Back on August 20, I wrote an article for Townhall.com expressing my support for Eric Cantor, Republican Congressman from Virginia, as John McCain's vice-presidential pick. I hate to say it, but I may have been right. Cantor, who was and remains relatively unknown, possesses several compelling qualities that prompted a close examination by the McCain camp. He is young, Jewish, and comes from a swing state. He is also very conservative and has foreign policy and economic credentials in Congress.
But ultimately, he and others were overlooked for Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, the most electrifying and surprising vice-presidential pick in history. Palin immediately changed the tone of the presidential race, with the Obama campaign attacking her instead of McCain and bringing to the surface America’s percolating culture war. She also solidified the Republican Party base and united the conservative movement, and so many of us applauded the move since no other candidate could have provided the same excitement and energy.
McCain’s choice seemed brilliant until the recent financial crisis and three bad interviews with Charlie Gibson, Sean Hannity, and Katie Couric. Suddenly, Palin’s naiveté on certain issues (proximity to Russia is not foreign policy experience) has begun overshadowing the feistiness, fearlessness, and charm that Palin showed in her dazzling primetime acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Even some conservatives now are questioning whether Palin is ready for the task.
Furthermore, Palin has shown signs of vulnerability among important swing state constituencies, like Jewish voters, following Democratic attacks. Many of these accusations have been downright false, such as the claim that Palin supported Pat Buchanan for president in 2000 when she supported Steve Forbes; others have been outright slanderous and shameful, such as Democratic Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings claim that Palin “don’t care too much what they do with Jews and blacks.” While Palin has been unequivocal in her support for Israel, in contrast to Obama, who has said we should be more evenhanded in our approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prospect of ceding Jewish votes in swing states is cause for concern.
More importantly, however, the financial crisis on Wall Street has created a decidedly more urgent, policy-specific tone to this election. It is clear that neither Senators Obama nor McCain, nor either of their running mates, knows very much about this financial predicament. Senator Obama keeps parroting talking points about deregulation and greed. Senator McCain talks about cutting earmark spending. They both seem clueless.
Congressman Cantor, to the contrary, just sponsored an alternative financial rescue plan to the $700 billon asset purchase that Congress has been debating. Under Cantor’s proposal, the U.S. government would insure many mortgage backed securities instead of purchasing them outright. This would result in private entities paying the government insurance premiums and possibly lead to a smaller taxpayer bill. Whatever Congress ends up doing, Cantor’s plan is sensible, and he understands the issue in a way the other candidates do not. And while Mitt Romney also could have talked about the financial crisis with greater proficiency than the other candidates, he would have been much easier for Democrats to caricature as another out-of-touch wealthy Republican.
Now back to the good woman from Alaska…I like her and I am rooting for her. She clearly lacks experience in the sense that she has not had time to fully think through all the issues and develop fluidity in discussing them. That can all change with time, and so I don’t worry, as some do, whether she is capable of governing. I worry because time is something McCain doesn’t have much of left in this campaign.
Thursday night’s debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin will be her biggest test. I would not be surprised if she rises to occasion again and helps lead McCain to victory in November. On the other hand, the thought of her defending statements about Alaska’s border with Russia or explaining the nuances of our financial markets worries me. If I find myself cringing on Thursday night and taking an extra long sip of my drink, I know what will be going through my mind: where is Eric Cantor?