Dominic Lawson: Why Palin is a natural born winner

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"What is it, exactly, that the Vice President does every day? I'm used to working real hard." With these words, uttered with an upwards inflexion of disbelief, Sarah Palin responded to CNBC's political interviewer a few weeks back, when he asked her if she would like to be John McCain's running mate.

They are now being played and replayed endlessly back by Democrats seeking to dismiss the Governor of Alaska as a bozo ex-beauty queen without a shred of the experience required to be "a heartbeat away from the presidency".

In fact, Palin's now-derided response to that prescient CNBC man is not as ditzy as it has been made to seem. The first American Vice President, John Adams, described the post as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived". The man who was Vice President of the United States from 1933 to 1941, summed up the job as "not worth a pitcher of warm piss". His name was John Nance Garner IV, a fact of which you will almost certainly need to be reminded – thus making his point.

To Vice President Hubert Humphrey has sometimes been attributed the remark that "once the election is over, the Vice President's usefulness is over. He's like the second stage of the space rocket. He's damn important getting into orbit, but then...".

Sarah Palin is certainly adding plenty of fuel to the somewhat depleted McCain rocket, and not just because she is a woman – the same sex, or so we have been reliably informed, as Hillary Clinton. Her political background is exquisitely configured to meet the claim that only the Obama-Biden ticket can represent "change" from the corruption and complacency of "the old politics". In January 2004 she resigned as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in protest at what she saw as the corruption of a colleague – one of the Republican good ol' boys. A year later she joined forces with Democrats to attack the Republican Attorney General of Alaska for similarly corrupt conduct.

In both cases her charges were proved to be well-founded, which doubtless had much to do with her success in beating the former Democrat Governor of Alaska in the election of 2006, a year when elsewhere Republican candidates were being marmalised.

Once in office Palin demonstrated that her broadsides against the cosy perks of office were not mere rhetoric. She ditched the Governor's private jet and limousine – although if she does become Vice President, she might find it difficult to persuade her security detail to let her continue driving her VW Jetta to work.

On issues of substance, don't believe those who claim that she is a tool of the oil companies because her husband is a BP employee: she has put the squeeze on big oil – which is huge in Alaska – with a sharp tax increase on its profits from the North Slope. When the head of Exxon came to the state capital of Alaska to remonstrate, she refused even to meet him. This sort of ruthlessness is all of a piece with her nickname as a high-school basketball player – Sarah Barracuda. Tough? Well, put it this way: if Joe Biden tries being condescending to her in the forthcoming Vice Presidential debate, the Delaware Senator will end up like the grizzly bear which adorns Ms Palin's office in Anchorage – stuffed.

Doubtless McCain's advisors will also have calculated that if Biden tries to roughhouse it with Palin, women who felt that Hillary Clinton was harshly dealt with by the "male establishment" in the Democratic primaries might swing behind the Republicans. They will also be painfully aware that McCain's greatest weakness is with women voters: Gallup's tracking polls over the past month show that among all registered voters McCain leads Obama by six points among men, while Obama leads by 10 points among women.

The author of the Gallup report observes that this gender gap is "confined to the most part to white voters who are politically independent – there is very little difference in vote choice by gender among whites who identify themselves as Republican or Democrat".

Obviously, those women voters classed in American politics as "liberals" are not going to think of voting Republican just because someone of their own sex is on the ticket; in particular Sarah Palin has enraged elements of the sisterhood by becoming an active member of the anti-abortion group known as Feminists for Life. Indeed, her decision to continue her fifth pregnancy to term after a foetal diagnosis of Down's Syndrome has, for some reason, offended them even more.

Yesterday the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley fulminated: "How does she square her role as a mother and a politician? If she produced a child at 44, I want to know if she believes in birth control, because birth control is a political issue. I also want to know her views on the government's obligations to the disabled. Do the disabled children of rich people get special treatment?" Nice one, Smiley.

John McCain is not trying to win over the likes of Jane Smiley by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, however. He is targeting exactly the independent women voters identified as his crucial weakness by the Gallup report. In other words, her nomination is designed purely and solely to give him the best chance of winning the presidency – just like every other choice of running mate in every other presidential election.

Democratic Party spokesmen profess to being scandalised by the Alaska Governor's inexperience for the office of Vice President – a somewhat counterproductive tactic, I would have thought, given the nugatory experience of government attributable to their own presidential nominee.

Besides – and despite all the bluster about McCain's "irresponsibility" – no presidential candidate has ever chosen a running mate on the grounds of being the most-qualified and obvious successor in the event of a nasty accident. Which politician would ever want to do that?