FROM AWE TO SHOCK
What a crazy couple of days it has been for us political junkies. First, on Thursday night, the Democrats conclude their perfect-pitch convention with a speech by Barack Obama that, at least to me, was brilliant. I sat in awe at the number of beautiful rhetorical flourishes in that speech and, just as importantly, I was reassured by Barack’s courage in calling out John McCain directly and powerfully, and yet never below the belt. When Barack entered the race, I was concerned that he was too much of a gentlemen and a pedant. Thursday night, though, he was as much Marvin Hagler as he was Adlai Stevenson. THAT was the Barack that I have been waiting for. If we continue to see the same persona during the debates, and if the Clintons continue to actively campaign for the ticket, the Democrats should win in November regardless of what McCain does from this point on.
So that’s what I was thinking on Thursday night. And then … came yesterday’s announcement. I’ll freely admit that John McCain shocked me with his choice for VP. Like most people, I had barely heard of Sarah Palin, and I certainly knew a whole lot less about her than I did about Michael Palin, the dude from Monty Python.
My first reaction was that the choice of Sarah was just a “head fake” – a decoy – because surely, nobody would be so crazy as to select her for VP when there were so many other more qualified women available. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, for example. Or Condi Rice? But Sarah Palin?
I can certainly identify some positives about this choice in terms of what it says about McCain. Once again, McCain has proven himself to be gutsy. It’s a characteristic you don’t see that much in D.C., and you almost never see it on the Democratic side of the house. McCain reminded me of that fact when he made this selection. I can see him making some bold moves if he were elected President, and given his ability to reach across the aisle over the years (notably, both Biden and Hillary call him a “friend”), I can see some of those moves resulting in bipartisan bills that would truly represent progress.
I can’t deny that there used to be a whole lot that I liked about this man. And I have trouble believing that “President” McCain would be the polar opposite of “Senator” McCain, who hasn’t been all that bad. In this case, McCain saw that his opponent was having a storybook convention, resolved that he wasn’t going to lose this without a fight, and decided to take a big chance. In theory, I can respect that attitude. It’s certainly a more refreshing way of dealing with life than cluelessly smiling your way to a resounding defeat without any apparent consideration of risk-taking – the path of Mondale and Dukakis, just to name two of my previous selections for President.
So let’s praise McCain for his willingness to take risks. But … and it’s a HUGE but … wasn’t this particular act of risk-taking just a tad meshugah? And more than a tad offensive.
What am I talking about? Let’s consider who this Sarah Palin is. Obviously, we’re all going to have to learn about her pretty much from scratch – and by “we” I’m referring to McCain as well. It’s been reported that he only met her once before he offered her the position last week.
Give Sarah credit for being a genuinely nice person – how else do you serve two terms as a small-town mayor – and a charming one. Credit her also for being a self-made woman. You have to respect her pluck every bit as much as her luck.
Frankly, there really is no reason to think ill of this woman. All she did in accepting the position of McCain’s running mate was answer the call of duty.
That doesn’t mean, however, that she is even a remotely sensible choice for the Vice Presidency, let alone the Presidency. Just consider the following facts, and you’ll realize that if she were any further in right-field, she’d be touching the foul pole:
1. She is anti-choice even in cases of rape and incest. Only when the mother’s life is in jeopardy would she permit abortions.
2. In 2000, when McCain was running as a maverick, Bush as a “compassionate conservative,” and Buchanan as the choice of the hard right, Palin was supporting Buchanan.
3. She doesn’t believe human beings are the cause of global warming.
4. She sued the Bush Administration for placing polar bears on the list of endangered species; apparently, this interfered with the “drill, drill, drill” mantra.
5. She claims credit for killing the “Bridge to Nowhere” when she became Governor, but she supported the project a year earlier … back before it became a national joke.
6. She supported a state Constitutional Amendment to bar health benefits for same-sex partners.
7. She opposed stem-cell research.
8. She supports tax cuts for the rich.
(Note that she may have received a bum rap as a supporter of teaching about creationism. That rumor is going around, but as far as I can tell, she never favored including creation science in the school curriculum, but only supported allowing debate on the subject. That hardly seems wacko-right-wing to me.)
Even without the creation science item, it’s still quite a list. The McCain of 2000 would have thought the woman was truly fringe – more like the choice of Dick Cheney than Maverick McCain. But that list, as off-putting as it is to a liberal like me, isn’t what makes the choice so meshugah. Here’s the problem: up until this week, there were only four clear reasons why someone would support a past-his-prime John McCain over an attractive ground-breaking modern-day Demosthenes like Barack Obama: (1) McCain’s the guy if you have solidly conservative beliefs; (2) Barack beat Hillary and some people resent him so much for that that they would support Atilla the Hun against him; (3) Barack is black and … well … you know … that makes McCain more “American” if you get my drift; and/or (4) McCain is qualitatively more experienced than Barack, and in risky times like these, experience is very important in a leader.
The first of these reasons wasn’t undermined by the Palin selection. Palin is obviously even more conservative than McCain, so if you swing well to the right, it probably makes sense to support McCain/Palin. But what about the other 70% of us? Before this week, the second reason was also pretty relevant, as many moderate or liberal Hillary supporters clearly resented the hell out of the Democratic Party generally and Barack Obama in particular. But then came the Convention, and the Hillary’s strong support of Barack, so perhaps now, the second reason isn’t that important. As for the third reason – racism – that one isn’t going away either. But will it really account for enough votes to make the difference? Especially given that a high percentage of American racists are conservative enough to vote for McCain anyway regardless of race, I suspect that this reason combined with the first two would still not be enough to get McCain over the top.
Until yesterday, it was the fourth reason – concerns about Barack’s experience – that made the race so damned close. It was the most valid reason available to moderates for choosing McCain. And then … came Sarah.
Let’s leave aside that her selection has reminded us all of how old and frail McCain is. It’s not just that he is a 72 year old man. It’s that he’s had cancer several times, and – as he loves to tell us in virtually every sentence – he spent 5 ½ years in a POW camp. He’s not just 72, he’s an OLD 72, or at least not a young one.
Months ago, McCain was asked by a reporter if his age made it doubly imperative that he select a running mate who is qualified to take over the Presidency on day one. McCain agreed that it did.
And then … came Sarah.
Sarah Palin appears to have no experience whatsoever dealing with a range of issues, including the entire topic of foreign affairs. Lamely, one of the hosts of the Fox Morning News show had to prop up her foreign policy experience by saying that she’s from Alaska and Alaska is near Russia, so she must be in the know. Is that really the best they’ve got?
Rather than go on and on expressing my disbelief about how unqualified Sarah is, let’s just look at the facts. And let’s look, in particular, at the one issue that had previously favored McCain – the breadth of the resume. I think all of us who have long favored Barack have done so because of his judgment and brilliance and IN SPITE OF his relative dearth of experience. But compared to Sarah Palin, Barack comes across as a veritable Winston Churchill.
Here is a look at their resumes. (I’m leaving out all the mishigas that People Magazine and Vogue might want to talk about and concentrating simply on their vocational and educational exploits.)
Through 1985 –
Sarah graduates from Wasilla High (1982) and matriculates at the University of Idaho.
Barack, having received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, goes on to work for the Business International Corporation and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Through 1988 –
In 1987, five years after graduating from Wasilla, Sarah receives an undergraduate degree from the University of Idaho, her last academic degree. After college, she works briefly as a sports reporter in Anchorage Alaska.
Beginning in 1985, Barack serves as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago for three years. Then he matriculates at the Harvard Law School.
Through 1991 –
Sarah, after getting married, works briefly with her husband as a commercial fisherwoman (she may also have continued to do some sports reporting in Anchorage).
Barack becomes the first African-American President in the history of the Harvard Law Review. He then graduates from Harvard Law School Magna Cum Laude, moves back to Chicago, and becomes a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.
Through 1996 –
Sarah serves two terms as a city councilwoman in the Wasilla City Council (the population of Wasilla was under 6,000). She and her husband start a snowmobile/watercraft business and kept the business for three years.
Barack continues to be a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. He organizes voter registration during Bill Clinton’s 1992 run for President. Barack also writes what has become a best-selling book, “Dreams from My Father.”
Through 2002 –
Beginning in 1997, Sarah serves as Mayor of Wasilla.
Beginning in 1997, Barack serves as a Senator in the Illinois State Senate (population of Illinois, 12,000,000). He gives his now-famous address opposing the idea of invading Iraq at a time when few were publicly speaking against such an invasion.
Through 2004 –
Sarah serves as Chair of the Alaskan Conservation Commission.
Barack continues to serve as a Senator in the Illinois State Senate. He campaigns for and wins the job of United States Senator. He also delivers the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention of 2004, which immediately catapults him to the status of the “Rising Star” of the Democratic Party.
Through 2006 –
Sarah campaigns for and wins the job of Governor of Alaska. She would become the first woman Governor and youngest Governor in Alaskan history.
Barack serves as a United States Senator. As a Senator, he is appointed to the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions. Barack also writes another best selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Through the present –
Sarah serves for 1 ½ years as the Governor of Alaska (population 680,000). In that capacity, she serves as the chair of the National Governors Association National Resources Committee and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission. She achieves an extremely high popularity rating within her state.
While continuing to serve as United States Senator, Barack campaigns for and wins the Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. In the process, he oversees a huge 50-state organization that revolutionizes political fundraising and various other aspects of the electoral process. He wins more primary/caucus votes than any American who has ever lived. (I’m treating the Michigan primary as a non-event given that Barack’s name was off the ballot.) After January 2008, he becomes the central focus of media attention in this country and the subject of relentless negative attacks – first by the campaign of Hillary Clinton and later by the campaign of John McCain. In the meantime, he delivers numerous speeches that are widely viewed as among the best examples of political oratory in modern American history.
I look at a list like that and it appears clear that one of these individuals is far and away more qualified for President than the other. But even if I’m totally wrong and if the truth is that, between these two people, the experience issue is the proverbial “wash,” it would still remain the case that John McCain has effectively neutralized the one clear advantage that he had among sensible moderates. Why would he do it? Did he really think Hillary supporters were so stupid that they would support ANY woman, even an unqualified one, over the man who had the “audacity” to challenge Hillary in the primaries? Or does McCain think that by energizing his base with the choice of a solid right winger, he won’t need the support of many Democrats?
I honestly can’t answer those questions. But this I can say: John McCain still has a shot at the Presidency. Even without much support from others, the coalition of conservatives and non-conservative racists will be a powerful one come November. Still, they alone aren’t likely to tip the scales for the GOP. And with the selection of an unknown, untested, unprepared and unmoderate choice like Sarah Palin, McCain has now, incredibly, put the oxymoron “Democratic Landslide” in play.