Picking apart Palin, McCain’s wild-card VP

If you had bet someone a week ago that a young, unknown governor of Alaska would become the Republican vice-presidential nominee – and that her 17-year-old daughter would be pregnant and marrying the father – you would have been laughed off the Hill.

Lesson learned. As far as bets go, nothing is off the table in the 2008 election.

Many liberal blogs and pundits are attacking Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) as a poor choice for the vice-presidential slate. Too inexperienced and not serious enough, they say, adding that she was selected for the job as a gimmick because of her gender.

But is this criticism valid, or is the left attacking out of fear? There are both positives and negatives with the Alaskan governor, but can a McCain/Palin ticket defeat Obama and Biden in November?

Let’s start by looking at the positives Palin brings to the Republican campaign.

As a staunch pro-life conservative, Sarah Palin cements the base. Hours after McCain announced his vice-presidential pick, the conservative movement exploded with adrenalin. James Dobson, a famed leader of the evangelical movement, finally endorsed John McCain. The campaign was flooded overnight with almost $10 million in donations from enthusiastic conservative donors, a record for McCain.

The stories of her son with Down syndrome and her pregnant eldest daughter speak volumes about her views on abortion and family values. Hundreds of thousands of the young evangelicals who worked hard for George Bush in 2004 – and who are essential to any Republican victory – now have a reason to volunteer this year. Palin can recharge the powerful Republican political machine that has won the party so many elections in the past.

She can steal some of Barack Obama’s reformist thunder. Obama talks about “change” rhetorically. With a reputation as a strong and successful reformer in Alaska, Palin talks similarly about the “old politics.” She took on the Republican bosses in Alaska, stared down the oil executives and tightened budget spending. Americans have long asked Barack Obama exactly what his change would mean. After looking at her history, no one needs to ask Sarah Palin.

She’s appealing and attractive – both politically and physically – to undecided voters. Her demeanor on stage allows many soccer moms to instantly relate, and her biographical story closely resembles that of many working-class voters and women with whom Barack Obama has not yet sealed the deal. Mayor of a small Alaskan town, mother of five kids, an outdoorsy type – this profile could attract many undecided voters, particularly in the rural battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

But Sarah Palin brings some negatives as well.

She is inexperienced in foreign affairs. Domestically, as a two-year governor, she actually has more executive experience than all three of the other candidates, but having never served on a national stage, she knows little about foreign policy. This is mildly alarming, especially considering that John McCain is 72 years old. It’s hard to imagine Sarah Palin taking on Vladimir Putin or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though we have yet to see her in action. However, we probably won’t be hearing much of this kind of criticism from Obama, who himself has few foreign policy credentials.

What Palin can bring to the Republicans still remains to be seen. Critics shouldn’t write her off this fall – she promises to be full of surprises.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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