A Post on Palin (with apologies to Dave)
Despite Dave’s complaints about political blogging, I figured that in light of Dan’s post on Palin I would throw in my three cent’s worth. Much has been made of the way in which picking Palin undermines McCain’s argument that his experience is superior to that of Obama. This, I think, is a fair criticism. The partisan leap that then gets made, however, to Republican hypocrisy rests, I think, on a misunderstanding about elections and McCain. First, it is a national election and the fact that the party faithful rally around their standard bearers in the months before the election is evidence that…shockingly…presidential elections are largely about political mobilization rather than some idealized mass public policy seminar. Are Biden supporters from the Democratic primaries — I’ve heard rumors that there were some — now hypocrites because they rally around Obama, notwithstanding Biden’s attacks on his inexperience? No, it just means that they are Democrats, which is hardly something to be ashamed of.
The real questiion is why McCain would pick Palin given the fact that she clearly undermines his experience argument against Obama. The important thing to see here, I think, is that the whole I-am-the-tested-and-seasoned-candidate narrative was thrust on McCain by accident. It is not, I think, all that central to his self-conception. It is a good argument to make given Obama’s resume, but I don’t think that it is ultimately what drives his own sense of why he should be president. Rather, McCain ultimately sees himself primarily in terms of his personal narrative and his personal character. He is the heroic prisoner of war who went into politics as a maverick and has repeatedly bucked the party establishment on this or that issue. He is Invictus. Ultimately, I think that McCain was not drawn to Palin because she was a woman or because he thinks that her experience will complement his. (The speculation about Palin’s appeal to Hillary voters, I think, tells us more about those voters’ need for self-reference than it does about any serious GOP strategizing.) He chose Palin because she has a compelling personality and a compelling personal story. She is the unconventional maverick hockey mom that took on the corrupt GOP establishment in Alaska and won.
What you are seeing with Palin is not a cynical or irrational move by McCain. Rather you are seeing a choice that reveals much about his authentic conception of himself and of politics. This fact simply gets obscured by the rhetoric spawned by the accident of Obama’s inexperience. The choice reveals both what is appealing about McCain — his personal independence and cussedness and his commitment to a particular notion of character as the highest political virtue — as well as what is less appealing, namely his insistence on the primacy of his personal narrative over competing concerns that are not connected to the image of John McCain as maverick.