BY PHILLIP WHITE
The following letter was written in response to “Palin’s VP Nomination is Cause for Political Alarm” (September 4, 2008, The Bullet).
I read with great interest Breeanna Sveum’s article on Governor Sarah Palin. As a staunch Democrat, I agree with many of Sveum’s points pertaining to the flaws of Palin as a candidate. However, I also believe that McCain’s choice of Palin as a vice presidential candidate actually reflects sound strategic decision-making, if not a choice that is necessarily good for America.
My understanding of presidential politics is that recent Democratic presidential candidates have employed strategies that involve taking carefully calculated positions on the issues to appeal to certain demographics.
For example, Bill Clinton used the strategy of “triangulation,” in which a candidate attempts to synthesize two opposing positions into a more moderate position that will appeal both to those who support one position on the issue, and to those who support the opposing position.
Additionally, Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn famously identified the demographic of “soccer moms;” this observation and the subsequent targeting of the soccer-mom demographic is said to have been key in Clinton’s victory in the 1996 presidential race against Bob Dole.
Recent Republication presidential candidates, on the other hand, have tended to focus heavily on the candidates themselves and their histories. While Barack Obama has campaigned somewhat on his biography, I think this is a departure from the norm for Democratic candidates.
While Republicans campaign on the issues, too, their recent basic strategy for victory seems to have been to try to present few exploitable weaknesses in their own candidate, while viciously assaulting the Democratic candidate not on his weaknesses, but on his strengths. In this manner, they seek to undermine the basic appeal of their opponent.
The most famous example of this tactic was found in the 2004 election, when John Kerry was “swift-boated.” Realizing that Kerry’s record as a military hero posed a serious threat when viewed in opposition to Bush’s questionable military record, a vicious media campaign was launched in which Kerry’s advantage, a strong military record, was transformed into one of his greatest weaknesses- perceived cowardice as a participant in the Vietnam War.
The Republican Party is employing a similar strategy again this year. Obama’s status as an extremely popular figure both overseas and at home was, with a certain degree of success, portrayed as mere “celebrity-hood” in a political advertisement comparing him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. This is an attempt to undermine a few of Obama’s greatest strengths, namely his biography and ability to electrify a crowd with his oratorical ability.
It has been observed that holding a strong advantage over an opposing candidate several months before the election often does not always translate to a similar margin of victory on Election Day. I think that Obama’s chosen strategy is to lie and wait until closer to the end of the election, at which time he will try to use his superior fundraising ability and broad appeal to build momentum near the end of the race, when it matters more.
It would be a waste of resources for Obama to begin campaigning more aggressively now. Instead, Obama is sticking more or less to conventional and passive political maneuvers while he waits for Election Day to come closer.
McCain’s strategy seems to be to try to destroy Obama’s image now in a “political blitzkrieg” of sorts, so as to eliminate Obama’s potential to win closer to the end of the race. I actually believe that McCain’s choice of Palin constitutes a brilliant opportunity for McCain to parallel Obama’s appeal as a “historic candidate.” Now, voters can feel as though they are making history whomever they vote for.
Additionally, Palin parallels Obama in other ways; she is relatively young, a “fresh face,” and a good speaker. By selecting Palin, McCain is continuing his bold and aggressive attempt to challenge Obama on several of his key strengths and to steal the wind from his sails by choosing a candidate with a number of similarities to him.
As we’ve started to see, Palin is also able to attack Obama much more directly and viciously than McCain, a supposed advocate for change, has been able to. Palin is a very good speaker, and her ability to attack Obama while paralleling his appeal will be critical to the potential success of McCain’s campaign.
It’s interesting to note that Obama’s (excellent) choice of Biden seems like an attempt to parallel McCain’s strengths, since Biden is older, more experienced, and an expert on foreign policy.
Palin’s selection as vice president is unlikely to appeal to the Democratic base and Obama supporters such as myself and (I assume) Sveum. However, that is not the point of the selection; McCain is more interested in trying to reach blue collar voters, females in general, and independents. Palin’s candidacy presents an opportunity for him to capture those demographics.
Although some political analysts are concerned that her candidacy gives rise to too many variables (e.g., the pregnancy of her teenage daughter and other scandals), I believe that she is still a much better choice than Romney or any of the other “short-list” candidates could have been.
So in conclusion, while I share Sveum’s disdain for McCain and Palin both, I find myself worried that McCain has actually made a fairly wise strategic decision.
Phillip White is a senior.