The Making Of "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly"

(John P. Filo/CBS)
Jeff Greenfield is senior political correspondent for CBS News.
No, CBS Evening News is not re-making a famous spaghetti western. Instead, we're launching a weekly look at the most effective, most depressing and most what-planet-are-we-on events of the political week. The judgments are non-ideological – effective and depressing and weird events happen across the political spectrum – and we don't have a standard Olympic-style point-scoring standard for this feature.

For openers, we've chosen an obvious starting point: Sen. John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. We've seen selections in the past change a campaign for the worse: George McGovern's pick of Sen. Tom Eagleton – whom he later dumped from the ticket, dooming whatever chance he had in 1972. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Dan Quayle in 1988 proved liabilities for Walter Mondale and George H.W. Bush.

But the selection of Palin changed this campaign all the way to its roots. It fired up the socially conservative Republican base that had regarded McCain with wariness … if not hostility. It made "change!" a mantra that – at least temporarily – applied to McCain's campaign as much as it did to that of Obama, who had of course made "change" he theme for more than a year and a half.

And it shifted the whole focus form economic issues – a clear Democratic strength this year – to questions of culture and values, where Republicans have been harvesting votes for the better part of 40 years. Palin's image – the spunky, just-plain-folks, strong family mom who can take on the condescending big-shots – is a staple of American pop culture, and the reaction to her choice is measurable in everything from crowds to poll numbers. Will it fade, or change for the worse? Who knows. For now, it's been the most tactically effective move of the entire campaign.

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