JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.
First, the question is, what was the process, what do we know about the process that led John McCain to pick Sarah Palin? What do we know, anything?
DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: It was a very tight process. The McCain people were stunned that this didn’t leak. This is an organization that leaks quite a lot. It didn’t leak. They didn’t check it out with a lot of people, and they didn’t decide until yesterday.
JIM LEHRER: Yesterday?
DAVID BROOKS: Yesterday. And it did not follow a lot of intimate contact between John McCain and the governor. He’s obviously met her, had some phone calls, but they do not know each other as well as McCain knows all the other short-listers.
So he was taking a risk. But what he saw was someone like himself. Everybody is emphasizing the differences between them.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID BROOKS: But what he saw when he looked at her, according to the people I spoke to, is someone who fights the same fights I fight. The first gateway sort of fight that he thought they have in common was the bridge to nowhere. He’s been talking about that for years. She’s the one who killed it.
JIM LEHRER: Explain what that is.
DAVID BROOKS: That was a piece of pork-barrel legislation that I think Ted Stevens created.
JIM LEHRER: That’s right.
DAVID BROOKS: He created a bill — I’ve forgotten how much it cost.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Don Young.
DAVID BROOKS: Don Young, that’s right.
MARK SHIELDS: The two of them together.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman from Alaska. Ted Stevens is one of the senators.
DAVID BROOKS: I’ve forgotten the exact cost, but it was over…
JIM LEHRER: Several million dollars.
MARK SHIELDS: $200 million.
JIM LEHRER: $200 million?
DAVID BROOKS: $200 million, and it was a bridge that was totally unnecessary.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
DAVID BROOKS: And so McCain has been railing about this as the symbol of pork-barrel spending. She actually had the bridge in her state, as she said, and did something about it. The second thing…
Palin seems to be a maverick
JIM LEHRER: But she said, "Forget it, we don't want -- we don't want your bridge."
DAVID BROOKS: She said, "Forget it." She said, "Forget it."
The second thing he liked was she took on the Republican Party. She had a corrupt Republican Party. It was her own party. She took it on in a very risky way. McCain sort of sometimes sees himself in that role, Jack Abramoff.
And the third thing was the fight she had with the oil companies over the pipeline, which was a big fight. And he saw her -- he goes after Boeing, she goes after the oil companies.
So he said, "This is someone who's like me." I mean, I'm sure he appreciated that she's a woman and all the differences. But the essential thing was a reformer like me, even though he doesn't know her that well.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I would add, Jim, it's three things.
First of all, that John McCain has been uncomfortable in this campaign and the strategy he's run, emphasizing experience. He has seen the change factor in this election, in a change election, where 80 percent of the Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, be usurped and grabbed by his challenger, Barack Obama.
John McCain wants to be the change candidate. This is a bold and high-risk, and potentially high-reward move on his part, to pick Sarah Palin to run with him, somebody who has not been through the same kind of vetting that a Mitt Romney, somebody who'd run against him, or a Mike Huckabee, or any of the other candidates. I'd say that's the first thing.
And I think that what we have to bear in mind is this, that there's enormous excitement. I think that there's no question that her position on pro-life, where she has not simply talked the talk, she's walked the walk.
She and her husband found out they were going to have a Down syndrome baby at a time when that's become, you know, fairly common procedure to terminate a pregnancy. She said publicly, "We consider it a gift from God," and they are raising the child.
I think this helps John McCain enormously with a constituency that has been lukewarm to him, cultural and religious conservatives. And I think, finally, it's a stroke to attempt to take advantage of those disaffected women.
Working-Class Young Woman
JIM LEHRER: The Hillary Clinton folks?
MARK SHIELDS: The Hillary Clinton folks. I mean, you know, when you get a Republican nominee stand up and salute Geraldine Ferraro and...
JIM LEHRER: And Hillary Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: ... and Hillary Clinton in the first two paragraphs, you're really making a statement.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that -- do you think that has any possibility of actually working, that women would vote -- well, that's the question.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do, and the fact that she is working class. She is, as she says, a hockey mom, which I guess is tougher than a soccer mom. You know, her husband is a member of a union. She said she works with her hands. She is not a pretentious person.
You know, they were not going to nominate Mitt Romney and have the two wealthy guys. So that's good. And I think the second thing -- and, again, this is all contingent on the fact she does well, which we really don't know.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
DAVID BROOKS: But I thought she did well today.
But the second thing to be said is she is an under-45 Republican. That means she's unwedded to Reaganism. She's Evangelical, but she's pretty progressive on gay and lesbian issues. She's for drilling in ANWR, but she talks about global warming quite a lot.
She's got different categories in her head than, I think, the older conservatives who are pretty much down the line ideologically.
JIM LEHRER: During the campaign, though, what does it do now for the experience issue? Because that was going to be a big one between McCain and Obama. What does this do?
MARK SHIELDS: One of John McCain's strongest backers, an elected officeholder, said to me today that the experience had been played out, that it was going to get John McCain 45 percent in a change year, that Hillary Clinton had run on it for six months, and it really didn't...
JIM LEHRER: Didn't work?
MARK SHIELDS: Barack Obama is the nominee. So that John had to be -- John has to be comfortable, John McCain, as the change candidate. I think that's important.
I'd remember -- recall this -- I can recall the euphoria in San Francisco in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen. And it's not unlike, I think, the exhilaration that many Republicans are feeling today, especially those who were a little despondent after last night's performance by Barack Obama.
And I'd say this, that, at the end of the day, people vote for president. And I can recall in 1984 Ronald Reagan's pollster, Dick Wirthlin, Dr. Richard Wirthlin, telling me that the one night of the year in their tracking poll where Fritz Mondale led Ronald Reagan was the night he chose Geraldine Ferraro.
And as long as she was Geraldine Ferraro, she was marvelous. They found out 96 hours later she was Mrs. John Zaccaro, a husband with more complicated financial statements.
Risky number two?
JIM LEHRER: But what about the heartbeat away argument? It's already been raised by the Democrats.
DAVID BROOKS: Right, and it's a serious argument. I think you're going to hear -- I think any honest person has that concern.
And when you ask the McCain people about that, they'll say, "Well, if you take out our number-two for being inexperienced, we take out your number-one for being inexperienced. And we're willing to have that fight." But I think they understand that's a bit of a problem.
But, you know, this is a country which is so unhappy with politics. This is what happens. People without much experience rise to the top. It's kind of like generals in wartime.
And we have two candidates, Barack Obama and Governor Palin, who lucked out. They faced weak opponents. They rose very quickly, and then they were buffeted with their own talents.
JIM LEHRER: What about Palin versus Biden in a debate, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the early line on the betting would be, gee, it's going to be a mismatch. But I would, again, recall 1984, when Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush went in against a three-term congressman, Geraldine Ferraro, and two things happened.
One, he did appear patronizing and almost excessively deferential to this young lady. And I think she hit him right between the eyes with, "I don't need to have you patronize me, Mr. Vice President."
JIM LEHRER: In a word, would both of you agree that, whatever else, all the things we've been talking about, that this really changes things in this campaign?
DAVID BROOKS: Today, it's a really good pick, today.
MARK SHIELDS: It changes the dynamic today. And it certainly pre-empted what had been an aura surrounding the Obama speech of last night and put the -- changed the storyline in a hurry.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. OK, thank you both. We're going to talk to you again in a minute.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.