ELECTION COUNTDOWN 2008
EYE ON EUROPE
At left, the official photo of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain's
running mate on the GOP ticket this November. At right, the dolled-up
Gov. Palin as a cover girl for Vogue Magazine.
Europeans boggle at
McCains VP choice
By MICHAEL JOHNSON
Republican presidential candidate John McCain made an impulsive decision to select Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, leaving Europeans mystified. Stunned and lost for words, most of the media played it straight.
They were already confused by the 18 months of primaries. Some of my contacts--at least my barber--arent sure whats supposed to happen between now and November. Will there be two more elections? he asked me as he clipped my bristling eyebrows.
Sarah Palin is the opposite of the typical European woman in politics, a world that includes the elegant French leader Ségolène Royal, Germanys Angela Markel, and in the recent past such tough women as Margaret Thatcher. All of them had strong political backgrounds before going national. None of them sprang out of a pumpkin like Sarah Palin.
Bloggers from around the world were having a field day. One said he thought he was watching a skit from "Saturday Night Live." CNN International joined in the fun when commentator Jack Cafferty described the Palin selection as a joke.
McCain is known for his maverick decision-making and this choice is in character. Sarah Palin is a former sportswriter, beauty queen, mother of five and a first-term governor of the least populous American state. She hunts, shoots and fishes, and she is a proud member of the National Rifle Association.
The Palin decision has set off a storm of speculation over her impact on the presidential contest. Europeans are talking about little else, although they seem to have no idea how this could have happened.
In her initial appearances, Mrs. Palin sparkled with American-style in-your-face energy in contrast to McCains hang-dog posture and stumbling delivery of canned speeches. Within hours the campaign had rebranded itself.
But her strident voice and finger-wagging style seemed to irritate McCain, who stood alongside her during her acceptance speech, eyes darting, looking like he wondered what he had done. She seemed to be taking the campaign away from him.
Mrs. Palin has already been caricatured as a fabulous Christmas gift to the Obama campaign. She must now convince the Republican party and the great American undecided vote that her selection was more than a desperate move by John McCain.
McCain reportedly overrode his teams advice and picked Mrs. Palin instead of Mitt Romney or another on his teams shortlist. He reportedly made his decision after a two-hour private chat wit Mrs.Palin at the end of last week. Some have called the choice a case of instant chemistry, like falling in love. Others have called it a senior moment.
If McCain wanted to divert attention from Democratic rival Barack Obama or create excitement around his own official nomination at the Republican Convention, he has succeeded.
But concerns in Europe are sure to be voiced in the coming weeks about Mrs. Palins ignorance of international affairs at a time when Russia is testing the Wests resolve over new democracies on its border. Europeans are concerned that should McCains health give out, she would be calling the shots.
Mrs. Palin has spoken of the U.S. need to have a strong military and sound energy policy but now will have to define her positions on global tensions that she is unfamiliar with.
Another issue sure to rankle the international community is her stance on global warming. Prior to her selection, she said in an interview that she is not a believer in need to control carbon emissions. A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made, she said.
There is no doubt that McCain needed an injection of fresh energy in his lacklustre campaign. Although he was closing the gap against Obama in poll showings, he seemed to be heading for the underdog role in the coming two months--up against a man 25 years younger at the head of a Democratic Party in full resurgence. Tens of millions of new Democrats are registering around the country to vote on Nov. 4.
Mrs. Palin may be able to temper this trend, at least in the short term. She is conservative enough to help bring the Republican right wing into line, she is a fiscal conservative, pro-life (anti-abortion), an anti-corruption fighter, and a dedicated reformer.
Now the test begins. Vice presidential candidates will hold several debates in the coming two months and her direct opponent will be Sen. Joe Biden, a veteran debater and a Washington insider with international credentials. Facing him down will be a challenge for her.
I expected McCain to make his vice presidential selection on the assumption that the person would be capable of taking over his job in a health emergency. Sarah Palin, for all her political acumen, will be on trial for the next two months as the U.S. voters decide.
©2008 by Michael Johnson. The photo at top left is the official Alaska state photo of Gov. Palin. The photo at top right is courtesy of Vogue Magazine. This column first posted Sept. 1, 2008.
TO ACCESS MICHAEL JOHNSON'S ARCHIVE OF COLUMNS ON THIS SITE, CLICK HERE: JOHNSON ARCHIVE.
You can comment on this column online. Please address your message to either "The Editors" or Michael Johnson. To send an email, click here and don't forget to mention Michael's name: email@example.com
HOME About Us Index To
Talkback Contact Us