At several weekend gatherings, I had the chance to discuss Sarah Palin with a wide variety of progressive voters. The opinions I heard were all some variation of, Worst possible pick for McCain.
At the same time, I have to think that there has to be some method to this seemingly mad decision. I have to believe that the people in charge of such decisions must have more information than I do. So allow me to speculate on what I feel are the three major advantages of having Palin on the ticket.
First of all, Palin can mobilize disaffected voters and register new ones. The GOP can only count on a tiny handful of angry HRC supporters to defect to the Republican ticket. But there are thousands of Republican women who were probably going to sit on the sidelines for this election. Now perhaps they have a reason to vote. Ditto with evangelicals. Likewise, while the Democrats have seen surging voter registration, the Palin pick at least allows the GOP to try and recruit some young Republicans from college campuses around the country. This may be hard for some of you to believe, especially if you are reading this blog from one of the coasts, but I teach at a large, Midwestern university, crawling with thousands and thousands of young conservatives with energy to spare.
Secondly, Palin can make people pay attention. Before this pick, how many people were really going to tune into the Republican convention? How many were going to watch the Vice-Presidential debate? Palin is a strange, possibly foolish choice. But an exciting one for a lot of voters. This election just got a lot weirder (read: more historic) and millions of people will tune in to watch. Right now, the McCain camp needs every minute of face time that they can get with the American people, and Palin brings a lot of attention to the campaign--certainly more than Tom Pawlenty would have.
Lastly, Palin brings two secret ingredients to the ticket: Biography and Change. Presidential campaigns--particularly this one--are all about biography. Which candidate can we root for? Which candidate can we identify with? You might think that Palin might not fit either of these criteria--but let's face it, you are reading an Obama blog right now. Wrap your mind around the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are thrilled with Palin, excited by the prospect of having someone in the White House who shares their values.
This election has been boiled down to one issue: Change. Until last Friday, if you wanted Change, you needed to vote Obama/Biden. Now, at least it appears, Republican voters can get that change without defecting from their party.
It may not be the sort of Change with a capital C that Barack Obama has been talking about for years now, but it's change nonetheless, even if only superficial change. For plenty of GOP voters, it might be enough to convince them that it's worth coming out to vote in this election. That alone could be dangerous.