Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain as the figurehead for a Palin Presidency

John McCain has sold his soul to the devil. This is the 72-year-old Arizona Senator’s last chance to become President of the United States – a position he has coveted for at least a decade. He could not convince the Republican Party eight years ago that his war record from the late 1960’s was reason enough to make him their nominee. This year he fell into the nomination against a very weak field of contenders but found the American public was no more persuaded to vote for him because of his experiences as a P.O.W. almost half a century ago than the Republican Party was in 2000. It was his bad luck that 2008 was to be a “change” election from the Republican rule of Washington for the past eight years and its dismal performance in foreign policy and economics. As if this wasn’t bad enough, even his right wing despised him.

The distinguished Senator from Arizona decided to throw all caution to the wind in naming a running mate at his formal coronation at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Rather than picking someone to serve as Vice President such as Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge (both very qualified but both pro-choice and, in Lieberman’s case, Jewish meaning trouble from the Republican right) he picked the unknown first term governor of Alaska: Sara Palin. It was a reckless gamble and an insight into the McCain decision making process. Palin is a fresh face on the national scene who could counter the fresh face on the Democratic ticket. She is young, attractive (former runner-up to Ms. Alaska), symbolizes the mythological small town America (Wasilla, Alaska), and is media savvy (former sports announcer). Her kooky right-wing credentials are impeccable while, at the same time, she is not part of the Bush administration. Her less than two years as governor of one of the sparsest populated states in the nation and six years as mayor of a town of 5000 people meant she was unqualified to assume the Presidency if needed. Yet, she was a sexy novelty for the old man to dangle before the voters.

So far, it has paid off for the aging Republican nominee. His poll numbers have shot up nationally and in various states. Certainly some, and hopefully all, of this is from the “bounce” following the Republican Convention in St. Paul. That will be clear in another week. For the time being, the Palin novelty has paid off for him. However, what does this mean for our country? The advantages he has gained for getting elected means he has willfully compromised his ability to govern and put his nation's best interests second to his election. He is a very old man who has caved in to his party’s fringe elements – the same type of people occupying the current Vice Presidency and significantly influencing policy in the administration of a very weak President.

This is Frank Rich in Sunday’s New York Times on the subject:

WITH all due deference to lipstick, let’s advance the story. A week ago the question was: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? The question today: What kind of president would Sarah Palin be?

It’s an urgent matter, because if we’ve learned anything from the G.O.P. convention and its aftermath, it’s that the 2008 edition of John McCain is too weak to serve as America’s chief executive. This unmentionable truth, more than race, is now the real elephant in the room of this election.

No longer able to remember his principles any better than he can distinguish between Sunnis and Shia, McCain stands revealed as a guy who can be easily rolled by anyone who sells him a plan for “victory,” whether in Iraq or in Michigan. A McCain victory on Election Day will usher in a Palin presidency, with McCain serving as a transitional front man, an even weaker Bush to her Cheney.

The ambitious Palin and the ruthless forces she represents know it, too. You can almost see them smacking their lips in anticipation, whether they’re wearing lipstick or not.


Since St. Paul, Democrats have been feasting on the hypocrisy of the Palin partisans, understandably enough. The same Republicans who attack Democrats for being too P.C. about race now howl about sexism with such abandon you half-expect Phyllis Schlafly and Carly Fiorina to stage a bra-burning. The same gang that once fueled Internet rumors and media feeding frenzies over the Clintons’ private lives now express pious outrage when the same fate befalls the Palins.

But the ultimate hypocrisy is that these woebegone, frightened opponents of change, sworn enemies of race-based college-admission initiatives, are now demanding their own affirmative action program for white folks applying to the electoral college. They want the bar for admission to the White House to be placed so low that legitimate scrutiny and criticism of Palin’s qualifications, record and family values can all be placed off limits. Byron York of National Review, a rare conservative who acknowledges the double standard, captured it best: “If the Obamas had a 17-year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.”

The cunning of the Palin choice as a political strategy is that a candidate who embodies fear of change can be sold as a “maverick” simply because she looks the part. Her marketers have a lot to work with. Palin is not only the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket, but she is young, vibrant and a Washington outsider with no explicit connection to Bush or the war in Iraq. That package looks like change even if what’s inside is anything but.

How do you run against that flashy flimflam? You don’t. Karl Rove for once gave the Democrats a real tip rather than a bum steer when he wrote last week that if Obama wants to win, “he needs to remember he’s running against John McCain for president,” not Palin for vice president. Obama should keep stepping up the blitz on McCain’s flip-flops, confusion, ignorance and blurriness on major issues (from education to an exit date from Iraq), rather than her gaffes and résumé. If he focuses voters on the 2008 McCain, the Palin question will take care of itself.

Obama’s one break last week was the McCain camp’s indication that it’s likely to minimize its candidate’s solo appearances by joining him at the hip with Palin. There’s a political price to be paid for this blatant admission that he needs her to draw crowds. McCain’s conspicuous subservience to his younger running mate’s hard-right ideology and his dependence on her electioneering energy raise the question of who has the power in this relationship and who is in charge. A strong and independent woman or the older ward who would be bobbing in a golf cart without her? The more voters see that McCain will be the figurehead for a Palin presidency, the more they are likely to demand stepped-up vetting of the rigidly scripted heir apparent.

But Obama’s most important tactic is still the one he has the most trouble executing. He must convey a roll-up-your-sleeves Bobby Kennedy passion for the economic crises that are at the heart of the fears that Palin is trying to exploit. The Republican ticket offers no answers to those anxieties. Drilling isn’t going to lower gas prices or speed energy independence. An increase in corporate tax breaks isn’t going to end income inequality, provide health care or save American jobs in a Palin presidency any more than they did in a Bush presidency.

This election is still about the fierce urgency of change before it’s too late. But in framing this debate, it isn’t enough for Obama to keep presenting McCain as simply a third Bush term. Any invocation of the despised president — like Iraq — invites voters to stop listening. Meanwhile, before our eyes, McCain is turning over the keys to his administration to ideologues and a running mate to Bush’s right.

As Republicans know best, fear does work. If Obama is to convey just what’s at stake, he must slice through the campaign’s lipstick jungle and show Americans the real perils that lie around the bend.

You can read his entire piece here.

No comments: