The Politics Of Sarah Palin John McCain announced Friday that he had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. The reaction was largely positive, but questions are now surfacing about her teen daughter's pregnancy and an investigation into whether Palin improperly fired a public safety commissioner.
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The Politics Of Sarah Palin

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Following John McCain's surprise choice for vice president, two narratives emerged about Sarah Palin - the hockey mom who became mayor of her town in Alaska, risked her political career to take on the Republican Party establishment, a wildly popular first-term governor who battles big oil, killed the Bridge to Nowhere, works well with Democrats, a pro-life activist who followed through on her beliefs - first, with her son, who has Down syndrome, and now, with her pregnant daughter. In short, a feisty, maverick reformer, much like her running mate.

The other story is about a politician who was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it, lobbied the Republican Party establishment for pork projects, fired the public-safety commissioner, allegedly, because he refused to fire her former brother-in-law, is inexperienced on national and international issues, and paraded her family in front of the media, but hid her daughter's condition. Did John McCain choose too hastily before Governor Palin could be properly vetted? And does she help the ticket or hurt?

Later in the program, we continue our series of conversations on This American Moment. We'll talk with two young conservatives about what's at stake in this election and the future of their movement. You can email us now. Tell us what this election means to you. We'd especially like to hear from young listeners today. The email address is But first, we want to hear from conservatives, Republicans, and Independents. Does Sarah Palin help the ticket or not? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address, again, is Joining us now from the Xcel Center, the site of the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, is Elisabeth Bumiller, a reporter for the New York Times, and thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. ELISABETH BUMILLER (Reporter, New York Times): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And this morning, you reported that one reason the vetting of Sarah Palin may have been hasty is that John McCain waited until the last minute.

Ms. BUMILLER: Well, she was certainly on the first list of 40 people back in March and, you know, I mean, was in the list of finalists. But from our reporting, what we have learned is that Senator McCain really wanted to pick Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. He's a good friend - Lieberman is a very good friend of McCain's, but that would have been - would have caused an explosion at the Republican Convention. Senator Lieberman's independent now, but he was a Democrat. More important to the conservative - social conservative base, the party, he supports abortion rights. And so, based on our reporting, Senator McCain did not really look seriously at Sarah Palin until five, six, some days before he made the announcement.

CONAN: And that made it difficult to do a complete investigation into her background.

Ms. BUMILLER: Well, the McCain campaign says she was vetted, but there are a number of thing - and they say they knew all these things about her that have since come out, that you mentioned at the top of the broadcast. But from our reporting, there was very little - no one in Alaska was aware that there was anything - there were any questions being asked, and that you could say, well, OK, they were being very discreet, but...

CONAN: They wanted to keep it secret, yeah.

Ms. BUMILLER: Yes. But it was very different from what was going on in Minnesota with Governor Pawlenty, for example, who is another finalist for - as a running mate. People were very aware of that in the state of Minnesota. And again, based on our reporting, a team of people landed just on Thursday - the day before Senator McCain made the announcement - to check into her past. Now, the McCain campaign is saying, well, those are people who were there to do rapid response. But again, based on our reporting, there are - and I was told this by a McCain aide - that team is also there to do research into her past.

CONAN: And there was at one point, one McCain aide said she had been - there'd been a background check conducted by the FBI. The FBI tells the Atlantic Monthly, no, they didn't.

Ms. BUMILLER: Right. We never reported anything about the background check, but it was - that was in other publications. So, yes, it's true the FBI does not do background checks of presidential candidates or vice-presidential candidates.

CONAN: Does this - is this raising questions - and I guess this is where it gets to be difficult - does this raise questions about Senator McCain's judgment?

Ms. BUMILLER: Well, certainly, the Democrats are saying that, and I can tell you, some Republicans are as well, though they're not saying it very loudly here. But certainly, there - by all indications, the decision was made very hastily and very late. And you know, there is a concern that Senator McCain himself has said he has a history. Go back and look at his book written in 2002, "Worth the Fighting For," with his - one of his top advisers, Mark Salter. There's a wonderful quote in that book where Senator McCain says that he has a history of making very fast decisions, faster than the next guy. Sometimes he makes them, they're wrong, but he sticks with them. It's a very telling quote. And I think in this case, again, all indications are this decision was made very, very quickly.

CONAN: All indications also are that Sarah Palin has, as hoped, electrified the conservative wing of the party, including Evangelicals.

Ms. BUMILLER: Right. And so - and from that point of view, let me tell you that here at the Republican Convention, she is a huge hit. The fact that she - that her daughter, her 17-year-old daughter, is pregnant, and - but is going to marry the father and, you know, have the baby, has done nothing, but if anything, it's endeared people to her more. They say - I'm sure you've heard this, you probably reported this - that we - all families have troubles, and good for her for doing the right thing. You know, I've talked to Christian conservative leaders who are - who just think this is wonderful, and again, her decision, Sarah Palin's decision, to have a baby with Down syndrome, even if she knew her baby was carrying Down syndrome. So, you know, again, she's a beloved figure here at this convention.

CONAN: So, in that respect, right now, a lot of people at that convention consider her a definite asset.

Ms. BUMILLER: Yes. And by the way, the McCain campaign fundraising has jumped dramatically since Senator McCain put her on the ticket. I think I - (unintelligible) it's kind of close to 10 million dollars since he announced her. So, that is not to be dismissed either. And the other - a really important factor here is, well, sort of leaving Senator McCain out of it, you know, from what I was told by people very close to him, he really embraced her as somebody who is like himself. I mean, David can talk about this better. But you know, he saw in her a reformer. He saw in her a person who could really shake up the ticket, shake up Republican race. It's been kind of - you know, it's gotten nothing like that attention that Senator Barack Obama's campaign had gotten. And he was right, you know. He put her on - that there's no question about that.

CONAN: Is the attention all positive, though? There's a certain element of distraction.

Ms. BUMILLER: Well, of course, I don't that the Republicans wanted the story of Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy to dominate the first day of their convention, which was also, of course, dominated by Hurricane Gustav. So, no, this was not what they had planned. They said that they had Sarah Palin announce this because of these very ugly rumors that were circulating on the Internet on the days leading up to the convention, about whose baby was who and so forth. So, they came out with this right away on the theory they get this out, get this over with before Sarah Palin makes her speech or Senator McCain makes his acceptance speech.

CONAN: And again, being the target of liberal bloggers is not exactly an anathema to the Republican Party either. Is there any evidence, do you think, Elizabeth Bumiller, that she's going to be able to make a difference - it may be too early to tell - in places like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio?

Ms. BUMILLER: You just can't tell - you know, we've - the Times has run stories interviewing women who, you know, say both things, that some women say - there's the old Hillary supporters who were wavering, that are supporting Obama. Some of them say, please, you know, I'm just not going to vote for somebody because she's a woman. She has no experience. She has no, you know, foreign policy experience. She's been governor for 20 months. She's very seldom traveled outside of the country. But you know, my colleagues at the paper, we've quoted other women who said, this is great, I was so devastated by what happened in Hillary Clinton, and I'm going to vote for him now. So, I just don't know how it's going to end up.

CONAN: Well, we'll find out in a couple of months. Thanks very much, Elizabeth Bumiller.

Ms. BUMILLER: Thank you.

CONAN: Elizabeth Bumiller, a reporter for the New York Times, with us from the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you'd like to get in on the conversation, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. And let's go to Mike. Mike is with us from Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

MIKE (Caller): Hey. Thanks for having me on, Neal.

CONAN: Sure. Go ahead, please.

MIKE: Yeah. I wanted to tell you, I think the nomination rejuvenated everybody. Something really interesting is the way that this is covered in the media. You know, in comparison the way other stories - there's a great book out called "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg, and I think it really - unfortunately, the media's really shown where everything is in relationship to how they're covering the story. I don't know if you've read that book.

CONAN: I read the book. It's been out for a couple of years now, yeah.

MIKE: But it's amazing to me that something in her past or something that she's doing would be lauded against her as a deficit, whereas it should be maybe looked as a positive. She's sticking to things she said. She's doing them. So, you know, if her daughter has a pregnancy, she's standing by her and staying by the baby and going forward. I mean, why is that a negative? I just don't get it.

CONAN: And are you concerned about charges she may have used her office to try to punish her ex-brother in law?

MIKE: Yeah. When they're proven to be well-founded - I keep hearing you say alleged, so they're alleged until they have been proven - but absolutely, if there's any concerns like that, just - there have been concerns about John McCain and some of his past dealings in Congress just as there's been concerns about Joe Biden and every other candidate out there who's ever had any kind of interactions with lobbyists and/or corporate concerns. So, yeah, sure there is, but everything is so far so good, so to speak.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MIKE: Take care, Neal. Have a good day.

CONAN: And you heard Elizabeth Bumiller refer to David. Well, David is with us. He's David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times and also a regular contributor to All Things Considered, also with us from the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. And David, we just have a couple of minutes before the break, but briefly, you described Sarah Palin in this morning's column as a dazzling political performer. Do you think she's going to be an asset to the ticket?

DAVID BROOKS: So far, she is. I mean, I - what I refer to as - I confess, like most journalists here, I haven't met her and I haven't interviewed here, which is now hurting her. But I have seen her a couple - several times on C-SPAN, just at political rallies, and I was surprised then by how effective she is as a speaker and as a personality. What strikes me is the polarity. A lot of people just think that a woman in her position with a young daughter who's pregnant has no business running for office. A lot of other people, especially here in the hall, and probably out in the country, think it's a Shania Twain moment. Somebody like her is exactly the sort of person who should be helping to run the country, and there's a total opposite view. She's become extremely polarizing after about two days in the public limelight.

CONAN: And when you say, it's hurting her that she hasn't - you haven't interviewed her, that she hasn't talked to the media at all.

BROOKS: Well, because we - you know, Joe Biden we've covered for years. We know Joe Biden has the tendency to run at the mouth, but we - well, I'll speak for myself. I sort of like Joe Biden, and I'm willing to give him a break on some of the stupid things he says. So, you build up a personal rapport. She has no personal rapport with anybody in the media, and so we're projecting onto her all sorts of things we think about Alaska - Pentecostalism, people who have five kids, hockey moms - and so she's a bit of a mystery. And so I think that's one of the things that are hurting her. That is one of them.

CONAN: David Brooks, stay with us. When we come back from a short break, we'll also be joined by Kay S. Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. We're talking about Sarah Palin. Is she an asset to the Republican national ticket or is she hurting? 800-989-8255. Email us, I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The news has come quickly and continuously, since Friday's announcement that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would share the Republican ticket with Senator John McCain, some of which has Republicans asking if Palin is more likely to help the ticket or hurt it. Today, we're getting two views on that question.

We want to hear from you, conservatives, Republicans, and Independents. Does Sarah Palin help the ticket or not? 800-989-8255. Email us,, and you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at With us is David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times and a regular contributor to All Things Considered. Joining us now is Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. She's at our bureau in New York. David Brooks is at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, which is why you hear that crowd mumbling behind him, as the Republican Convention there continues. And Kay Hymowitz, thanks very much for coming in to speak with us today.

Ms. KAY HYMOWITZ (Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And I want to start you with this email question we got from Thomas in Louisville, Kentucky. I'd like to know the effect of Palin's daughter being pregnant in the respect of conservatives who are against young people getting pregnant. Did they lose support from conservatives, or was it turned around to being a good thing because she's keeping the baby?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, it seems to be the latter, but I'm not sure it should be. Teen pregnancy - more generally, out-of-wedlock child-bearing - is a major social problem. It contributes to poverty in any quality. It diminishes social mobility. You know, it contributes to tax - higher taxes to higher crime rates, to all sorts of things and in the past, it seemed to me that Republicans, and more generally, conservatives, knew that.

And they were the ones, after all, who invented and pushed for welfare reform, and in fact, we did see a sizable decline in teen pregnancy over the last 15 or 18 years, until rather recently, when there's been a kind of alarming uptick in just the last year or so. So, what troubles me is that we are now saying, oh, this is just a mistake that everybody makes. Well, you know, that may be true, and I admit that's it's a very difficult subject to find the proper language for discussing, but there's a big gap between "The Scarlet Letter" and writing, as the Palins, did in their announcement, that they are very proud to become grandparents.

CONAN: Nevertheless, Senator Obama said that people's family should be off - beyond or, you know, not be touched in this election especially children. Is this - it's going to become an issue, do you think?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, I think it will. And I think, actually, it should be. I mean, we could argue, you know, that private life should be off limits and that, really, our leaders should not be judged by their personal lives. But the truth is it's very hard to disentangle these things. When we're talking about three a.m. phone calls, we're talking about private lives, and I really wonder about Sarah Palin getting three a.m. phone calls with all that's going on in her house.

CONAN: David Brooks, do you think this is - this is or should be an issue?

BROOKS: No. No. I'm amazed I find myself disagreeing with Kay. First of all, this thing - in the abstract, I completely agree with Kay on the subject of single parenthood. But in reality, and this is certainly been true of the Evangelical conservatives I've spoken with here, this is something that happens in congregations every day, and they welcome people in, and they try to help them live up to the responsibilities they're about to get. And Bristol is apparently going to marry the man who is the father of the child, and that's probably a pretty good outcome for whatever the kid will be.

Barack Obama was conceived out of wedlock. His parents married, and despite the turmoil that affected his family, he turned out pretty well. And so, I think, you know, things happen and they're doing the best they can. I understand the point. I - believe me, I have heard it many times that someone with a daughter in this position should not be in public office because it's too hectic. And that's a decision we'll all have to make. I'm not sure where we draw the line, where we decide somebody's life - private life is too hectic for them to do the job we think they should do.

And frankly, if someone - an outsider who doesn't know the insides of that family, I'm very hesitant to draw that line. And so, I'm not going to get into the business of trying to guess when a mother or father is too busy to be president or vice president. So, I - my basic view is Barack Obama's view, that we have no real means of judging what the private life of these people are. We should judge them by their public performance, and as a governor, she seems to have been reasonably effective. In any case, we can judge that.

CONAN: Kay Hymowitz?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, I do agree with David, as I usually do...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HYMOWITZ: About a lot of this, but I do think - you know, there is this question of when private decisions become public - have public consequences. And as we know, when it comes to teen pregnancy or out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the line that we've always heard from the left and from liberals is that this is private, that it has nothing - you know, that everybody should be making their own decisions, et cetera.

But these are decisions with public consequences, with profound public consequences, and although I do agree that it's very troubling to try to think of a way to judge, or rather, to just sit on our pulpit here and just judge people, I'm not proposing we do that, actually. I'm simply saying that how - that we have a problem with talking about what is a major public policy issue when it is the vice president's daughter who is part of the problem.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Peggy, Peggy with us from Charleston in South Carolina.

PEGGY (Caller): Hey, Neal. Thank you so much for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure. Go ahead, please.

PEGGY: Well, my comment was just that I've always been a McCain supporter, and I followed especially him throughout the primaries, but after he nominated Palin, I decided to contribute money and go to his website, and it's really pushed me over the edge as far as my support and even how verbal I am with friends and families with my support for McCain. So, that was my comment when asked of, you know, my overwhelming reaction.

CONAN: So, you're excited about this?

PEGGY: Yeah. Yeah. I am. I don't know if he would have chosen her, if Hillary would have been Barack's VP. I think that it's an obvious play for the female vote, and I hate feeling sold to like that. But nonetheless, I'm buying in. I mean, I - you know, I'm excited about Palin, and I do think, like David, that all of her background - although it's getting a little messier as we find out more - it makes her interesting, and you know, Barack Obama's biracial. He was born to an 18 year old. He admitted to having a grandmother who is occasionally racist herself, and I think the American public can relate to that, even though it's not all, you know, it's not all shining and complimentary on every front.

CONAN: Yeah. Whose family is, you know...

PEGGY: Right, right.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Peggy.

PEGGY: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: And here's an email from Steve in - Carrie, it says. I think the choice of Sarah Palin helps the GOP ticket. I was lukewarm at best to McCain. I'm happy to hear about a woman politician who does not want to abort babies and is setting a great example on the issue. And David Brooks, as we heard from Elizabeth Bumiller, that seems to be an overwhelming reaction, at least in public, from delegates to the convention.

BROOKS: A lot of people, though we shouldn't make the mistake of seeing this entirely for the prism of identity politics, of feminist politics, of lifestyle politics. I've spoken to two of the - three or four people John McCain is closest to in the world. And these issues were, oh, he was aware of them obviously when he selected her. They were not uppermost in his mind. He saw someone who he felt was like himself. We took on oil companies. We took on Republicans. We took on corruption. That's what he likes.

And the stuff about whether how women relate, how women would not relate, were totally secondary for him, and I'm sort of struck by the fact that now we're discussing this issue. She is entirely viewed as a woman and a reproducer, not as a governor and as a public figure. And I just think we make a mistake if we get too far away and treat her - you know, she is a politician. She is running for office, and somehow that aspect has become entirely secondary to what is the perpetual mommy wars.

CONAN: Well, let me return to that other issue, her ability to govern, and here's an email from Catherine in St. Louis, who begins - I'm sure you'll approve - by quoting you this morning, David Brooks, in your column in the New York Times - my worry about Palin is that she shares McCain's primary weakness, that she has a tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political philosophy. But most issues are not confrontation between virtue and vice. Most problems - the ones Barack Obama is sure to focus on, like healthcare reform and economic anxiety - are the product of complex conditions. They require trade-offs and policy expertise. They are not solvable through the mere assertion of a sterling character. And then Catherine asked, is executive experience really so important in the light of the above perspective?

BROOKS: Well, in my view, executive experience is actually quite important, but the view I was trying to express is, when you think of McCain as president, let's say he's charged with trying to rewrite 14 percent of the U.S. economy, the healthcare system. Is Sarah Palin the one who's really going to help him? And I love John McCain. I think he's a great politician, and certainly a great man, but he has weaknesses. And the weaknesses are he's sometimes little unformed, he goes by instinct, and he especially goes by moral instinct. He likes to see politics as a crusade against corruption. And I think his moral instincts are fantastic.

But as a matter of president, you've got to work within structures, and you've got to deal with complex issues that require policy expertise, and frankly, I was hoping you would pick a vice-presidential pick who would organize him, who would get his moral intuitions into a much more organized and structured frame, and Sarah Palin doesn't do that. She is sort of has many of the virtues he has, apparently, but she doesn't address his weaknesses, and that's my worry. It's an entirely policy-oriented worry. As a person, I find her sort of amazing and dazzling, but as a vice-presidential executive, I do have some worries.

CONAN: So, you think she may, indeed, help him get elected, but you worry about how much she may help him govern.

BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, when you think about healthcare, economic anxiety, dealing with Congress, these are complex issues with complex legislative formulas that need to be put together. If you see - if you see politic - she may be perfectly capable of that kind of wonkery but her entire record is as a crusader against corruption. And John McCain likes also to be a crusader against corruption, and that has a place. Fighting earmarks has a place in whatever we do in the next four years. But fighting earmarks is not the main business of economic policy. It's marginal to the main business of economic policy, which are tax reform and things like that, which are, frankly, not battles between good and evil.

CONAN: Let's get Denise on the line, Denise calling us from Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

DENISE (Caller): Hi. I'm calling about the Sarah Palin issue.

CONAN: Go ahead.

DENISE: I am voting for John McCain, unless, of course, something horrendous comes up in the next few months. But I had actually considered voting for Obama because of Sarah Palin. I am a 20-year-old woman and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter seems to me to reflect on her parenting skills.

CONAN: And why is that important in a vice president?

DENISE: To me, it just shows her type of personality. And I think, along with the fact that she can't teach her child moral values, what she preaches that she's all about, I think she's too inexperienced to be in the White House. I am voting for John McCain because of John McCain. I wouldn't vote for Sarah Palin if she was with someone else.

CONAN: Denise, thanks very much for the call.

DENISE: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go right now and get Collin on the line. Collin is with us from Lake Orion in Michigan.

COLLIN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

COLLIN: I'm a young Republican, 20 years old. And I really like the Sarah Palin pick. I think she's going to do a great job. And I think that this whole issue with her family is really missing the important aspect of Sarah Palin. She and her husband are doing a great job being supportive parents. And that's really the difference between Sarah Palin's youngster being a young mother and any other young mother you look at. This young mother is not going to end up on a welfare system. This young mother has a strong supportive family behind her, and I think that reflects very well on Sarah Palin's character.

CONAN: Collin, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.


CONAN: We're talking about Sarah Palin. We're asking conservatives, Republicans, and Independents to call us, 800-989-8255. Our guests are David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, and Kay Hymowitz, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. And you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And I wonder, Kay Hymowitz, you've talked about the significance, to you, of the pregnancy issue. Otherwise, is that a defining issue as you look at Sarah Palin's politics? Otherwise, does she appeal to you?

Ms. KAY HYMOWITZ: Well, I certainly see the appeal of her views, her vigor, her energy. I was very impressed with the speech she gave when she was nominated. She is going to bring something to the ticket that I think a lot of your callers are attesting to and that, evidently, a lot of people in the hall in Minneapolis are also very excited about this, that would impossible to deny. And I'm not, by the way, concerned about her parenting skills. I mean, that to me is not something that we vote for. If we had, then Reagan would never have been president, and I assume, a lot of others. So...

CONAN: Hard to judge at a remove, too.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Yeah. There's that, and it's just it really is not so relevant. Again, my question is this, how do we talk about this extremely difficult and important problem of a family structure, the decline in marriage? Under these circumstances, when all of our emphasis is on, oh, people make mistakes, it's none of our business. That seems to me a sure way to increase our out-of-wedlock child-bearing rate and our teen-pregnancy rate. So, the question still stands in my mind, no matter how much people like her and no matter how dazzling they find her, how do we have this conversation under these circumstances?

CONAN: Let's get a caller on. Jenny, Jenny calling us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.

JENNY (Caller): Hi. I'm a McCain supporter, and I've supported him in the past. But I guess I like to say that I'd prefer to have seen Joe Lieberman been picked as the vice-presidential candidate, because I am a young person and lots of people might enjoy, you know, leaning towards Obama. But I think that McCain is spicing up the Republican Party by picking someone like that would have really appealed to young voters. And you know, Lieberman is kind of a maverick like John McCain and would have kind of - given his experience and structure to serve as a good VP.

CONAN: So, the fact that he chose a much younger person, that's less important to you?

JENNY: I would say so, because I would really like to see someone with experience serving in the White House. And I mean, yeah, Palin does have experience, but I guess she doesn't have, like, the international, and so Joe Lieberman does.

CONAN: Jenny, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JENNY: Thank you.

CONAN: David Brooks, at this - all of these controversies that make her speech to this convention, and which, I guess, is scheduled now for tomorrow night, awfully important.

BROOKS: Absolutely, yes. She's - she'd better do well for John McCain's sake. He, you know, he picked her as a gut decision. He met her in February. He's very impressed by her corruption fight. There were long periods in the last several months where he wanted to pick Joe Lieberman. Lindsay Gramm, one of his closest friends, wanted him to pick Joe Lieberman. I think that was probably the first choice - that's a guess - just based on my reporting. But I've heard since I got here that there are about five delegations who would have mounted a rival candidate for the nomination if Joe Lieberman had been picked, and there would have been a symbolic protest against McCain, and the party would have gone bananas. And so they decided they didn't want to do that.

But - so he's picked someone who is either going to be great, if she continues to perform well, or is going to be a complete disaster, will probably sink his ticket. And so he's taking a risk and that, too, says something about his personality. One of the ironies of this whole race is that it's shaken out over the last month or so is that Barack Obama has become a very cautious candidate, pretty orthodox Democrat, while John McCain has become much more reckless, though he's older, a much bigger risk taker.

CONAN: Isn't the person in the lead usually cautious?

BROOKS: Well, that's true. That's a good point, because John McCain got an internal poll about a week ago suggesting he was in real trouble. And so, I think that gave him an incentive to be a risk taker. Nonetheless, having covered both these men for several years, I do think it's exactly in their nature. One of Barack Obama's closest friends has told me many times, the thing you've got to know about Barack is he's a very cautious guy. And as someone who's covered McCain a long time, I can tell you he's someone who - he goes for the bold move for better or ill.

CONAN: David Brooks, thanks very much for your time today. We'll look forward to watching you tonight on PBS.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CONAN: David Brooks is with us from the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. He's a columnist for the New York Times, a regular contributor to All Things Considered. Also with us from our New York bureau, Kay Hymowitz, and Kay, thank you, as always, for your time.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Live coverage of the Republican Convention tonight on many of these NPR stations, and you can also hear it at Coming up, our series of conversations about This American Moment continues. Today, we'll hear from two young Conservatives. We'd like to hear from young people in our audience, 800-989-8255. This is NPR News.

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