Alex Massie

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So, apparently Tim Pawlenty though it was going to be him. My own suspicion - and it is only a hunch - is that McCain  may have wanted to choose Joe Lieberman but was persuaded that the consequences of doing so would doom his chances in November. The party wouldn't wear a pro-choice candidate (any more than the Democrats could stomach a pro-life Veep). Lieberman's appeal was that he would be a "game-changing" selection; once he was out of the running, what would be the point of a grey nonentity such as Pawlenty or, worse still, someone as well-kent and uninspiring as Mitt Romney. Thus the search was on, as Marc Ambinder reports here.

I might think Palin a reckless selection for a 72 year old who has already outlived his father and grandfather (she'd be a much less problematic selection if McCain were 20 years younger since there's every chance she might grow into the job. If she's half as accomplished as her boosters say she may be able to do so), but, as I was saying, I'm obviously not the target audience. Nonetheless, choosing Palin is, I think, a sign of McCain's weakness, not his strength. It's a gamble born of desperation, nothing more.

But politically it seems smart to me. Bizarrely, commentators are concentrating on Palin's gender and her lack of experience as though those were the most persuasive reasons for her being chosen. Well, the latter can be framed as an advantage (ask Obama how to do that!) but the former seems much less important than her religious conviction. The GOP base loves her (raising more than $7m for McCain in the 24 hours after the Palin shocker) and McCain must know he cannot win without the base discovering some reason to be enthusiastic about his candidacy. Absent that, the "maverick" is doomed.

The single most important thing about Palin - and, cynical though it may be to say, her greatest political credential - is her Downs Syndrome baby. Most people will, quite rightly, admire her for that - including people who would never have carried such an infant to term themselves. More than anything else could, this child demonstrates that she is a candidate that the religious right can rely upon. She is sound. Heck, her presence on the ticket was enough to persuade James Dobson to reverse course and pledge his allegiance to the Republican ticket. Yes, it's appalling to think of a tiny child in such callously political terms, but there you have it. There's no point pretending this isn't a factor.

That no-one saw the Palin pick coming also, of course, boosts McCain's carefully constructed image as a "maverick" unafraid to "shake things up". Whether you actually want a craps addict in the White House is, of course, another mater altogether. How badly do the media want to believe this? Read David Broder today to find out. It's grim stuff.

Palin seems, in many respects, an appealling story. Certainly I think many Americans will like her. As Al Gore and John Kerry discovered, that's a valuable quality. But surely her selection is designed, first and foremost, to enthuse the party's evangelical base. There's nothing wrong or illegitimate about that of course and hell, why shouldn't the religious right have someone they can count on in the White House? But that's the experience, more precious than years in a governor's mansion, she brings to the ticket. McCain may need support from independents and so on, but he can't win without the party's grass roots and, until he selected Sarah Palin, he'd not given them a single postitive reason to be enthused by his candidacy. Now they have one.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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