Week In Politics Analyzed

Barack Obama's acceptance of the Democratic nomination in Denver was historic. Republican John McCain, meanwhile, has picked a woman, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to be his running mate. The two events capped a week of electoral politics.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week Democrats and Republicans made choices that will result in history this fall. Come November, this nation will elect either the first African-American president - of course, that would be Barack Obama, who accepted the Democratic nomination for president this week - or the first woman vice president, Sarah Palin, who was named yesterday as John McCain's running mate. NPR's senior news analyst, Dan Schorr, is on vacation, and NPR news analyst Juan Williams joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Juan, so nice of you to be with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Senator McCain's choice of Governor Palin, a political masterstroke that appealed to the majority of U.S. voters and reassures the base of his party, or a cynical ploy to appeal to the majority of U.S. voters?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, Sarah Barracuda, as she is called, because she was the point guard on her high school championship basketball team, really is quite a player, Scott. She is the mother of a soldier going to Iraq, 19-year-old Track, but she is the mother of five. She is opposed to abortion, opposed to gay marriage. She is a hunter, Scott, a member of the NRA. And she is for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Even John McCain isn't for that.

So the fundamentalists, the sort of base of the party, people like James Dobson, even former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, they're very happy. They are pleased because they had lots of concerns about McCain and his conservatism. That's been relieved.

But the real point here is for the election and a key base, which would be white, suburban females, working-class women especially, seniors, who have been Hillary Clinton supporters, and the McCain campaign is going after them like a bull's eye on a target. Sarah Palin even mentioned yesterday Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton and got applause from a Republican audience. So you can see exactly what they're trying to do with a woman who describes herself as "hockey mom." Now, I think, you see her as someone who is reaching out and trying to expand that Republican base.

SIMON: Does her selection deprive Democrats of their reform argument and their appeal as outsiders, because after all, they've got a couple of senators on the ticket? Or does it deprive Republicans of the experience argument?

WILLIAMS: Well, definitely, it denies Republicans the experience argument. Sarah Palin has been the governor of Alaska for about 20 months. So it's not very long. She's 44 years old as compared to Obama's 47, but...

SIMON: People will point out, however, of the four, of that quartet, she is the only one with executive experience.

WILLIAMS: As governor, exactly right. And she also brings a reform agenda to it. She has really gone after aspects of the oil industry. She has been a reformer, you know, really challenged people like Frank Murkowski, the former senator-governor up in Alaska. So she is someone who can say, I'm a reformer, I've got the administrative experience as a governor. And not only that, Scott, she is someone who can go out there and make the case with women. I think - if you boil this down from a political strategy point of view, this is all about getting women, especially undecided women to decide that they want a Republican, John McCain and not Barack Obama.

SIMON: I must have gotten four phone calls yesterday from women who said, they're not fooling me. Of course, they're Democratic women, but let me get you to address that argument. Is - this brings it back to the cynical ploy. Are they relying too much on Governor Palin to make an argument that Senator McCain standing alone would have some difficulty making?

WILLIAMS: Well, the hot-button issue here, Scott, may be abortion rights because what you have is the question of whether or not women would be attracted to another woman, especially women who feel that somehow Hillary Clinton's opportunity was treated lightly, disrespectfully, that women aren't allowed to break through that glass ceiling. Sarah Palin even mentioned the glass ceiling yesterday and mentioned Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton, as I said. So, will those women now decide, you know what, even though Sarah Palin is opposed to abortion rights, I so identify with the idea of the aspirations of women that I'm going to vote for her and therefore by connection, John McCain.

SIMON: But should we assume that a majority or at least a vast majority of American women are, in fact, in favor of abortion rights or don't have some principled qualms about abortion?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think they may have qualms about it but I think if it comes down to it, they are in favor of abortion rights and especially - and here is how the Democrats are also couching this - consider that there are three members of the Supreme Court who are likely to leave in the next term. You have to have concerns about what the Court may do on abortion. So they're trying to point all of this out to counter what your friends in those four phone calls viewed as a cynical ploy that the Republicans were using to fool them.

SIMON: We're running out of time, but as a historian of American life, your feelings about Thursday night when a man who was just a child when Dr. King said, I have a dream, accepted the nomination for president.

WILLIAMS: You know, Scott, you and I, we both - we were talking yesterday about the '64 Convention in Atlantic City - Fannie Lou Hamer and the fact that President Johnson didn't even have a roll call for fear of civil rights disrupting his convention, and to see the party pull together, you know, to see them have a roll-call vote to really celebrate by acclamation an African-American, it's stunning, Scott. I mean, my parents couldn't believe it. And for me, just to think it's in my lifetime, it's really - it's really something, Scott. From black or white, I don't care who you are. This is America opening doors in a way - it's unbelievable.

SIMON: Juan Williams, thank you.

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