By way of disclaimer: I did not vote for McCain in the primary, and while I agree with those who have criticized the aggressive tone of the race, I do not think McCain was more negative than Obama. Quite the opposite, in fact, with McCain being quick to defend Obama from slander and refusing to use the Jeremiah Wright association to brand him.
Mark Saltar is John McCain’s biographer and has worked closely with McCain for many years. He was a senior adviser in McCain’s failed bid for the presidency. Today he published a three-page reflection on the presidential race: the back-from-the-dead New Hampshire primary win, the selection of Sarah Palin, and the decision to suspend the campaign in the wake of the financial crisis. I found quite moving the fact that McCain’s son was going into Iraq as part of the unpopular surge that McCain (almost entirely unaided, and to the detriment of his campaign) was promoting in 2007. Saltar beautifully defends the selection of Governor Palin, though he does not address the recent back-biting. I wish McCain had defended her this articulately:
The senator’s selection of Governor Palin, like almost every major decision in the campaign, was viewed as a cynical and self-interested choice intended to excite social conservatives, who hadn’t shown much enthusiasm for the top of the ticket. Surely, no one would have advised our candidate to choose a running mate who would have lengthened the odds against us. But overlooked in the brisk dismissal that Governor Palin might have qualities other than her social conservative credentials and obvious retail political skills was her actual appeal to John McCain. It also fails to credit his advisers’ conviction that, given the environment we were running in, a message of experience over the untested new guy would not succeed even if we executed perfectly. Arguing that John McCain actually had a record of risking his career to reform the institutions and practices of politics and our opponent didn’t had gotten us nowhere. To reporters and many voters, Senator Obama was change personified and John McCain was yesterday‘s news.
Every candidate for office who takes on an incumbent runs on a message of change and reform. Few live up to their promise. Sarah Palin ran against the political establishment in Alaska with the promise to clean up the self-dealing and corruption that had finally worn out the patience of Alaskan voters. She defeated an incumbent Republican governor and a popular former Democratic one, an impressive accomplishment in itself. But she didn’t just run as a reformer. She governed as one. That was the source of her appeal to John McCain. He holds in high esteem anyone of either party who keeps their campaign commitments to reform. He greatly admired Senator Russ Feingold and the late Senator Paul Wellstone for that reason, despite their liberal credentials and views on most issues. He chose Sarah Palin to underscore his commitment to reform and help him keep his promise once in office. He recognized she had little experience in foreign affairs, but so did his opponent. She was well-versed in the area of energy security, which would have been a priority of a McCain administration. She is hardworking, intelligent, and a quick study, and he believed she would learn by study and experience all she would be required to know as next in line to the presidency.
Read the whole thing.
One major question: If the bailout package lacked adequate input from House Republicans, and if the public was strongly opposed to it, might it not have been more prudent (not to mention politically savvy) to have rejected it, and in doing so, denounce the democratic leadership (Barney Frank, Chris Dodd) responsible for the Fannie Mae debacle? Regarding the latter, McCain made the case a bit, but not with sufficient clarity and consistency (in my opinion).