Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 24, 2008
POLITICS: Should McCain Send Palin To Oxford?

Here's the state of play as I write. Bush and Capitol Hill Democrats are hammering out an agreement to, in essence, bail out financial institutions and possibly other companies that hold bad debt, mainly mortgage-backed securities. Pretty much everybody on all sides agrees that the bailout proposal stinks to high heaven and is a fundamental violation of everything conservatives believe in and everything liberals believe in, is likely to be hugely unpopular with the public, and in the short term at least will put a big crimp on federal finances. But lots of people on all sides believe that the markets will be stabilized by the deal and will really implode without it, wrecking the rest of the economy. Since markets are all about perception, that could end up being the case, which makes the deal or something very like it necessary. McCain proposed a plan of his own which is not too dissimilar; Obama hasn't proposed anything. So there aren't really a lot of alternatives on the table, and no good ones.

Given the general rule that nothing this bad happens in Washington if it's not bipartisan, the Democrats in the majority are deathly - and justifiably - afraid that if they agree to the deal, McCain and Congressional Republicans will run against it and crucify them. Republicans seem mostly resigned to support the deal in large numbers as long as the Democrats don't try to hang too many wish-list items on it and turn it into the Mother of All Pork Barrels. And of course, McCain has long experience being the last holdout in the middle whose views dictate the direction of a bipartisan deal. So Bush, Paulson, Reid, Pelosi & Co. actually seem to need McCain in Washington to do what he's done so often before, get in the middle of things and influence how a deal gets worked out that is just minimally acceptable enough for everyone to sign it. Obama's presence, by contrast, is mostly superfluous, since nobody really thinks he's a factor in what goes on in DC, and hot air is never in short supply anyway.

On the campaign trail, by contrast, Obama is benefitting in recent polls from the general sense that bad things are happening and somebody new might have better ideas; he clearly knows better than to spoil that by actually doing anything or having any ideas. Whereas McCain hasn't been able to get traction from the outside looking in, and doesn't really seem comfortable blowing the deal up, knowing the consequences. Accordingly, what McCain did today was announce that he's suspending his campaign over the next several days to come to DC to get a deal done before markets open on Monday, and call on Obama to do the same and to reschedule Friday night's debate in Oxford, Mississippi, the first one scheduled, focusing on foreign policy/national security. Obama has refused on both counts.

Which has led to the question of the day. McCain is needed in Washington; Obama's not - and neither is McCain's running mate, Gov. Palin, who obviously is not a Senator. Should McCain send her to appear on his behalf and debate Obama on Friday night?

Such a debate might actually be a good thing for the nation: people are concerned about whether Obama or Palin, both novices in the area of national security and in their first terms in major political office, are ready to be Commander-in-Chief, Obama on Day One, Palin if anything ever happened to McCain. That readiness issue is one of the core uncertainties in a campaign where neither side has really yet closed the deal with enough undecided voters to win. As a matter of political strategy, the answer to that question seems to come down to two things: whether or not McCain thinks Palin is ready after just a few weeks of prep to go toe-to-toe with Obama on national security two days from now, and whether McCain thinks it's crucial to have the McCain-Obama debate on national security so McCain can expose Obama's glib blandishments in detail on the issue.

Let's walk through the decision tree of what happens if McCain sends Palin to Oxford to represent the campaign. Sending surrogates to campaign events is standard enough practice, but of course sending your subordinate to meet the other guy's #1 is regarded throughout the worlds of politics, international affairs, and business as fairly insulting, and usually ends up with a cancelled meeting. Obama would probably refuse to debate her, but then again he might not, and McCain has to make the call not knowing for certain what Obama would do, and considering the risks and rewards of both.

Option One: Obama debates Palin.

Potential upsides for McCain:

1. Expectations would be extremely low, especially if she's dropped into the debate on barely more than a day's notice - Palin's limited exposure to the media has re-created the circumstances before her Convention speech, in which she's being caricatured as totally ignorant and has a huge upside if she comes off well. We know from obervers of the 2006 Alaska Governor's race that Palin is an experienced and skilled debater, although of course you can't debate well if you aren't 100% up to speed on the subject matter. By contrast, while Obama is well-practiced at BS-ing his way through national security issues he plainly doesn't understand, he's actually not a very good debater away from his TelePrompter, where he tends to stammer a lot. If she's adequately prepared to stand toe to toe with the man universally hailed as the most golden-tongued speaker in the business, she wins just by not getting killed, and could devastate his campaign if she actually comes out his equal or better.

2. Palin has the element of surprise - Joe Biden's been preparing to debate Palin, Obama hasn't.

3. This would be a colossal television event, far more intensely watched than your usual political debate. Recall the huge ratings for Palin's Convention speech.

4. Obama can get awfully snippy when confronted and clearly doesn't respect Palin at all. He's already got a potentially bad rep for being dismissive of her, of Hillary, and of female reporters. The potential for him to aggravate the situation by sneering at her is high.

5. Obama's stature necessarily drops by talking to McCain's understudy.

Potential downsides:

1. Palin is, after all, a foreign policy novice, and unlike Obama this would be her first debate on these issues. She could easily come off poorly, and accelerate doubts about her.

2. Obama often says things about national security that can be easily dismantled by anyone versed in the issues, but that Palin, even if well-prepped on her own points, might not take him apart on if she's focused on hitting her own marks. McCain won't miss the chance to pounce if Obama again thinks Afghans speak Arabic or calls for a worldwide ban on fissile materials.

3. Nobody's thinking about national security this week. McCain would rather have this debate closer to the election when the Wall Street crisis is in the rearview mirror a bit.

Option Two: Obama refuses to debate Palin

Potential upsides for McCain:

1. After weeks of pushing the story that Palin is afraid of reporters, the media has to report that she was willing to face off against Obama and he was afraid of her.

2. Obama faces the possibility that he comes off as thinking debating Palin is beneath him, which plays into the issues above as well as more general problems with the image of him as simultaneously arrogant, full of himself and glass-jawed.

3. The media has prepped like crazy for Friday. They have hotel reservations in Mississippi. They won't be happy if there is no debate.


Honestly, I don't see one. The Obama camp would spin this as a gimmick, but everything that happens in campaigns is a gimmick. They would argue that McCain's afraid to debate Obama (he is apparently playing this now as "McCain can't multitask") but everybody already knows McCain's ready to be Commander-in-Chief, and all Obama does then is lower expectations for McCain entering the last two debates. The only loss is if Obama then argues that he doesn't need any debates at all on national security and refuses to reschedule a third debate, but that is unlikely to go well for him.

Conclusion: If McCain thinks Palin is adequately prepped for a national security debate with Obama and there's not too much downside to letting Obama evade a national security debate with McCain, sending Palin to represent McCain at the Oxford debate could actually be yet another bold, maverick move in a campaign that's pulled off a few of them. And if Obama, as I think he would, refuses to debate her, there's almost no downside to doing it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:22 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)

Crank you can put all the spin on this you want about "McCain being needed in Wa(r)shington, Obama not", but the simple truth is your dog in this race is running scared.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at September 24, 2008 6:36 PM

No one in DC gives a damn what Obama thinks, mostly because Obama doesn't know what he thinks. Besides, he hasn't spent enough time in DC to meet everyone yet.

McCain will probably be at the center of the deal. I'll probably be pissed at some of the crap that gets larded in the deal by the Dems and McCain will probably be at fault for convincing some in the GOP to agree to the lard.

But Palin vs. Obama would be awesome. Even if she struggles, there's no way Obama wins.

Posted by: stan at September 24, 2008 7:00 PM

I wouldn't be quite that optimistic, Stan. If Palin does poorly it would take a good deal of shine off the whole ticket and steal the headlines from Obama's inevitable fumbles. But the McCain camp's in a better position than we are to evaluate how ready Palin is for a national security debate without another week to prep.

Posted by: Crank at September 24, 2008 7:05 PM

Obama doesn't need to be in the Senate to vote. Voting "present" doesn't matter.

Posted by: stan at September 24, 2008 7:05 PM

McCain will probably be at the center of the deal.

Huh? The deal is already 98% done, without McCain.

I guess McCain can swoop in and try to take credit.

And I would love to see Obama debate Palin. Nothing could be worse for McCain.

Posted by: dave at September 24, 2008 7:09 PM

Are we talking about the great uh, um, uhh, uh, debater Obama who when he got a few tough questions from George Snufaluficus during the primary fell to pieces and never had another debate with Hillary, the same guy who has dodged Townhall meetings with Mc Cain all summer, that's the guy that you people are touting as a great debater?

Empty suit, media creation, no record. Deal with it.

Posted by: dch at September 24, 2008 7:44 PM

Getting ass kicked in polls, Palin's glow fading, ducking the debate, stalling. Deal with it.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at September 24, 2008 7:47 PM

I seriously doubt Palin is ready for a nationally televised debate on foreign policy without a few weeks of prep time. But it would be a bold gamble on McCain's part if he knows something about her knowledge of the issues that we don't.

Posted by: jerry at September 24, 2008 7:52 PM

I just give thanks for the impenetrable overconfidence of the Left. Our friends on the other side of the aisle just never cease making the same mistake.

This is a close election. My side could lose. Palin was always an inspired but inherently risky pick. Things could still go badly in the debates. Etc. But the other side sees naught but certainty as far as the eye can see.

Posted by: Crank at September 24, 2008 7:52 PM

Obama hasn't proposed anything


Obama's comments LAST Friday

Obama's Six Reform Steps he elaborated on this week.

Posted by: Mr. Furious at September 24, 2008 7:59 PM

Yeah, I can do a blog post with "principles" too. It ain't a plan. There's no Obama plan on the table, nothing even remotely resembling one.

Posted by: Crank at September 24, 2008 8:02 PM

This diversion from the campaign is a fraud with GWB as a co-conspirator. Choosing our next president for the next four years is more important than this Wall Street bailout. And Obama is right, leaders need to be able to focus on more than one thing at a time.

Posted by: Patrick at September 24, 2008 10:31 PM

I know those polls,that every 4 years seems to show the Dem with some incredible lead...a month before the election. You know the polls that show that the Dems have a 16% party affiliation lead when the actual stats show the average is about 2.7%, yeah those polls. You know I thought the 2004 election was really sweet with all the Dems actually believing the media nonsense......6 more weeks to the real fun.

Posted by: dch at September 25, 2008 12:05 AM

Seems to us in the reality-based world that McCain is panicking.

Posted by: Berto at September 25, 2008 12:09 AM

I don't want to get overconfident. There's a fair amount of strange voodoo in particular polls but I don't think McCain is doing more than maybe a half point to a point better than the results you'd get by analyzing the more careful polls, and in some states like PA & NJ the Democrats often overperform the final polls if they have the full turnout machine working. If it's still very close in the polls on Election Day we could be in for a replay of 2000.

Posted by: The Crank at September 25, 2008 12:09 AM

Crank,don't you understand this time the media is really, really telling the truth. There was no divisive primary campaign on the dem side, a majority of dem voters didn't vote for Hillary during the last 3 months of the campaign, about 15% of Dems are not going to vote for Mc Cain, millions upon millions of Americans all forgot about Obama's racist church that he belonged to and supported for 20 years, they all forgot about his comments to elitist liberals in San Francisco about people who believe in religion and gun and rights and any mention of Obama's total lack of any record or accomplishment, well that is just racist code.

If you don't believe the in media, well I suggest you speak with Preidents Dukakis, Gore and Kerry.

Posted by: dch at September 25, 2008 12:37 AM

Sorry, Crank. Can you point me to your link to McCain's plan? I think I missed it.

Posted by: Mr Furious at September 25, 2008 1:36 AM

The WhiteHouse's attempt to rally the country 'round the flagpole to rejuvinate McCain's stalled campaign is reminiscent of when they elevated the terror alert the weekend following the 2004 Democratic Convention.


Posted by: Patrick at September 25, 2008 2:42 AM

Bang up job Palin did tonight handling that ever fearsome Katie Couric. But hey, I'm sure she could thrash a dimwit like Obama. I bet the McCain camp is totally confident she's ready and could step in for him. I mean otherwise they'd be trying to avoid having her hit prime time and angling to move his debate in order to postpone hers. Oh wait.

Posted by: dwightkschrute at September 25, 2008 4:00 AM

If a presidential candidate needs to have someone step in for him for a debate, I think it's safe to say he isn't ready for the big job.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 25, 2008 8:51 AM

Who you like for President in 2012?

Posted by: Berto at September 25, 2008 11:50 AM

The sum total of lefty objections to our host's suggestion amounts to, "Where's McCain's plan?" That's it. Every single other comment is trash talk.

I knew it would come to this. A close election they feel they ought to be running away with and they lose what minds they had.

I think McCain's plan is going to be to work out one of his famous compromises that make nobody happy but actually pass. In this case nobody's happy to begin with so he'll look statesmanlike.

Incidentally, if Dubya is really calling on influential members, he didn't have to invite Obama. Say what you will, this is not a partisan stunt. A stunt would have been to ignore Obama because he is simply not a player in this deal.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 25, 2008 12:08 PM

Oh, and as much fun as sending Sarah to Oxford would be I can't see it. I agree that Obama has a glass jaw and hates women but I'm afraid it would reflect poorly on McCain, like he's too decrepit to shamble down to MS.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 25, 2008 12:12 PM

Furious - Sorry, been busy....McCain's plan was rolled out on the 19th. More here. Obviously it was mooted by Paulson's plan before we got too far into the details, but it represents the framework for legislation, not just some general principles; it actually proposes a mechanism for doing the things McCain says he wants done.

Posted by: Crank at September 25, 2008 1:08 PM
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