Palin by Comparison

John McCain has made his choice – and a surprising one it was, too, namely Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice-presidential nominee. As observers and interested parties made their way to Dayton, OH yesterday to witness her official presentation as Republican running-mate, even the most-experienced journalists were scrambling to find background material on someone who previously had been a peripheral candidate, at best, to join McCain on the ticket.

If those American journalists had that problem catching up with information on Palin, you can guess the problem was even more acute for the foreign press. Still, European coverage has risen to the challenge with an assortment of treatments of the Alaska governor’s naming – even if I nowhere saw any mention of the budding Alaska state trooper firing scandal that could bring some heavy rain on her parade later on. Anyway, let’s go check that coverage out – starting this time in Poland.

To Marcin Bosacki, the correspondent of Gazeta Wyborcza (Woman McCain’s Vice President), filing from Denver, Palin is “the hero of the [American] anti-abortion movement” for her refusal to abort her latest, fifth child last year when pre-natal tests showed it would like be afflicted with Down’s syndrome. “In present-day America such a choice is a rarity,” he writes. (Remember that Poland does not allow abortion.) And although McCain’s vice-presidential also-rans Romney and Pawlenty are now furious with him for passing them over, what Bosacki characterizes as his “poker-play” does bring two electoral advantages: 1) It assures him of support from religious conservatives, and 2) It should help him attract more votes from female voters disappointed with Hillary Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primaries. Plus, this surprising bit of news enabled the McCain campaign neatly to nip in the bud any further discussion or dwelling upon Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night before 80,000+ supporters in Denver.

(By the way, Bosacki may be misinformed about Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s supposed anger towards McCain in that yesterday, even before the naming of Palin as the vice-presidential pick, he had removed himself from consideration.)

Denmark’s Jyllandsposten brings its readers up-to-speed on Palin (Sarah Palin is McCain’s new partner) with the tantalizing fact that “Palin is known for her talent of riding the snowmobile, and for being an enthusiastic hunter and fisher.” More practical in a political sense is her ironclad opposition to abortion. But an accompanying article – McCain has met his candidate only one time – casts doubt on whether this was a very good choice, pointing out that McCain last met Palin only six months ago, and that for the first time, and that “she is completely without international experience.” It prints prominently comments from Paul Begala, former counselor to President Clinton: “For a man who is 72 and has been afflicted with cancer four times to choose someone who is so completely and utterly unqualified to become president, this is shockingly irresponsible.”

Child-Like Pleasure in the Big Gamble

Coverage by the leading Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad includes a brief treatment by that paper’s weblog by Tom-Jan Meeus covering the American elections (Sarah Palin: Conservatives react), but the primary value-added there are links to Palin’s New York Times editorial of the beginning of this year, urging that polar bears not be declared endangered species, and an embedded YouTube video of one of her television ads when she was running for Alaska’s governor.

More in-depth is the analysis in the paper’s main pages by Meeus and his NRC colleague Merijn de Waal: McCain gambles with an inexperienced running mate. The lede: “With the choice of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, as running-mate McCain tries to get Hillary’s Clinton’s angry supporters on his side.” “John McCain is a lover of the big gamble,” the editors declare, “with a rebellious streak who takes almost a child-like pleasure in leaving the world – and also friends and close colleagues – behind in complete surprise.” Sure, Palin had been on the lists of potential running-mates over the past months, but no one really took her seriously. Clearly her naming is aimed at still-disenchanted Hillary Clinton supporters, for whom the chance to bring about the first female US vice president might have some appeal – except that a pro-choice position was a strong part of the political make-up of Hillary and her supporters, while both McCain and especially Palin are clearly pro-life. Thus these targeted Hillary-supporters, if they consider voting Republican at all, might still face a perplexing dilemma. Then again, it all might not matter anyway: Meeus and De Waal go quickly through recent American electoral history to build a case that vice-presidential candidates have not really influenced the outcomes of presidential elections, with the case study par excellence being the victory of George H.W. Bush (running-mate: Dan Quayle) over the ticket of Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.

By the way, you might have heard that yesterday was John McCain’s 72nd birthday. It was also the twentieth wedding anniversary of Todd and Sarah Palin, report the NRC editors! To think that she was yanked down to the “lower 48” to appear in her political “coming out” instead of being able to spend the day with her husband! After all it’s summer, so there probably wasn’t any snowmobile race for him to go compete in, am I right?

She’s Into Guns & Religion

Another Dutch newpaper, De Volkskrant, also carries an extensive analysis by Diederik van Hoogstraten of McCain’s pick (Palin: A Christian who likes to hunt, fish, lead). Yes, to Van Hoogstraten McCain’s selection of Palin also appears to be a gamble, but still one with some upside to it, the primary one being a once-and-for all settling of where the Republican ticket stands on abortion – it is unreservedly against it. But also, while Barack Obama is admittedly a “young and fresh” political figure, in Sarah Palin John McCain has found another one who is even younger and fresher, and someone an Alaska newspaper once called “a refugee from mainstream politics.” Van Hoogstraten also contributes an interesting angle as to why Palin’s evangelical Christian faith together with her love of hunting and fishing are being played up so – her candidacy is the perfect counter-example and rejoinder to the remark Obama made in the spring that got him into so much trouble, the one about Americans resorting to “guns and religion” for solace in difficult times. It’s true that her international exposure is basically zero, and while Van Hoogstraten mentions McCain playing up her “military experience” at the joint presentation yesterday, that “experience” only amounts to being in command of the Alaska National Guard ex oficio as governor. But with her outsider’s track-record and reformist reputation, it’s also possible that Palin could be a means for the McCain campaign to try take over for itself Obama’s brand of bringing the country “Change we can believe in.”

Finally, Dietmar Ostermann at the Frankfurter Rundschau agrees with this last “Change” point (McCain’s Youth Cure). “The signal is clear,” he writes. “McCain completes the break with the Bush years, he escapes the Establishment, and wants to position his Party anew as a force for reform.” Palin brings “youthful freshness” to McCain’s campaign, puts the votes of the Hillary supporters back in play, and will henceforth make it harder for the Democrats to identify McCain with the Bush administration.

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