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Sep 15 2008

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The “Experienced Change” Paradox of McCain-Palin

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Galled at the idea of His Majesty’s finest troops having to surrender to the American rebel army, the British band struck up a song called, “The World Turned Upside Down” as its soldiers marched out of Yorktown and into the history of the American Revolution.

Barack Obama might appreciate the irony.

In the space of two weeks, an election that was a sure bet for the Democrats has been turned upside down by John McCain’s GOP.

One need only look at the reaction of Obama enablers to see the changed political terrain. Consider the effects on the Fourth Estate. The elite sophisticates have all but come down with a raging case of Tourrets Syndrome in attempting to explain the resurgent GOP and Governor Palin.

For their part, feminist leaders have been down right chauvinistic in their response to the Palin nomination, which seditiously undermines the Holy Grail of liberal presumption on women’s issues.

Suddenly, a pro-life, pro-family, pro-religion, hockey mom offers up a credible alternative to the feminism posited at the salons of the Upper West side of Manhattan. In the process, it strips away the self-serving veneer of unity between the elites and work-a-day women around the country for whom feminism serves as a worthy and necessary goal, and not simply a variation of grievance politics.

More broadly, the McCain counter punch has left Democrats and their retainers to ponder a rhetorical strategic dilemma; how to attack the Republicans without also undermining their own ticket?

Consider the Palin nomination.

Is Sarah Palin qualified to be Vice President? A battery of pundits and Party flacks has spilled gallons of ink to prove otherwise.

Yet these concerted efforts to marginalize Palin only serve to draw fresh attention to Obama’s substantial experience gap, both alone and in comparison to McCain.

If you don’t believe Palin is qualified to be vice president, how can you believe that Obama, with less executive experience, could possibly be a qualified nominee for the top job?

The Fourth Estate seems particularly clueless to this alternate posit.

And then there is change. In recent public appearances, Obama has been virtually indignant that Republicans would co-opt his “change” paradigm, and his campaign has been slow to see the emerging threat.

But consider that if change is what voters want – and both camps seem to agree on this – at the end of the day, the question becomes who is a more credible change deliverer?

The vision of change that Obama has hyped on the trail is pain free, more a hypnotic state of grace than a road map for progress in tackling national problems. It is effective only so long as goes unchallenged.

But real-world change requires choice, conviction and fortitude in the face of entrenched and competing interests. It is McCain who can point to any number of serious bills that have highlighted his determination, independence and commitment to reform. In the face of this record, the more Obama talks of himself as the vessel of change, the more vacuous he seems in comparison.

And here the choice of running mates compounds the problem.

As a voice of authority in foreign policy, Joe Biden is a clearly qualified vice presidential candidate.

But beyond protecting Obama’s shaky national security flank, Biden and his 35 years in the Senate clouds and diminishes the change paradigm that Obama has been so effective with until recently. Far from a maverick, Biden is a card carrying member of the Establishment that Obama ostensibly seeks to dismantle.  In this sense, the Obama-Biden ticket is less than the sum of its parts.

In contrast, McCain, who already has the foreign policy bone fides, doubled down on a running mate that embodies his experienced change and reform meme. In Palin, McCain has found his own generational change in a governor whose policies and accomplishments mirror McCain’s own maverick streak. The ticket is thus stronger in both its cohesion and its actual record of reform and change.

And finally there is President Bush.

The Democrats have been running against him since 2005, and given an uncertain economy, an unpopular war and presidential approval ratings in the tank, it seemed both a safe and cost free bet to run against McCain as Bush III.  That was until McCain came into his own at his convention.

The first problem is that running against Bush is tantamount to running against the past. As much mileage as the Democrats have gotten from their attacks on Bush, campaigns are about the future and voters are interested in what the fresh slate of candidates will do.  Looking back doesn’t help them.

Second, as much as the Democrats try, McCain simply isn’t George W. Bush. In fact, by temperament, experience and action, McCain could not be more different than the President. Voters are not immune to the personal distinctions involved in policy implementation, which explains in part why so much of the Republican convention was dedicated to McCain’s biography.

With Palin, McCain has made a decisive break from the past, creating a gender and generational wall between himself and Bush to form a new and different kind of Republican Party. It makes the Bush III argument that much of a harder sell for Democrats, who are then left to rely on the untested Obama narrative as the core message. For reasons previously stated, that’s disconcerting.

Still, 50 days is a lifetime in politics. And with so many head winds blowing in their direction, it still remains Obama’s race to lose.

As for the McCain campaign, it has certainly made the most of the cards it was dealt, and against very long odds it has accomplished a formidable act of political jujitsu. In so doing it is  worthy of victory in November.

Time will tell.

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