As a socially liberal McCain supporter living in one of the bluest towns in a blue state, I’ve learned how to reconcile myself to various aspects of his candidacy. The most glaring example is abortion rights, where I think McCain is on the wrong side of the issue. But for me the issues that trump all others are the Iraq war and the war against Islamic extremism. Obama has many appealing qualities, but of the two, McCain is the candidate I want as Commander-in-Chief, and everything else is secondary for me.

I paid very little attention to the pre-announcement VP discussions in either party. When Biden was named, I thought it undercut Obama’s change message, but that he’s a safe choice and I could imagine him as President. Then came the Palin announcement.

Stage 1: Confusion

Hm… First-term governor of a sparsely populated state — doesn’t that undercut the most potent argument against Obama? I saw the first Palin headlines just before I got on the treadmill, and this stage lasted throughout my half-hour workout.

Stage 2: Rationalization

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

  • Social conservatives are my least favorite part of the Republican coalition, and I also have little patience for people who attribute Hillary Clinton’s loss to sexism rather than to her own baggage and the appeal of her rival. But while placating these groups is a low priority for me, their votes count as much as mine do, and my candidate needs every vote he can get.
  • Inexperienced though she is, Palin has electoral appeal (80% approval rating in Alaska) and some steel in her spine. She ousted a sitting governor, then took on the corrupt senior officeholders of her own party. I’d vote for her for governor of Alaska in a heartbeat.

Stage 3: Annoyance

I woke up in this stage this morning. Why couldn’t he just have picked Romney? I don’t particularly like Romney, but the guy came in second — the positives and negatives about him are already well known. It would have been a safe choice, certainly by comparison, and the VP contest would have become irrelevant, as it normally is.

Stage 4: Gloom

I slipped into this stage later in the morning while talking with my Obama-supporting wife. Nina and I share common values and we would never mock each other, even by proxy. She respects my reasons for supporting McCain, but she’s going to pull the other lever in November. She was very gentle when she said, after I watched video of Palin’s remarks, “I’m sorry, honey, but it doesn’t look good for your team.”

I agree, it doesn’t. Maybe things will look brighter after the convention, where we’ll get to know Palin better and hear more about why McCain picked her. But right now I see her as a net drag on the ticket. She’ll gain votes among social convervatives and maybe among some Hillary fans, but she saps the life out of the experience issue. Even some social conservatives have qualms about tokenism — Ramesh Ponnuru said “Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”

Stage 5: Reconsidering My Vote

I haven’t quite reached this stage yet. Maybe I won’t. I think McCain made a bad choice, but anybody can make a bad choice. Obama has made bad choices. The top of the ticket still matters most, and I still prefer McCain over Obama. But I’ve never been an Obama hater, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that he would be a disastrous president. Issues aside, I would be proud to have a black president, as long as it’s Obama and not Jesse Jackson.

A vice president only really matters if the president dies. I hope McCain lives another thirty years or more, but he turned 72 yesterday. Sarah Palin seems like a decent and courageous woman, and she might do a great job as president. But the heartbeat-away factor — the most relevant question for a vice president — clearly favors Biden. I’m talking here not about issues, just about readiness to step in and do the job.

The fact that I’m even thinking along these lines doesn’t bode well for McCain’s ability to pick up voters like me, who if not for the war would be inclined to vote for Democrats.

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