An Asymmetric Campaign

War metaphors are the bane of presidential politics.  Pundits love them, but campaign managers use them at their candidates’ peril.  To win an election, the goal is not to kill the opponent but to convince the voters that he’s not the choice they should make.  

The real parallel between war and politics is that political campaigning is an ideological war, a psychological struggle to convince and thereby defeat.  In Rev. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum, John McCain named Gen. David Petraeus as one of the wise men he’d listen to.  

McCain is old-school Navy, but Petraeus is new-school Army.  McCain came of age in the Cold War, in Vietnam and in the horrors of the Hoa Lo prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” Petraeus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency.  Within the military culture, the two should mix as well as fire and water.  But judging from McCain’s pick of Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin, he and Petraeus go together more like beer and pizza.

McCain is running a campaign that applies the theories of asymmetric warfare Petraeus has derived.  McCain could have chosen a “heavy footprint” conservative just like the Army chose massed forces charging through neighborhoods that the Army favored in Iraq before Petraeus took over.  Petraeus made the counterinsurgency work by placing smaller units in Iraqi neighborhoods, to protect the locals and gain their confidence. Thus the “Anbar Awakening” has just about defeated al-Queda in Iraq.  By choosing Sarah Palin over a conventional conservative running mate, McCain is applying the lesson Petraeus taught in the Sunni Triangle.

The Democrats chose an asymmetric nominee, Barack Obama.  Obama is a liberal’s liberal, but the fact that he is black changes the game.  Instead of four white guys competing, there was apparently to be a race between races and ages.  And then McCain chose Palin, a woman.  And not just any woman, but a young state governor who favors oil drilling in her state, a hunter and fisher and mother of five.  Her personal history speaks as loudly to American women and pro-life Americans as Obama’s race does to minorities.  

McCain’s eloquent statement to Rick Warren of his most “gut-wrenching” decision to refuse early release from the Hanoi Hilton made Obama look small.  Obama has made speeches:  McCain has made life-or-death decisions with honor and success.  Palin has chosen to bear a child with Down syndrome instead of aborting it.  

Obama and Biden have made speeches, not choices.  Their most gut-wrenching decisions are all political. The only personal risks they have taken are to their political standing.  

The liberal establishment — especially the feminista feathers that cover the left wing — is scared by Palin’s candidacy.  Very scared.  

It’s worth reading the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd only to see just how the Palin choice has left the lefties reeling.  She writes that Palin is an affirmative action choice, an “underqualified babe” and a “bantamweight cheerleader” from the West.  And, of course, the dowdy one can’t resist whining, “Why do men only pick women as running mates when they need a Hail Mary pass? It’s a little insulting.”  Thus insulting Palin, McCain, Mondale and former feminist idol Geraldine Ferraro in two short sentences.

The more outwardly calm liberals aren’t whining: they’re genuinely worried. Washington Post columnist Colbert King’s Saturday column shows just how worried they are.  

King is worried that McCain’s choice of Palin will succeed in winning some of the Hillary supporters angered at Obama’s defeat of their champion.  King — like Obama and Biden — fears that women voters think so shallowly that they will vote for Palin only because of her gender:  “The anger of some Clinton supporters over her defeat and what they perceive as her snubbing for a spot on the Democratic ticket may be clouding their judgment.”  

Don’t wait for Dowd and King to take offense at the media picking on Palin for her gender. They’re doing it themselves, and the media herd will stampede behind them.  

By choosing Palin, McCain has chosen a running mate that interferes with the Democrats’ game plan.  Now Palin has to help McCain make the asymmetric move pay off.

In the coming vice presidential debate, Palin has to defeat Joe Biden, one of the oldest liberal hands in Washington.  Biden has the advantage of comfort on the national stage.  He did well in the primary debates, but not well enough to challenge Clinton or Obama.  His weaknesses were twofold: first, he’s anything but new; and second, he was better on a responsible approach to withdrawing from Iraq than either of the top two, which puts him on the outs with the crowd.

But Biden is most famous for his tiresomely long-winded performances in Senate hearings.  His “questions” are wandering speeches that evidence ego, not any train of thought.  Palin is smart, tough and animated.  She can out-perform Biden or she can fail, as Jack Kemp did in the 1996 debate against Al Gore.

The 1996 debate was an embarrassment to the Republican Party.  Gore — no more an expert on foreign policy than Kemp — debated with apparent comfort on Bosnia while Kemp was left looking as though he didn’t even know where Bosnia was on the map.  Palin has to be prepared far better than Kemp was, and throw Biden’s foreign policy “expertise” back at him.  Biden’s “expertise” includes a “plan” to break Iraq into three smaller states, none of which could possibly survive alone.  

Palin, in the debate and on the trail, can be the Republican energy expert.  From oil and gas-rich Alaska, she favors — and may be able to persuade McCain to change his opinion on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to development and drilling.
Increasing domestic energy production can be the winning issue for Republicans this year.  Even now, as Congress prepares to return from the August recess, the Democrats remain adamant on renewing their embargo on offshore drilling and opening ANWR.  They are preparing a bill that will open a tiny amount of offshore drilling and continue the ban on the rest.

Gov. Palin can and should take this issue as her own.  And in that she has the opportunity to continue the asymmetric strategy of the McCain campaign.

Palin should meet — with well-managed fanfare — with the leaders of the House Drilling Rebellion, Reps. Mike Pence, Tom Price, Jeb Hensarling and Louie Gohmert at the convention.  And in her acceptance speech, she can blast the Dems for their embargo against offshore and ANWR drilling.  She, more than anyone in the campaign, has the ability to take up this issue and damage the Democrats not only in the presidential race, but in the congressional races as well.  

Palin should make the energy issue her central theme.  If she does, voters’ choice can be not only between Elvis Obama and “wrinkly white-haired dude” McCain, but between “Drill Now” Palin and “Drill Nothing” Pelosi.  

With gasoline prices burdening every American, that would be an easy choice.