Wow — now I wish even more that I had seen more of the Democratic National Convention. As a public speaker, I enjoy watching other speakers and do so with a clinical eye when possible, trying to examine the style and delivery of the speaker, as well as the wordsmithing done to create the message, itself. Given the oratorical skills of Senator Obama, it might have been nice to have seen his speech, but I did not. However, I have had the chance to see the last five major speakers at the Republican National Convention: President Bush, Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman, Rudy Giuliani, and Sarah Palin.
I wish I could list here my thoughts in detail, as I have had many! I will say, though, that of the five, the last two seemed the most natural and effective. (Whether you agree with his point or not, Giuliani’s riff on voting “present” was pure rhetorical gold.) Thompson seemed oddly less natural than I would have expected, yet his speech was very effective for its purpose and he was very probably the best choice of those in the party’s batting line up to give that one. I suppose this last comment highlights the difficulty of comparing the speeches: their purposes are different, and comparing them can become a matter of comparing apples to oranges.
However, that’s not really the point of my post tonight! Rather, I’d like to weigh in on one of the hot topics of the moment, motivated by an unexpected comparison that came to mind tonight.
Many have debated the wisdom of the McCain camp’s choice of Mrs. Palin as his running mate, and I’m sure that the debate will continue until the consequences of the choice become more obvious (unless the end is controversial or the election is close; then the debate may never cease in this age). But as my wife and I were discussing the speech tonight, the example that hit me was that of Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s advice to his young brother-in-law, Walter Dillon, while helping him in a college oratorical contest.
Mr. Armstrong advised his brother-in-law to speak in a completely different style than what would have been expected from the five young men he would be competing against. The idea was that if Walter spoke in the same “flossy, flowery” style as the others he would be playing it safe in one sense, but he probably wouldn’t stand out in any significant way. The judges would simply see him as one of six similar fellows. Yet, if he went for a passionate, fire-breathing speech and really “let it fly Billy Sunday style” he would completely change the dynamics of the competition. In that case, he would completely stand out in such a way that he would either get first place or last place, but nothing in between — instead of being seen as one of six, he would actively define the judges’ role as one of choosing one of two: him or the other guys. Herbert Armstrong recommended that his brother-in-law adopt a bold, all-or-nothing approach. Make ’em love you or hate you. Be seen as a remarkable standout or be seen as more of the same — understanding that some judges happen to like “more of the same.”
It seems to me that the McCain camp has done the same thing. This came home to me as I considered the other choices that had been discussed as possible McCain VPs — e.g., governors Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, or Tim Pawlenty. Such choices (generally speaking) would have been “more of the same” choices. Senator Joe Liberman could have been a contest-changing choice to a certain degree, but (1) not nearly so much as the choice of Mrs. Palin has been, and (2) such a choice would have been like punching the conservative-core of the Republican party right in the face right before spitting in their eye.
But by choosing Governor Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign has, indeed, completely changed the contest in a way none of the other options could have. In my opinion, he has dramatically increased the probability that votes will move in more extreme directions — bringing either great gains or great losses, but nothing in between. The other choices would have changed virtually nothing in such a significant way, much as Senator Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden changed little. Even the “experience argument” against Barack Obama that some think the choice of Palin has diluted is, IMHO, still very much in play — in fact, possibly more dramatically so. In saying so, I consider that the discussions so far have been comparing the experience of the Republican Vice Presidential candidate with the experience of the Democratic Presidential candidate. And Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Palin’s speeches tonight tell me that the McCain camp might even be hoping that the choice of Mrs. Palin lures the opposition into discussions about experience. (And surely we all expect to hear multiple references to Mr. Biden’s primary race reference to “on the job training” between now and election day.)
Of course, the title of this post was typed tongue-in-cheek, but in many situations Herbert Armstrong’s advice to his wife’s brother is good advice, and time will tell if the “Walter Dillon” approach will win the day for the McCain-Palin ticket. But I think that those who are dismissing the choice of Sarah Palin as unsound and ill-considered on the part of John McCain are both too quickly dismissing the effects it has already had as short-term, only, and also failing to properly compare what the McCain has gained through the choice to what it would have had (or failed to have) with any of the others.
It’s certainly a different game than it was one short week ago.
[UPDATE, 9/4/2008: I notice that in Peggy Noonan’s commentary for the WSJ yesterday, she came to the same conclusion as I did — although she didn’t seem to remember the story about Herbert Armstroing and Walter Dillon. 🙂
Her commentary can be found here: Open Mic Night at MSNBC. She also discusses the embarassing reminder she experienced concerning that great rule of thumb: “If you’re near a bear, assume he’s hungry. If you’re near a microphone, assume it’s on.” Whether her thoughts on Palin will bear out remain to be seen. There’s certainly a lot of campaigning ahead and fates and fortunes have reversed in less time than the stretch we still have between here and November…]