Five (Relatively) Contrarian Thoughts on Sarah Palin

1. Throughout the blogosphere, the pundits are saying that the Palin nomination is either a disaster for McCain (Blue) or a game-changing work of genius (Red). I suspect it is neither, mainly because voters virtually never change their votes on a Veep: the last one was LBJ in 1960, and that was just in Texas (and maybe no one changed votes–it was just a matter of getting ‘ol Lyndon to stuff to right number of ballot boxes). I actually see Palin playing most effectively at the margins–in particularly, briding the enthusiasm gap that must have the GOP worried. Palin plays well to the base, and that is her primary virtue.

2. That said, to the extent that Palin has a broader value, it is as a stealth candidate. People don’t know that much about her, and the McCain campaign likes it that way. They want most people to focus on what she is–youngish, pretty attractive (although overrated in my book: Jennifer Graniholm is much better-looking, if you’re choosing a governor), a woman, outsider, Mom, yadda yadda. They don’t want anyone to think about what she actually believes in. Outside of the base, Palin’s job is to get low-information voters to give her a look and go for McCain on a change-but-not-the-Black-guy theme.

3. Thus, I suspect we will see Palin spending a great deal of time in megachurches in swing states. I don’t see her doing big rallies or making big speeches for all to hear. She’ll make a nice speech at the convention, and I think hold her own with Biden (using the soft bigotry of low expectations). Then she’ll go back to church.

4. She really is like George W. Bush! Think about it: popular governor (although we’ll see how long that lasts), not from Washington, doesn’t really have to do much in her job, tries to do as little as possible, supposed to be likeable. And now, she is claiming executive privilege in the Troopergate scandal.

5. In defense of her: lay off attacking her for saying a few weeks ago that she doesn’t know what a Vice-President is supposed to do. Guess what? No one does. It is a formless office. No Veep has regularly presided over the Senate in a while, and that’s the Vice President’s only constitutional responsibility. The VP serves on the NSC, but as Amy has demonstrated, the NSC is a pretty moribund and insignificant institution. John Adams said it was the most insignificant office ever conceived of; Daniel Webster refused it, stating that he didn’t want to be buried until he was dead. And we all know about Cactus Jack Garner’s view.

One Republican operative, quoting the great movie Spinal Tap about the choice, said that there is a fine line between clever and stupid. The Politico comments that we’ll see in 67 days which it is. But of course there isn’t a fine line between clever and stupid. And I think that after all the hue and cry, this will be somewhere in the middle.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.