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Will Palin Help?

There are two Sarah Palin scenarios. The first: she’s a disaster waiting to happen who will explode at the debate and confirm neither she nor John McCain are fit to govern. There is another: she’s a godsend for John McCain because she is the newest — and only remaining — source of optimism and good cheer in the campaign. This piece advocates the latter view:

By putting Alaska’s governor on the ticket, Mr. McCain rallied his base while making a significant overture to women and Independents. But the Palin pick does something even more important for Mr. McCain. At a time when the GOP nominee finds himself in much the same position Richard Nixon did in 1960 — the candidate of wrinkly experience facing off against the candidate of youthful optimism — Mrs. Palin channels hope and good cheer into a running mate who badly needs it.

But it is true that she looks good primarily in comparison to the others:

But now Mr. Obama seems to be exchanging his JFK face for a Bob Dole mask. His campaign sends out email after email complaining of McCain “lies.” He makes an ill-advised joke about lipstick on a pig that his audience clearly applauds as a snarky put-down of Mrs. Palin, and he does not have the grace (or good sense) simply to apologize and move on. Just last week, he told supporters to “argue and get in their face” when they talk to those who do not share their political affiliation.

This is not the Barack Obama who inspired millions. This is not the Barack Obama who is likely to persuade all those white working-class Hillary voters that he respects their values and will look out for their interests. In short, Mr. Obama needs to relearn the lesson that propelled him to a historic nomination: cheerful and optimistic generally trumps cranky.

Mr. McCain could take a lesson too. If Mr. Obama’s impulse is to tax anything that prospers, Mr. McCain often gives the impression that his is to court-martial it. Indeed, after a postconvention Palin bounce in which he showed his happy warrior side, Mr. McCain appears to have reverted back to Paris Hilton’s wrinkly white-haired dude — especially with recent rhetoric that makes American business leaders sound like the Taliban.

So what can she do — other than continue to attract gigantic crowds and draw in women? She can, I think, both in the VP debate and in her stump appearances (as well as whatever glimpses of her we see of her in one-on-one interviews) inject a sense of realism and common sense into a race badly lacking in both. Joe Biden is too bombastic to make the connection to the average voter. Obama has gone mean. And McCain is struggling to convince voters that he understands their everyday plight.

And Palin? She is the approachable one and someone with the ability to explain McCain’s conservative idea in down-to-earth terms. With the race taking a turn into the swamp of negative ads and speeches, she — the previous victim of many herself — may ironically emerge as the one person unscarred. In part, that is because she doesn’t sound or seem mad at everyone. She gets in her zingers, but she exudes good cheer and well-grounded character. Six weeks from now she may be the only breath of fresh air left in the race. And that counts for something — how much is unclear — with non-ideological swing voters. As for the conservative base, it’s no coincidence that the mega-crowds are turning out whenever she appears.

Now VP’s aren’t supposed to count for much in the outcome of presidential races. I suppose that’s true — except when it’s not.


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