Heather Higgins

Of all the names thrown about as potential VP candidates for Sen. McCain, Governor Palin was the only one who matched the current zeitgeist which drives so much of the enthusiasm for Sen. Obama’s candidacy. Her homerun speech confirmed the point, and constituted the single best critique of the Obama campaign to date.

Now even the mainstream pundits are waking up to the fact that selecting her wasn't about getting "Hillary voters” (though some of them will certainly find her appealing, particularly after her savaging precisely for being a woman by the media), but thinking even bigger than that. Having Palin on the ticket helps capture the much larger populist, reformer zeitgeist - both male and female -- that has had it with condescending elites and politics as usual in Washington

Sen. McCain obviously needed to pick someone who would reassure the conservative base that they could trust McCain, so they would turn out for him. But he also understood that what the VP had the potential to capture was not just a state or a region, but a cultural mood. To that end, he needed someone who was younger, a "first" (not as a pandering to diversity, but as a resonant symbol that we are going to change the way we do things and reaffirm our best selves), had executive experience, and who, critically, would embody an opposition to the culture of Washington.

Gov. Palin was the only one who did all those things, and the pick is therefore resonating mightily. Why she evokes such strong feelings, and what that implies, however, is still not fully appreciated.

The first response from the Democrats -- that having Palin on the ticket negates McCain's "only" issue: Sen. Obama’s experience deficit – indicates they don’t know their own strengths, or weaknesses.

The most telling arguments are not about Sen. Obama's lack of experience, compared even to Gov. Palin, but his extreme liberalism and questionable judgment (e.g. his long associations with Rev. Wright and William Ayers, his vote regarding babies born alive in abortion procedures, or his thinking that promoting a withdrawal from Iraq from a position of weakness is the same as suggesting it from a position of strength). That is followed by his character, which was, importantly, initially perceived as an authentic reformer not yet sucked into politics as usual, but is increasingly seen as a deeply ambitious politician who plays hardball, puts up with corruption, and who will change positions in a heartbeat. While his lack of experience may amplify those concerns, if his inclinations were more in synch with Americans generally, a lack of experience would matter less.

Heather Higgins

Heather R. Higgins is the president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice (IWV). Hadley Heath Manning is senior policy analyst at IWV.