Monday, September 01, 2008

Hurricane Gustav, Sarah Palin and why McCain will win the General Election


I gave a cheer when I discovered that Palin had been chosen by McCain as his VP candidate. A while ago I came across an article talking about 'outrider' candidates for VP and Palin seemed a really good choice, mainly along the lines of a) being a breath of fresh air, b) being a classical conservative, especially on the fiscal front, and c) had shown character and courage by taking on vested interests.

It's a choice that has made me a bit more comfortable about hoping for a McCain victory (I don't have a vote, tho' occasionally I ponder the steps I would need to go through to gain one). I felt McCain's response to Russia's invasion of Georgia was unrealistic, and if he had chosen someone like Romney for VP - as he was rumoured to be considering - then I'd have not been bothered whether he had won or lost. Choosing another middle aged man in a suit would have represented politics as usual - rather as Obama's choice of Biden does.

The canard about Palin being inexperienced is meaningless. As a VP candidate she has more relevant experience - and has done more with that experience and shown greater competence - than the Presidential candidate of the Democratic party. One of the beauties of this choice is that the argument about experience, and preparation for office, which will continue all the way through to the election, is now going to be comparing Obama to Palin - which elevates McCain above the fight and makes him untouchable on this front. In other words, anyone who is worried about Palin being inexperienced as a VP will end up being more worried about Obama as a President.

I also suspect that, whilst there is a short-term attraction to it, there isn't much mileage in ex-Hillary voters from choosing Palin. Their characters are just too different (and, again, to Palin's advantage). I see Palin as primarily chosen a) to reinforce McCain's connection with the conservative base, and get out lots of foot-workers (which she has clearly succeeded in doing) but also b) to reinforce McCain's credentials as an independent and reformist - a reputation which he has had historically but which has been a little blurred of late. It's now quite clear that McCain is serious about reforming Washington. (Which is one of the things to bear in mind when establishment figures start criticising Palin - these are the 'good ole boys' she will be taking on).

However, all of that is pretty conventional and not an excuse for yet another half-baked political post. I wanted to say something else a bit more specific, which might not have occurred to a great many people. One of the most salient aspects to Palin's candidacy is that she has developed a track-record as a) an opponent of 'Big Oil' and b) an advocate of drawing on the resources of Alaska for oil (eg ANWR). There is a clear distinction between the Dems and GOP on this.

Now the long-term context for this debate is Peak Oil (obviously) but there is a specific short-term context as well, being the run-down in gasoline stocks in the United States this summer. For some time readers of the Oil Drum have heard warnings that any interruption to supply in the southern US (eg imports from Mexico, plus hurricanes impacting the Gulf facilities) could cause physical shortages of gasoline in parts of the US, and even if that doesn't cause a panic, it does mean that the supply of oil will become a major talking point - possibly even a defining issue - in public debate about the presidency. Now on that issue the electability and credibility of Palin trumps anything that Obama can offer.

So here's my prediction: due to the choice of McCain and the credibility of Palin on the energy issue, the rise in salience of energy as an issue affecting voters, especially following the damage done to facilities in the Gulf by Gustav, will mean that McCain gets elected in November. Not by a landslide, but not by a whisker either.

UPDATE: obviously the collapse of Lehman brothers two weeks later rather compromised this analysis!!

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