCain just because he picks any old bimbo?”

Her point is a common one, especially among Hillary left-overs who suggest McCain’s strategy was to pick a woman and hope that Clinton’s female voters can’t tell the difference between the two. It’s an interesting idea, but hardly convincing. After all, why would liberal, women voters who were going to vote for liberal Hillary Clinton now throw their considerable and influential weight to Sarah Palin, whose stances on abortion and gay marriage alone would hardly make her alluring to this market?
In another argument, The Huffington Post’s Jane Smiley and others have Palin’s foray into beauty pageants as a college student somehow means she has traded on her looks to get ahead. Smiley wrote, “I want to know…if she's just a follower with a pretty smile, who goes along with the big boys in order to get a little something for herself.”

So McCain’s strategy here, then, was to pick a good-looking woman in hopes that she can wink her way into the White House with male voters? One problem with this. He’d be turning off the very voting contingent he was hoping to gain – those 18 million women who voted for Hillary.
Another argument comes by way of the sophisticated wordsmith Sean “Diddy” Colmes, who recently blogged about the Palin pick. Arguing, ineloquently, that John McCain is “buggin” for picking a woman from Alaska, he probes, “What is the reality in Alaska? There aren’t even any crackheads in Alaska. There aren’t no black people in Alaska.”
This position, if we can call it that, seems to say that Palin was chosen to speak primarily to white, non-drug-addled America. It’s interesting to note that Alaska has more black people per capita, according to the 2004 US census, than West Virginia, Iowa, Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Vermont, Idaho, and Montana. And, though it would seem the governor of a state without “crackheads” might benefit from that distinction, it’s worth pointing out that according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 4.9 percent of Alaska residents are considered lifetime crack addicts. California claims only 3.8 percent.
And lastly, I recently sparred with Ann Friedman, a writer for the activist website Feministing.com, on CNN about the Palin pick. Her position was that a pro-life candidate simply isn’t good for women, and McCain should have considered pro-choice voters.
Here, Friedman seems to make the only legitimate case for McCain’s strategy, which according to her, was to appeal primarily to his conservative base. She’s absolutely right. McCain’s been criticized all summer for his inability to bring his base together in support of the GOP ticket, and the appointment of Palin is a direct response to that criticism. To answer Friedman’s charge, one could certainly argue that a pro-life candidate is good for women…who are pro-life. And in 2003, a Center for the Advancement of Women poll found that 51% of women said they oppose abortion.
The media, the voters, feminists, rappers and even teenagers, are going to continue to discuss John McCain’s strategy in selecting Sarah Palin for vice president, and the temperature will likely rise even higher now that word of her 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy is out. What will the McCain strategy be going forward? The only thing that is certain is that he will definitely have one. Let’s all remember, though, that strategizing is not the same as scheming.
S.E. Cupp is author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right,” with Brett Joshpe.  

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