John McCain’s pick of the young outsider Sarah Palin as his running mate has proven to be one of the most successful gambles in modern politics. It has brought tremendous energy to McCain’s campaign and millions of voters instinctively identify with Palin and her family-oriented, working class roots. Palin seems a wonderful return to the days of Harry Truman or even Andrew Jackson, when America’s anti-elitist electorate picked rough-hewn, plainspoken leaders from out of their own ranks and sent them to Washington to raise hell.
The pick makes believable McCain’s pledge to bring real change to Washington, and it has thus severely blunted the shallow appeal of philosophical featherweight Barack Obama — who had little to offer America other than a lyrical mantra of unspecified change.
The recruitment of Palin by McCain was made particularly effective by its juxtaposition with Obama’s self-inflicted wound, Joe Biden (now he’s not just a client of the hair club for men, he’s also it’s vice president). In his first opportunity to establish change through his proto-administration, Obama went straight to the standard queue of ossified Washington insiders that he so needs to quickly make the most of his surprise appearance at the head of the ticket. This is the paradoxical price of choosing a neophyte as nominee — without a nationwide organization of his own, Obama is especially beholden to his party’s machine. A babe in the woods needs help. Obama also cannot surround himself with inexperienced newcomers, lest he look like just one more.
McCain, by contrast, has experience and his own established reputation and networks. He doesn’t need to recruit gravitas. He can recruit fresh partners instead.
The initiative clearly rests with McCain, who has taken a lead in the polls, and sent Obama looking for a clue as to how to respond.
So now what? I believe that McCain should leverage his advantage before the Obama campaign and its marketing departments (CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, the NY Times etc.) can regain their lost footing and work on falsely deconstructing Palin so as to restore order to their universe. McCain can do this by promising that Palin is just the first of an army of fresh, energetic party outsiders that he will appoint, if sent to Washington.
His message should be clear: Washington is a human swamp that must be drained and filled with clean new people, unbeholden to its back rooms, party lines, lobbyists, and incestuous press/advocate monolith. These picks should have a basically conservative slant, but since a cabinet is a committee and McCain wants to build a new coalition, there is room for different flavors of outsiders in addition to conservatives.
Joe Lieberman is an obvious non-conservative pick who should be explicitly mentioned, especially in Florida. Lieberman has been ostracized and exiled by the extremist liberal orthodoxy of the Democrat Party and thus owes the party nothing, despite still have quite an appeal with much of its rank and file members. As long as he is kept well away from domestic social issues, he is acceptable to most right of center McCain supporters on issues of foreign policy.
Other picks are less obvious but need to come from outside Washington and even outside politics. Military leaders and successful entrepreneurs should be considered and advertised – their eventual appointments will never occur if McCain loses, so they should and must be discussed loudly. Only a few well-vetted specific picks need be mentioned, but the amorphous idea needs to be sold now.
New faces as a campaign theme would further strip Obama of his only real weapon, a chorus of “change, details to follow.” Without the full use of this lever, Obama will find it very difficult to pry open the trust of non-leftist voters, who (I believe) are unsure of the smooth-talking Music Man that wants to be promoted directly from his fourth year on the job to be the Chief Executive of the world’s single superpower.
In addition to the election advantages of this strategy, it would (if McCain wins and follows through on his pledge) nearly assure McCain a place in history as one of the most influential President’s of his time, since he would bring onto the national stage an army of young, new political personalities. These appointees could form the core of multiple new political circles over the next generation.
Most importantly, McCain should make his campaign and administration a rallying point for talented outsiders simply because change cannot have just one face, it must have many. This is a obvious truth in a nation of 300 million people — and it’s one that Obama, in selling himself as the one-man messiah of change, hasn’t got a clue on.
McCain should paint Obama as the naïve new front man of the same tired liberalism and promise that, if elected, he will unleash a swarm of anti-establishment outsiders upon Washington’s vested interests. Obama has nothing to offer but change, and with that argument taken away, Obama has nothing to offer.