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Commentary: Let's give McCain credit on a brilliant VP choice

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SAN DIEGO -- Never mind the naysayers and inside-the-Beltway snobs who mock John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. This was a brilliant choice.

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Sure, it's a risk. But as Palin's defenders point out, no less a risk than asking the country to take a chance at the top of the ticket on a first-term senator from Illinois who doesn't have much to show in legislative accomplishments or foreign policy expertise.

I've defended Barack Obama by urging that we think outside the box and ask whether the world with which McCain is so familiar hasn't changed over the last 40 years to the point where it's no longer familiar to the rest of us. Now it's fair to raise the same concern about the individual whom Palin will square off against, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, who entered the Senate when Palin was 8.

Still, not all is well in McCainland. The news that Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant has raised questions about whether this choice was properly vetted and whether the selection was made in haste. That should be investigated since it reflects on McCain's judgment.

But that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin. So let's stop piling on, especially since all too many pundits and politicos have little to offer but snarky criticisms. And let's give McCain credit for a daring choice that offers more to the Republican Party and the country than many realize at the moment.

This was McCain using his opponent's strength against him. Coming on the heels of a Democratic convention that was all about diversity, change and making history, it offered an alternative to Americans who are ready to shake up Washington but who don't think that Obama is the one to do the shaking. It also showed that neither party is wedded to the old and tired image of four white males vying to lead the country.

Besides, those who know Palin best -- her Alaska constituents -- tell reporters they like her, trust her and find her easy to relate to, which happen to be the same personal qualities that many Americans say they find lacking in the Democratic nominee. And anyone who thinks those qualities aren't important in a presidential candidate probably doesn't understand why Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush beat John Kerry in 2004.

Lastly, picking Palin gave the McCain campaign a much-needed infusion of excitement, and donors have responded by contributing more than $10 million since the selection was announced. In fact, the McCain campaign reported recently that it raised $47 million in August, the largest monthly fundraising total to date. For a campaign that was growing stale, this was welcome news indeed. No wonder McCain quipped to Fox News about Palin, "I wish I'd taken her a month ago."

But what really gave away that this was a good choice was the reaction from the Democrats and their pals in the media. When they weren't criticizing Palin, they were painting her as inexperienced. Needless to say, these are not folks who worry about the best interests of the Republican Party. It's fair to say that if McCain's VP choice had gone over well in these quarters, then it would have been time for the GOP to worry.

Perhaps liberals are afraid that a McCain-Palin ticket might be easy to underestimate but difficult to beat. It's likely Democrats would have preferred to run against a ticket that included a more predictable running mate such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or a pro-choice candidate who would have alienated the Republican base such as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Or maybe the left is simply bothered by the fact that, with such a bold move, McCain seems to have cheated Barack Obama and Joe Biden out of the traditional post-convention bounce. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken after both events -- the Democratic convention and McCain's choice of Palin -- shows the Obama-Biden ticket leading the McCain-Palin ticket by one point, 49 percent to 48 percent. In other words, the contest is still tied.

Republicans have lots of reasons to be enthused about this choice, and Democrats lots of reasons to resent it. But in the end, no matter how this election turns out, it's the country that stands to benefit the most from John McCain's historic decision to launch Sarah Palin onto the national stage.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com.

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