It has been an interesting week on the political landscape. Up here north of the four nine the party ads are airing fast and furiously - well the Conservative ones are. I'm reasonably sure the other parties know there's going to be an election but you wouldn't guess that from the tundra-like lack of anything from them. This void of opposition is why I will continue to reserve comment on the goings on in Ottawa for the time being, but I will certainly hold forth on another chapter of "What the Hell is Going on Down There?"
The Republican Convention is over for another election run-up and think the general consensus after the fact is: "What?!" as in "the hell was that?" I didn't think it was possible but a senior citizen with a speaking style only slightly more animated than Ben Stein's managed to steal the spotlight and thunder and all the accoutrements from Senator Obama. What did Mr. McCain have to do to accomplish this next to impossible feat? Confound everyone by finding the hottest Governor that no-one has ever heard of in the Union to be his running mate, get the whole country debating the merits of said Governor's fitness to be the Vice President, and then dazzle the Party faithful with an acceptance speech that everyone had to admit was pretty darn good whether you agreed or not. Easy.
Going into Wednesday evening I still wasn't sure what to make of this woman. Her politics were uncomfortably right wing, her experience level was slim, and Republicans were busy legitimizing her new position by arguing that she had foreign policy experience by virtue of the fact that she lived pretty close to Russia's Easternmost frontier. I did have "a feeling" about this woman however - and it wasn't because she looks like a mix of Tina Fey and the Karen Walker character from "Will & Grace". I certainly don't share her politics, or McCain's for that matter, but I also don't think that McCain's people are idiots either. These are essentially the same folks who engineered the last two Bush ascentions. As I said in my last politics post, I don't think this is a political master-stroke and I'm still calling this for Obama-Biden. However there was something about calling on Ms. Palin that I think gives Republicans, particularly young Republicans, the sense that they are also being given a chance to make history that they certainly wouldn't be making with McCain alone. Now I'm not suggesting that there is the same significance in breaking a barrier running for Vice President that there is in running for the top job, or even that there are direct parallels between the personages of Mr. Obama and Ms. Palin. But there is no doubt that Sarah Palin represents a clear and visible shift from the business as usual politics of the right. At least on the outside, of course. On the inside conservatism is alive and well in the person of Palin. This is where the Republicans may in fact lose a portion of the demographic that they must covet or die - the young voter.
Young Republicans today are far more likely to be more put off by the views of the radical right and the black and white clear cut platforms of old. Even young Evangelical voters are more likely to be moderate and unwilling to touch Roe v. Wade despite the fact that they see themselves as Christians in good standing. Palin's staunch stance against pro-choice arguments in all cases as well as her lack of any kind of positive record on environmental issues may be off-putting and marginalizing to the young voter. Whether the Grand Old Party likes it or not, it is going to have to move beyond the old or it won't be so grand anymore - so to speak. In one sense Governor Palin does reflect change for the party in that she is a woman, she is young, she is clearly strong an unafraid to ruffle some feathers, and she is new - so new that most people obviously had no idea who she was. That's all good and certainly part of why the McCain campaign went with her. It's also most likely the reason they didn't go with other women within the party who are more qualified and definitely just as strong: they are not new and McCain's camp probably felt they still represented too much of the "old" in the party. The problem of course is that Palin's record doesn't really reflect any new thinking, which ironically was also most likely the other part of her draw. She is a staunch right wing conservative which may well lose them some of the younger vote. The truth is however that all this punditry lives on paper alone, and most people vote with their heart whether we like it or not. This is the big variable and will become the X factor in all of this.
How this plays out come November is going to be most affected by how these two tickets make people feel. This is where I think McCain's camp is laying their chips. I think that they believe that Palin is going to make conservative voters feel good because she's likable, she's funny, and she'll appeal to that conservative base - even the ones who are unsure of the level of zealotry. As long as this race stays close, people will vote out of fear in those booths. Not fear of terrorism, or imminent threats, but of "the other guys" getting in. Obama has some serious mojo on his side and he has had it for some time. That mojo is fueled by the feeling of impending history, of change, of excitement. He makes a lot of people feel good, he makes them feel good about the country, about the economy, and about their place in the world. If Palin can make those swing voters who were swinging for Obama but are normally conservative start to feel good about the right, then the Republican Party may have a chance to stay in this thing and keep it close right up to the curtain closing behind voters alone in a booth with a ballot and their feelings.