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Palin may prove Madison wrong

Palin may prove Madison wrong

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 9:12 pm
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

 By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — The presidential race has been underway for more than year with so much news coverage that a poll taken this summediscovered what it termed Obama fatigue. Voters were tired of hearing about Barack Obama and the historic nature of an African-American securing a major party presidential nomination for the first time. At the same time they say they’ve heard enough, voters also tell pollsters they don’t know what Obama stands for beyond the amorphous words “hope” and “change,” and they don’t know if they can trust someone so young and new to the political stage to keep them safe. Contradictory views are not uncommon in politics. The same voters who want lower taxes and smaller government do not support cutbacks in government services. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin halted the infamous bridge to nowhere but kept the $223 million Congress appropriated, touting her reform credentials while spending the money on other projects. With just 50-some days left to decide which ticket will lead the country for the next four or eight years, voters are just now beginning to pay attention. After an initial report that Palin would return to Alaska for a few days before striking out on her own, the McCain campaign reversed course and decided to have them campaign together. The reason: Palin generates such excitement that people were lining up for hours just to catch a glimpse. It is the first time in his long campaign that McCain is attracting crowds that come close to rivaling those for Obama. A front-page photo in The New York Times showed a sea of people spilling out of an airport hangar and onto the tarmac as McCain and his spirited new running mate offered versions of their Convention speeches. An unstinting conservative, Palin makes the choice clear on social and religious issues, but the people showing up at her rallies with McCain are not all true believers. The question that hangs over the political process is to what extent will Palin’s newly-minted celebrity status trump reservations about her far Right views. She is such a compelling stage presence that voters eager to welcome a dynamic reform-minded newcomer might overlook views that in a less attractive personality they would find unacceptable. In other words, she doesn’t have to fool all of the people all of the time, just some of the people, and preferably those hardscrabble voters in key swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. This election will test whether James Madison was right when he, foremost philosopher among the Founding Fathers, placed his faith in the American electorate. For those who believe George W. Bush should never have been elected president, they can blame the Supreme Court for the 2000 election outcome or Bush’s masquerading as a compassionate conservative. But it’s hard to excuse the electorate for re-electing Bush in 2004 when voters had plenty of evidence of his incompetence and ideological rigidity. If readers are wondering if the McCain-Palin ticket could be elected despite the far Right views of a vice-presidential contender who would be a heartbeat away from a 72-year-old president with a history of melanoma, the answer is yes. The religious right is some 15 percent of the electorate, and they are a significant bloc of voters in places like southern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. But Palin needs to do more than bring home the Republican base; she has to help McCain win over independents. Her views are anathema to most independents who tend to be centrists, but her celebrity status opens the door to making a connection with these voters despite their differences. That’s why it is the ultimate test of the informed electorate that Madison envisioned. Whichever side prevails in November, surprise isn’t an option. Published in The Messenger 9.12.08

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