Why Palin matters

The conventional wisdom says that the Obama campaign shouldn't focus on Palin because voters choose on the basis of the top of the ticket. According to this line of thought, no matter how bad Palin is, attacking her will have very marginal returns.

That might be right as purely political analysis, though I have my doubts. Leaving aside substance, if you care about the news cycle, Palin is where all of the news is happening. I think Jason was a lot closer to the mark:
In terms of winning the election, Palin's story is, I think, a deceptively helpful battle for the Republicans. The economy and the war are going to lose McCain the election, if we can keep the focus on that. If the election becomes about social issues... well, we'll probably still win, but I think it will be a lot closer.

I'll agree at least that the Obama campaign should remain disciplined and should stick with the themes they've already developed. In particular, I think that they win the argument on the war and the economy if they succeed in framing the McCain-Palin ticket as four more years of Bush-Cheney. A focus on Palin helps snap the frame into place. She combines Bush's troubling religious radicalism, self-righteous claims of personal rectitude, disinterest in policy detail and insistence on personal loyalty with Cheney's nose for the stonewall and fondness of expansive executive power. In short, she represents a lot of what Obama is promising a change from. That's worth talking about.

And to visit the arena of substance briefly, the conventional wisdom has fallen behind the times in its understanding of the importance of the vice-presidency. If elected, Palin is going to have serious responsibilities and serious power. While she probably won't inherit Cheney's national security portfolio, I'd be surprised if Palin didn't put her stamp on energy drilling policy. Beyond that, expect Palin to give us a sequel to Gore's reinventing government schtick, but with a Norquistian twist. And don't be surprised if Palin decides to use the power of her office to focus on restricting abortion, rolling back gay marriage, and getting creationism into the schools. Scary stuff.

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