On January 8, 2007, the Los Angeles Times ran a Page One article about the gamble John McCain was making in putting down a big bet on the surge:
As a onetime prisoner of war during Vietnam and decorated Navy officer, Sen. John McCain has based much of his political persona on his staunch support for the military and his consummate credibility on national security.
But as the Arizona Republican prepares to mount a White House campaign, he is putting those military bona fides on the line – aggressively backing an unpopular plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at a time that other presidential hopefuls are steering clear of the war or calling for troop reductions.
. . . .
McCain’s calculation . . . shows that McCain, perhaps the best-positioned of any candidate to win the presidency in wartime, is willing to bet it all on a gamble that voters will reward his resolve, as they did for Bush in 2004, rather than punish him, as they did to GOP candidates in November.
Other Republicans are clearly not ready to play those odds.
No, they weren’t. And Democrats were eager to hang the policy around McCain’s neck:
Democrats can barely contain their eagerness for McCain to take the blame for a plan that seems to contradict the antiwar message of the 2006 midterm election that stripped Republicans of their once-solid congressional majorities. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, went out of his way recently to describe the troop increase as the “McCain doctrine.”
But McCain remained steadfast — even, some thought, reckless.
McCain shows no interest in shedding that label.
“If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I’m willing to pay that price gladly,” McCain said Friday after an appearance at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, where he said the surge “must be substantial and it must be sustained.”
His presidential aspirations, he added, “pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation’s security.”
McCain’s decision was courageous. It may sound like rhetoric now, with the clarity of hindsight. But in January 2007, it seemed risky — even, perhaps, indicative of poor judgment.
Because there was a time when people were running from the surge. John McCain, with whom I have been displeased in the past on many an occasion, had the guts to stand up and say he was backing it, no matter the cost to his career.
It might not have paid off. But McCain (and the much hated George W. Bush) recognized that America was not winning. That something had to change.
And it worked. Don’t believe me. Believe Barack Obama:
Mr. O’Reilly then demanded that his guest admit that he was wrong to oppose the military surge. Mr. Obama didn’t give in; he repeated previous qualifications but did go farther, and less equivocally, than before in acknowledging that the surge had worked. “It’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” he said.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, on August 30, 2008, the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled McCain’s choice of Palin is a risk:
American voters on Friday began learning about Sarah Palin. But the selection of an obscure Alaska governor as the Republican vice presidential nominee also offers clues about the leadership style of the man who placed her on the ticket.
Though John McCain clearly concluded that Palin could attract female voters and grab his campaign some Barack Obama-style media buzz, he also is taking a risk that in elevating a largely unknown figure, he undermines the central theme of his candidacy that he puts “country first,” above political calculations.
We got a little editorializing, as is the habit of this newspaper, including a not-so-gentle suggestion that maybe McCain is reckless and emotional:
For a candidate known to possess a quick temper and an unpredictable political streak, the decision raises questions about how McCain would lead — whether his decisions would flow from careful deliberations or gut checks in which short-term considerations or feelings outweigh the long view.
“Americans like risk-takers, but they also want to know that in times of crisis, you’re going to be calm,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a senior campaign strategist for President Bush but is neutral in the McCain-Obama race.
“Americans don’t necessarily want somebody in a time of crisis to be overly emotional,” Dowd said. “That’s the balance that John McCain’s going to have to show the public.”
Wow. That all sounds risky.
And yet . . . so far, it’s working out pretty nicely.
The pick may work and it may not — but when you have the New York Times describing your candidate’s speech as “electrifying” and bringing a “fresh burst of energy” to your ticket . . . well, you’re not off to a bad start.
And preliminary polling data seems to show Palin helping McCain to wipe out an eight-point Obama lead and bring the candidates neck and neck.
It’s too soon to know whether the Sarah Palin gamble paid off the way the surge did. But McCain was in the hole. He had to do something to shake things up. I love the way Allahpundit put it, when he said that, with a safe pick like Fred Thompson, “we’d be guaranteed to lose the election by no more than four points! With Palin, we could lose by ten. Or, of course, win narrowly.”
I have been going around repeating that line to anyone who will listen for days.
Look: I have been royally upset by John McCain in the past and I expect to be again. But at least the man recognizes when things have to be shaken up — and is willing to take decisive action to change course.
You want change? You want new leadership? Then that’s not a bad track record.
UPDATE: More indications that the Palin pick is working out well here.