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Sunday 14 September 2008

Obama blinks as McCain camp turns up the heat 

Sarah Palin is setting the agenda and highlighting the poor judgement of Barack Obama, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Sarah Palin and her husband

THIS election is now more about character than anything else, and that isn't good for Barack Obama. In choosing Joe Biden rather than Hillary Clinton, he showed arrogance and a lack of imagination. And in being panicked into letting Sarah Palin set the election agenda, he showed what may prove to be catastrophic misjudgement.

I have every sympathy with Obama for not wanting the Clintons hanging around the White House trying to upstage him, but he'd have been the president and he could have sidelined the pair of them. Yet he was cocky enough to believe he could sweep to victory without Hillary, and saw no need to make a vice-presidential pick who might placate the millions of women who believed she'd been badly treated. Sure, sure, I don't approve of choosing people for their skin colour or gender, but if you want to be president, you can't afford such scruples, and there were several good Democratic women around. Failing that, there were interesting men with plenty of experience at running things whom Obama could have claimed had experience Hillary sadly lacked. Instead, Obama chose a charisma-free windbag who is the archetypal Washington insider and -- like Hillary and Obama himself -- has never been in charge of anything. Is it possible he didn't want competition?

Living up to his reputation for disconnecting his brain from his mouth, Joe Biden told a rally that Hillary "is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice-president ... quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me". What a gift to a hostile interviewer: "So if even Joe Biden thinks Hillary Clinton would have been a better pick, Senator, why didn't you choose her?"

Now, of course, Obama's supporters argue that McCain's choice of Palin is proof that he is reckless, and indeed, she's still the risky choice, but they can't fault the guy on courage and imagination. Having grasped that he'd probably lose unless he did something daring, McCain didn't flinch. Not flinching is what Palin's good at too. Asked by an interviewer if she had had doubts about her readiness to be vice-president, or president should Mr McCain be incapacitated, she said: "I answered 'yes' [to McCain] because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink."

The Democratic campaign blinked when Sarah Palin stormed into public view and started goading Obama by attacking him far more directly and roughly than McCain ever had. Instead of ignoring her and continuing to focus on McCain's deficiencies, they began fighting on the territory she had staked out, and their media supporters set to work digging for dirt in Alaska and making fun of a rural culture liberals despise but mainstream America loves.

Obama has now lost status in the public eye as people are thinking Obama vs Palin rather than Obama vs McCain. No one, but no one, is thinking Palin vs Biden, not least because Biden's presidential runs showed him to be a bigtime loser who bores the public. Of course, Palin may yet mess things up, and she's far from sure-footed on foreign affairs, but so far she's doing well. She has a combination of humour, folksiness and a clear-minded vision of what she wants to do for America that reminds Republicans of their beloved Ronald Reagan. What's more, when her experience is compared with that of Obama, she's looks very, very good.

Palin and her husband, the First Dude, have for many years run a successful commercial fishing company, she has been chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and in that job, and as governor, she has had considerable success in rooting out corruption in state politics (including her own party) and increasing Alaska's share of energy revenues. She also did a complex deal between the US and Canadian governments, business and native tribes that has produced a €16bn new gas pipeline. The lady is a gut reformer, which Obama is in theory, but not in practice.

Obama flourished politically in Chicago, notoriously the most corrupt Democratic machine in the whole country, and never challenged the system. He pretends to be centrist, but his record as an Illinois senator shows him well to the left. His campaign knocks Palin for extremism in being anti-abortion, yet there was nothing moderate about his opposition to a bill that required doctors to try to save babies who survived abortions. He mocks McCain for voting with his party 90 per cent of the time, yet in his 143 days in the US Senate, as he positioned himself to win the Democratic nomination, Obama was almost 100 per cent loyal to the party line.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards