DENVER—James Carville told reporters last week that his advice for potential presidents is to pick a vice presidential candidate who will make the opposition strategists retch with worry. Well, he said it more pungently than that, but you get the idea.
Sarah Palin fulfills that criterion. The poor Obama folk—they had about 12 hours to enjoy and rest, after putting on a successful and historic convention, and they get up this morning to this stomach-churning bit of news.
There is one important caveat: Palin is an unknown. In 1988, for many of the same reasons that Palin looks good now, Dan Quayle was the surprise veep pick who came bounding across the stage to George H. W. Bush like a big Labrador puppy on the eve of the GOP convention. He was almost immediately revealed as a shallow and disastrous choice.
So, Palin has to survive the vetting she'll be getting from the national media and all those nasty liberal bloggers. She'd better not have a tangled financial history, or a spouse with questionable investments, like Geraldine Ferraro had in 1984.
And the Ferraro example gives us one more little splash of cold water: Even a historic vice presidential choice won't help you much if, like Walter Mondale, you're losing the argument with the other presidential candidate.
That said, Palin is a brilliant choice.
First and foremost, she does well what other alternatives did not—reinforce McCain's claim to be a maverick, while not upsetting the conservative base. You can't say too much about this. It is what choosing her says about McCain that is important.
Though I believe it is vastly overrated, Palin can tap what resentment there is among middle-aged women over Hillary Clinton's loss. The GOP presidential field looked like a lot of aging white guys. Here's a sign that the Republicans actually do have a future in our diverse democracy.
And though she comes from far-off Alaska, she will help—big time—in Montana, Colorado, and other western states that McCain has to lock up quickly. She can talk guns, and energy, and wildlife, and make conservative dogma sound reasonable.
So, a tip of the hat to John McCain. And can someone get a trash can, quick, for David Axelrod?