In a miraculous moment in Dayton, Ohio, John McCain announced what may be the most politicially significant decision of the new millenium. Faced with many choices and the challenge of a resurgent left, McCain defied all of those who questioned his worthiness as a leader and a candidate and those who worship ‘conventional wisdom’, by making the boldest and most courageous choice of a Vice Presidential running mate since William McKinley reluctantly accepted the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt. Out of a field which included many safe choices and many establishment figures, McCain vindicated himself and the hopes of those Republicans who had extended him the benefit of the doubt, by picking Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.
In his announcement, McCain summarized Palin’s career as an innovative governor, an opponent of big business and institutionalized politics, and stressed her background as a mother and a product of a normal middle-class family. Palin is not a child of wealth or a creature of the political establishment. She’s as much a maverick as McCain has claimed to be. She comes from a frontier state with a frontier mentality and a love of freedom and individualism which too many Republicans have drifted away from. By picking her, McCain is making a clear statment that he will be running as the political maverick and innovator and reformer he has tried to be rather than the establishment moderate some have accused him of being. Palin will bring out the best of John McCain and as running mates they will bring out the best of the Republican party and return it to its root values of small government, fiscal responsibility and individual liberty.
Throughout this campaign McCain has been faced with a choice of constituencies to appeal to. He has had to court independents and moderates, the religious right and Republican reformers, all of whom control substantial numbers of votes and strong activist elements. Although always viewed as a longshot and brilliantly concealed by the McCain campaign, in retrospect the Palin selection seems almost inevitable, because she is the only person whose track record and reputation should satisfy the demands of every constituency McCain wants to appeal to.
Palin will appeal to reformers because she is firmly part of the liberty wing of the party, sharing the goals of traditional Republicans represented by groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus who want to return the party to the traditions of Barry Goldwater and Teddy Roosevelt. She also has a strong pro-family reputation as the mother of five and someone raised in a traditional middle class household. Her pro-life views and support for conventional marriage should stand her in good stead with religious conservatives, yet she also used her first veto as governor to protect the rights of gay Alaskans to partnership benefits, showing a willingness to accept non-traditional families as well.
As governor Palin has been strongly independent of the party leadership, has challenged establishment figures like Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young over corruption issues, and has been an activist for progressive energy policies, supporting expanded oil drilling and development while limiting the influence of big oil companies in government. Palin is young and personable and articulate and clearly not part of the Washington political establishment. She’s the youngest person ever elected governor of Alaska and the first woman governor in the state’s history. She’s also enormously popular, with approval ratings in the 80s.
McCain’s choice of Palin stands in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Obama went for the conservative, boring and conventional choice. By picking Palin, McCain has made his declaration for progressive change, reform and new ideas. With Biden, Obama declared for the political establishment and made his claims that he supported change seem hypocritical. With Palin, McCain has shown that he understands real change and is willing to take risks and make the GOP the engine for authentic reform and better government for all the people which it was originally founded to be.
Today McCain is reborn and the voices of doubt have been silenced. The dark days of ambivalence and poor leadership are behind us, and the GOP can move forward in unity to campaign on a foundation of principle, reform and optimism.