In The News
McCain's VP choice insults voters AND families
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
At first blush – a day after Barack Obama silenced critics of his experience and determination in a rousing acceptance speech -- John McCain’s choice of unknown Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate ranks as one of the earliest concession speeches in the history of presidential politics.
At best it reveals a desperate attempt to change the subject. It also undercuts the derisive tone of his campaign.
Gone from the airwaves will have to be the sneers about Obama’s experience both domestic and foreign. (Actually, it raises new questions about desperate measures and judgment – only in this case McCain’s.)
Vanishing as well should be McCain’s trump card answer to every question – that he has served in the war, survived heroically as a POW, and how dare anyone question him on foreign policy, military strategy and judgment in the face of that record!
But none of that mattered to him in choosing a possible, even probable successor. McCain is 72 and has a history of skin cancer. Let’s hope he lives forever. But he should stop acting like he will. Seriously. If any other candidate risked the country with so limited a partner in these tough times, conservatives like McCain would still be howling, more than they did when the first Bush felt his victory was sure enough to pick Potato-Head Quayle.
McCain’s choice was a governor for 18 months who previously served as a small-town mayor and an oil regulator. These are not exactly the comforting homeland security credentials even his own party envisioned, though they’re trying to paint a happy face on it.
Conservatives now welcome her down-home style and love of hunting, her five children (the oldest heading for Iraq, the youngest with Down syndrome), her oil worker husband.
Actually, raising children born with genetic defects, sending other children to war, marrying a blue collar worker while establishing your own career sounds remarkably like Democrats and union families. It’s insulting that conservatives think they have a corner on this market.
They apparently do share her desire to drill for oil anywhere in Alaska and her doubts that pollution drives global warning. So let’s put family resume alongside social thinking and then try to pretend they measure up to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Her reputation as a reformer emerged because so many Alaskan politicians became embroiled in ethical scandals. Alaska’s legendary party boss, GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, is facing federal charges linking personal corruption with influence peddling and intrusion into state politics. He will not thank his buddy McCain for putting his case back on the media front burner.
(Incidentally, try not to notice that Palin’s reputation for independence is based almost solely on – good golly! – not bending over so easily to big oil interests as her political colleagues. What a selling point!)
McCain could warn opponents not to underestimate her (which is certainly true) -- except the last person to use that line was George Bush, and just consider the price we’re still paying on that estimation.
Certainly Palin has qualities that will serve the Republicans . . . in the next decade or two. But choosing her now emphasizes other things:
A number of better known, even celebrity Republicans turned McCain down or scared him off.
Obama’s choice of Joe Biden is nearly impossible to match in terms of congressional reputation and foreign policy experience. Knowing that, and knowing he can’t go back to the discredited neo-cons around Bush, McCain went the other way – far away. He keeps Bush close to raise money but Alaska is the farthest geographical distance he can reach from the current White House.
The family stories reflected in the Obama-Biden team were so powerful that McCain needed someone with an admirable family tale, which Palin has. She fishes, her husband dog-sleds, they kill caribou -- surely that is enough for voters, McCain seems to be saying.
And somewhere in there is a total misreading of Hillary Clinton supporters. Will they now turn to him because of her, purely on gender, not caring about her conservative platform? Don’t make me laugh.
What she may help to do is distract female voters from a growing anger about McCain’s documented treatment and chauvinistic attitudes about their sex. In his thinking could she be the anti-heiress anti-debutante counterpoint to Cindy McCain? It is hard to see him offering his running mate as a candidate for Miss Buffalo Chip. Though, come to think of it, she is a former Miss Wasilla. (Women are important in McCain’s life. One pays for his career, the other was chosen to share his defeat.)
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested that the Democrats were so strong at their convention, so organized and persuasive, that what McCain had to do was move toward the middle with even a one-time Democrat, such as Joe Lieberman, or another pro-choice VP candidate such as Tom Ridge. But McCain was clearly not ready – or able -- to stuff choice down the throat of silver-spoon conservatives. So his concept of going the other way will be veering right – and then overplaying Palin’s motherhood and anti-abortion reputation.
McCain also needed to balance or sweeten up his surprising reliance on his time as a POW. He has been trotting out his truly heroic war record when confronted with his own series of military blunders, foreign simplicities and miscalculations.
(This is a good place to point out that over recent decades military courage hasn’t impressed American voters if they were faced with more interesting ideas or a more popular personality: Reagan over Carter, Clinton over Bush Sr. and Bob Dole.)
Now McCain’s choice of running mate gives him a break from better answers on complex questions. The media has another concern – Palin’s lack of tested credentials. The solution? Brace yourself for a round of commercials about family values.
Every 20 years or so, a candidate for president reaches into the twilight zone and pulls up a rabbit.
As Hail Mary passes go, this is in the class of Barry Goldwater’s pick of William Miller as a running mate in 1964, and, frankly, Walter Mondale’s pick of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when facing oblivion against Reagan. (But at least the Democrats beat the Republicans by 24 years in putting a woman on the top ballot.)
McCain may have subconsciously thought about that history in his choice of Palin – deciding to go out with his own vision of a maverick flair. Do the unexpected even when its serves no purpose but to turn someone else into a sacrificial lamb.
That’s the McCain eccentric personal history, underlining his inability to see, understand or deal with America’s deep problems.
Obama was right in his acceptance speech. McCain just doesn’t get it. And he won’t even try to.