Earlier, I gave you my off-the-cuff, political junkie reaction to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for a running mate. It’s great political theater and will give us plenty to talk about. But was it wise? Here’s my sober analysis:

This was a surprisingly unserious pick. Palin has scant experience. She makes Barack Obama look like a seasoned veteran. For shock value, McCain gets an A+. For justifiability, I give him a D. It’s like he had a check-list of equally weighted criteria. Social conservative. Check. Reform-minded. Check. Minority/Woman. Check. Experience. Eh. Three out of four ain’t bad.

Except, experience matters. A lot. Sure, Dan Quayle was not exactly a wizened political figure and he didn’t keep George H. W. Bush from winning the election. But that was twenty years ago in a different era. Plus, let’s face it, Bush was up against Michael Dukakis. Obama is no Dukakis.

Look, I do like the message this pick sends. That McCain is committed to shaking things up. But boy does this demonstrate the sad state of the Republican party. The best “outsider,” most “exciting” pick available to McCain is a 44 year-old half-term governor from a sparsely populated state. The Republican cupboards are pretty bare.

All that said, if Palin keeps from making rookie mistakes and manages to seem serious and intelligent, the pick probably doesn’t hurt McCain’s chances because, realistically, vice presidents don’t matter much in a presidential election. But if she stumbles a lot and seems unfocused, she’ll draw a lot of attention away from McCain’s significant experience and make it nearly impossible for the McCain campaign to accuse Obama of being too green. Plus, if McCain/Palin play this wrong, she will consistently, if unintentionally, remind voters of McCain’s advanced age.

Of course, there’s also a way this pays off. If she turns out to be a super-intelligent politician and a brilliant campaigner who can connect with middle-class voter and especially with women, she could keep McCain competitive and give him a real shot at winning. But that, my friends, is drawing to an inside straight. I wouldn’t put my money on it. McCain has put everything on it. We’ll see how that works out for him.

Politics And Now: My Serious Analysis of Palin