August 31, 2008

VP Picks Reveal Contrasting Election Strategies of McCain and Obama

After the American Century

McCain and Obama have chosen quite different campaign strategies, as their choice of vice-presidential running mates reveals. McCain has adopted the polarizing tactic of going to the Right. Sarah Palin has extreme right-wing positions on most issues. Should Creationist ideas be given credibility? Yes, teach them in schools. Should gays be allowed to marry? Never. Should guns be controlled in any way? No way. Should abortion be permitted in any situations, for example when pregnancy is due to rape or incest? Absolutely not. Is global warming caused by human beings? Certainly not. Should alternative energies be developed? No. Should women's bodies by commodified? She was runner-up in Miss Alaska.

Huckabee supporters are delighted with her selection. So what if she has no law degree, no knowledge of history, no experience in government, and no ideas? She is a religious woman, an athlete, a gunslinger mother, and she wants to drill for every drop of oil that God in his infinite wisdom, as part of his intelligent design of the universe, deposited in American wilderness areas and wildlife reserves. Sarah Palin thus qualifies as the worst imaginable vice-president for the liberals and the best possible one for cultural conservatives. Selecting her is an example of mobilizing the base, or getting a high percentage of your side out to vote. At the same time, McCain's strategy now must be to run negative advertisements about Obama, in order to demotivate his base. Rather than win over opponents, it is just as effective to convince them to stay home. McCain has, in other words, adopted the Karl Rove theory of divisive and negative politics.

Obama has chosen the opposite strategy. He has softened many of this positions, so they are more mainstream. He has chosen Joe Biden, the experienced, moderate insider, who has a history of working with Republicans to get legislation through Congress. Obama is appealing to all Americans, including even the evangelicals, and he has tried to reassure them that he is religious himself. A careful reading of his acceptance speech reveals several passages sprinkled with religious references. He has positioned himself as the champion of the middle class. Almost everyone in the US thinks of themselves as being middle class, so he is promising the middle class a tax cut.About the only people Obama has written off are the big oil companies.

Until the selection of Sarah Palin, the election looked close. But now it is possible it will not be. Conceivably the American voters will become excited by Palin and will lose enthusiasm for Obama after a barrage of negative ads from the Republicans. But the more likely result is that Independents and moderate Republicans will be disenchanged with the McCain-Palin ticket. The Republicans are the smaller party, numerically, and they need the moderates to win.

This choice makes McCain more popular on the Right, but has apparently not been inspiring to his fellow Senators. Of the 49 Republicans from that chamber, it now appears that 10 find their schedules so busy they will not be able to attend the convention in St. Paul. Are ten of the most powerful Republicans treating McCain as a pariah? Are they afraid they might be photographed together, or worse yet, be seen shaking hands with President Bush?