If it’s truly Palin, as it seems to be, the McCain folks did an extraordinary job keeping a lid on this choice, and even on the fact that she might have been one of the finalists. We were left speculating about Romney, Pawlenty, or Lieberman, while they had this in their pocket.
To my mind, Palin is a risky but excellent choice. The biggest drawback for me is that she has no more foreign policy experience than Obama and fairly little (though, as Mark points out, more than Obama, Biden, and McCain combined) executive experience. I don’t quite agree that foreign policy experience doesn’t matter, and I think concern about that has had a lot to do with the success of the “he’s not ready” charge against Obama—it’s not only because he has so little political and governing experience in general, but also because it’s terribly difficult to see him in charge of American foreign policy in a crisis. It’s at least as difficult to imagine Palin in charge in a crisis, and maybe more so. But on the other hand, Palin is up for the number two spot, not for President, and the guy at the top of the ticket is John McCain, who people certainly have an easier time seeing as a foreign policy expert and decision-maker. A heartbeat away is a real issue, as Jonah says, but it’s much less of a concern than choosing a president who isn’t ready for the job. Her executive experience, meanwhile, while brief is really pretty impressive—she seems to be a tough and serious manager. With her in the second spot, McCain can still push the “is he ready” question, though perhaps a little less effectively, and it would be hard for Obama’s folks to argue in response that, well, McCain’s vice presidential pick is not any more experienced than Obama is.
The unknown (to me, at least) risks, I think, have to do with how ready she is to play on the national stage. Is she a good debater? She certainly knows the energy issue extremely well, but does she know the other big issues and arguments (not only Iraq and the war but health care, entitlements, taxes, etc. which may not be as big in Alaska? Does she talk about politics and policy fluidly and seriously? Does she give good speeches?
The positives, though, are exceptionally great. She will connect tremendously well with middle class parents, at a gut level and not only a rhetorical level. Undecided women are likely to find her very appealing. Her personal story—an athlete as well as a beauty queen contestant in her youth, deeply religious but not overbearing about it, a hunter and former professional fisher(wo)man—is interesting and impressive. Her family story—from marrying her high school sweetheart the snowmobile racer to the son about to deploy to Iraq, to the wonderful way she has welcomed her Down Syndrome son—is lovely and inspiring. And on the issues, she’s the kind of conservative the country tends like best. Her unabashed but non-confrontational pro-life views will contrast in the most dramatic possible way with Obama and be nicely illustrated by her own life; she opposes gay marriage but is otherwise friendly to gay rights; she’s an ethics reformer and anti-pork fanatic (she killed the “bridge to nowhere”); great on energy, and something of a conservative reformer in general, though she hasn’t said much to my knowledge about health care and taxes—which I suppose makes her a good vehicle for McCain’s positions on those. And while you won’t hear it much from the Democrats or the press, there’s the historic female vice president element too.
Surely not a perfect pick, but a bold pick, and I think a very good one.