I don't think that McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate was a screw-you pick, and I don't think it was particularly from the hip. McCain was trying to square a circle -- shore up the base and appeal to independents. Politically, he had no good choices - except maybe Palin.
Palin is far from qualified to be president (and therefore veep), but from a distance at least she does look like an impressive person and emerging executive. From her rather parochial Alaskan perspective, she's got some solidly held beliefs that she's acted on with conviction (expand U.S. energy producing capacity, keep the development process clear of corruption, keep taxes low and government spending accountable). She doesn't come off as a reflexive ideologue; her Christianity is nondenominational. She seems to have imbibed nondoctrinal feminism with her mother's milk, having grown up feeling there were no gender restrictions on what she can do. And it takes courage to give birth to a Down Syndrome baby with your eyes open.
Palin may be a neophyte on national and international issues, but she's no lightweight. In an August 14 2008 interview with Time, she projects intelligence and conviction. I take James Fallows' point that getting up to speed w/ national/international issues with zero prep time would tax the resources of Socrates, Machiavelli and Clausewitz rolled into one. But I suspect she'll prove a quick study. She'll have the expectations advantage in debate with Biden, who's notoriously gaffe-prone.
Note too what seems a kind of mutual recognition between Palin and Obama. Philip Gourevitch has this from Palin:
“The theme of our campaign was ‘new energy,’ ” she said recently. “It was no more status quo, no more politics as usual, it was all about change. So then to see that Obama—literally, part of his campaign uses those themes, even, new energy, change, all that, I think, O.K., well, we were a little bit ahead on that.” She also noted, “Something’s kind of changing here in Alaska, too, for being such a red state on the Presidential level. Obama’s doing just fine in polls up here, which is kind of wigging people out, because they’re saying, ‘This hasn’t happened for decades that in polls the D’ ”—the Democratic candidate—“ ‘is doing just fine.’ To me, that’s indicative, too. It’s the no-more-status-quo, it’s change.”And Obama might have been talking about himself in his first public reaction to Palin:
"she seems like a compelling person"... with "a terrific personal story."All this is not to say that Palin is not a problematic pick, or that her selection doesn't raise serious questions about McCain's judgment. Most troubling, she seems to have pressured Alaska's public safety commissioner to fire her ex brother-in-law, then fired him after he refused, then lied about her role. The pending investigation of that escapade may well cause serious --and deserved -- trouble for McCain.
As Mayor of Wasilla, she also may have fired city officials on questionable grounds. Her taking credit for cutting loose the "bridge to nowhere" when she originally supported its Federal funding while running for governor (as any prospective state official would) is another blemish (though perhaps no more so than Obama's taking credit for moving people in Illinois from welfare to work when he initially opposed the welfare reform bill signed by Bill Clinton).
Finally, while Andrew Sullivan has been over the top with his serial denunciations of the Palin pick, I agree with his core point -- that it's deeply irresponsible of McCain to potentially entrust U.S. national security in the hands of someone who not only has zero experience in international relations but seems to have thought very little about them.
But, unless Troopergate blows up big-time, I don't think that Palin will wound McCain's credibility to the extent that Dan Quayle did George Bush Sr.'s. I think she has more intelligence and substance than Quayle demonstrated.