At CPAC on Saturday, there were stories about the speech given by former half-term governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (R-AK-1/2). I didn't read them because, well, honestly, I didn't care. Ms. Palin has been a joke since she entered the national stage, and at this point she's an empty joke without meaning. There are people who want to hear her the same way little children want to watch the same cartoon video over-and-over several hundreds of times.
So, I really don't care what Sarah Palin says except for that it gives me oh-so much great fodder to write about. The same way great fodder helps vegetable gardens grow.
But headlines of her speech at CPAC did give a few indications of her slamming the president, a man with more intelligence and integrity in his children's little finger than Ms. Palin has in her dreams. And it all reminded me of the very first article I wrote about Sarah Palin for the Huffington Post. It's the Huffery that I think I'm most proud of, from all 700 or so that I've written so far. It's not that I'm so proud of what I wrote -- though I am -- but rather, when I wrote it.
When friends over the years have said to me how they thought Sarah Palin had been a risky but bold choice by John McCain, because she seemed like a strong candidate until they finally saw enough of her and who she was -- I've always been able to point to my first article about her. Because thank goodness, it's actually time-stamped. The piece is dated August 29, 2008. That's the very day that John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. And the time on the article is 4:18 PM -- but...you must understand that that's East Coast time. I'm in Los Angeles, so that means it was posted three hours earlier. At 1:18 PM in the West. Eureka. Proof! Ipso facto. And that's only when it got posted. I began writing it over two hours before. That means I sat down to write the article within an 30 minutes of Sarah Palin being announced as the Republican VP candidate.
The article got far-and-away the most reader comments I've still ever received for a Huffington Post article. Normally I receive between 10-30 comments. A big one is 50-100. My record at that time was around 250. This got 931 comments. (I have no idea how many were supportive or critical. There were far too many. But of those I skimmed, it seem very heavily in favor. Though being the Huffington Post, that isn't shocking.)
I've never told the story behind writing the article, but it's a quick tale. Normally, I go out for a walk in the morning. But because John McCain was going to be announcing his running mate on this particular day, I decided to stay in and watch. While waiting around, there were news reports on who the nominee would be, and -- not having a clue what a "Sarah Palin" was (as, it turns out, neither did John McCain...), I went online and did some research. Something the McCain Truth Express might have considered doing. And I was already aghast. Then I watched her little speech after Sen. McCain (R-AZ) introduced her. And I was livid. This is who the Republican Party wants to put a heartbeat from the Presidency???! How dare they? How dare John McCain
And so I then went off on my half-hour walk. But as I was walking, I kept thinking about what I'd researched and what I'd just seen, and I kept getting angrier and angrier, until I'd worked myself up into such a pissed-off mood, that I couldn't complete my walk, and after about 10 minutes turned around, came back home, sat down at my keyboard and wrote this. On August 29, 2008. The day Sarah Palin became a national figure. Posting it at 1:18 Pacific Coast Time.
Stick with me, kid, I tries not to steers ya wrong.
The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History
There was a TV ad for deodorant that said, "Never let them see you sweat." The John McCain campaign has just showed the world that it is drenched. Selecting Sarah Palin as its choice for a vice presidential candidate is perhaps the worst such choice in American History. To be fair, maybe there are worse choices, but I don't know how bad William O. Butler was when he ran with Lewis Cass against Zachary Taylor.
But it's far worse than Dan Quayle, who was a sitting senator. Worse even than Geraldine Ferraro, who at least served in Congress for three-terms. And far worse than William Miller, a choice so obscure when selected by Barry Goldwater that he (honestly) later did an American Express commercial asking, "Do you know me?" And that ad was after the election. But even Miller had been a Congressman for 12 years. And been a prosecutor during the Nuremberg War trials against Nazis. Sarah Palin lists her credits as a hockey mom.
There was a point during the Republican primaries when I was trying to figure out who I hoped got the presidential nomination. Someone so weak he'd be easy for the Democrats to beat, or someone more challenging who at least wouldn't be a disaster for America. I decided on the latter because America has to resolve its serious problems and can't afford risking some glitch where another George Bush got elected. And so I felt that John McCain, for all his weaknesses, was the lesser of all evils and was glad he got the nomination. Throw that out the window. McCain-Palin is an unthinkable disaster.
I completely understand the reasoning behind the decision for John McCain to select Sarah Palin. Absolutely. It's the thinking that settled on Sarah Palin that's missing.
No doubt John McCain will get some women to vote for him who wouldn't have otherwise, and even some independents. But he will also probably lose as many Republicans uncomfortable with a woman on the ticket - let alone a woman with so little experience as Sarah Palin. Not to mention that the choice will cause many undecided Democratic women to be aghast and push them back to following their Democratic beliefs. And further, it will lose all the independents who look at the GOP ticket and say "This is who I'm supposed to give my vote for the next four years to lead and protect America??" It may even appeal to right-wing evangelicals for her strong pro-life stance and get some to vote - but that position and others related to it are specifically what loses even more women voters. And men. Ultimately, the nomination will lose far, far more votes than it gains.
But this is not the reason the decision is so terrible.
It's always said that the most important decision a presidential candidate makes is their pick for vice president. It shows their thinking and judgment. John McCain, in his first decision, has just told the world that he believes Sarah Palin is the most qualified person to be a heartbeat from the presidency. Forgetting all the available men for a moment, if John McCain felt it critical to select a woman in an effort to somehow grab the Hillary Clinton supporters, look at his choice of women he had available: Christine Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Elizabeth Dole, Susan Collins, even - for goodness sake - Condoleezza Rice. Or Carly Fiorina. Each of these have marks against them, and perhaps some might not have wanted to run, but it's near-impossible to look at the list and suggest to the American public that Sarah Palin is the best choice of Republican women to be vice president. And again, this is ignoring the men he who could have been chosen.
It's not that Sarah Palin is inexperienced. It's that this is gross political misconduct.
Sarah Palin has been governor of Alaska for just a bit over 18 months. Alaska has a population of 683,000. (Though that doesn't include moose.) This would only make it the 17th most populous city in the United States. Just ahead of Fort Worth.
Before that, she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Population 9,000. I know Republicans like to promote "small town values," but this is taking things to ridiculous extremes, don't you think? I'm from Glencoe, Illinois, population 8,762. It's so small it doesn't even have a mayor, it has an appointed village manager. I'm sure that Paul Harlow is doing wonderfully at his job in the village - but I don't expect that he sees himself as even wanting to be a heartbeat from the U.S. President in 18 months. You know what the top news story is on the Glencoe website? "Fire Hydrant Painting Underway." (To be fair, it's the #2 story. The top news is a clarification about displaying political signage.)
Do you know what the first two "powers and duties" are for the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska? Check their municipal code:
1. Preside at council meetings. The mayor may take part in the discussion of matters before the council, but may not vote, except that the mayor may vote in the case of a tie;
If you live in small town America (and I mean really, really small), look around you and be honest - do you see your mayor (or village manager) as a heartbeat from the presidency in 18 months?
But that's not the reason either that the decision to make Sarah Palin the VP nominee is so terrible.
It's one thing to discuss how unqualified Sarah Palin is. That's a national matter and huge. But on a grassroots political level, her nomination takes away the Republicans' ONLY weapon in the campaign - calling Barack Obama inexperienced. They haven't even been trying to run on the issues, or on the eight-year record of George Bush, which John McCain has supported almost 95% of the time. They've only been running on the faux-issue of Barack Obama's experience of 14 years in federal and state government. Yes, Sarah Palin is merely running for VP, not president, but with a 72 year-old candidate with a history of serious medical issues, this is who they're saying is able to step in as president in a heart-beat. She has so little experience that she makes Sen. Obama look like FDR, Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar combined. So, the Republicans pulled the rug out from under themselves. They have no issues. The economy? Housing? The national debt? Education? The Environment? Iraq? Afghanistan? Nothing. All they have is "Dear Democratic women: please pretend our VP candidate is Hillary Clinton. Just forget that she's pro-life. And against most things Democrats stand for."
But that's not the reason the decision is so terrible.
Because if the hope for John McCain is to get women to vote for him who otherwise supported Hillary Clinton - if anything could get Hillary Clinton campaigning in full force and fury...this is it. She likely would have campaigned hard, but it's in Hillary Clinton's best interest to be the leading voice for women, and the leading woman candidate for president in the future, so having another woman as the potential Vice President (and potential President) is a significant challenge to that. The Republicans just opened Pandora's Box and brought Hillary Clinton roaring to Barack Obama's side on the Democratic train. And Bill Clinton, too.
Yet even that's not the reason the decision is so terrible.
What this does in the most profound and grandiose way possible is give lie to John McCain's pompous posturing that he Always Puts America First. And that undercuts the most prominent campaign issue of his entire career, that everything he does is for reasons of honor. There is nothing honorable about making Sarah Palin your vice presidential nominee. Nothing. Unless you define honor as "blatantly pandering."
But that's not the reason either that this decision is so terrible.
But before we get to that, let's look at the actual announcement to make Gov. Sarah Palin (AK - pop. 683,000) the Republican nominee for president, and put the horrible decision in perspective.
First, John McCain stood at the podium, looking up-and-down reading his speech. It's impossible not to compare that to Barack Obama giving his majestic speech the night before that even conservative analysts were admiring in awe.
Second, the cameras were polite enough to avoid it, but there were empty seats in the gym. It's impossible not to compare that to a stadium of 75,000 people that Barack Obama spoke to the night before.
Third, when people around the nation were waiting to hear about Sarah Palin's qualifications and gravitas to be Vice President of the United States, the first five minutes of her speech were spent talking about her husband being a champion snowmobiler.
Fourth, when she finally got around to her qualifications, pretty much all we discovered was that she fought to cut property taxes. And then, she basically stopped there.
She did, however, mention becoming energy self-sufficient - by talking about how she supported drilling in Alaska!!! Perhaps to Republicans this is being an environmentalist, but to most of America, not so much. Then again, she's also against putting polar bears on the endangered species list (which the government did), so maybe her environmental qualifications are more lax than she thinks.
And then, finally, she spent the rest of her time praising John McCain. Fine, that's very supportive of her...except that the one question on everyone's mind was not -- "can you say John McCain is a swell guy and tell us that he was a POW", the question on everyone's mind was - "Who in God's name are you, and please tell us why you should be a heart-beat from the presidency?"
In the end, the only case she herself made for being on the ticket was praising Hillary Clinton! That's it, period. Now, it might be enough to attract some women -- but it doesn't make a case for the ticket. Why? Hint: some women did vote for Hillary Clinton solely because she was a woman. But most women voted for Hillary Clinton because she was a Democrat, as well as a woman, who stood for important Democratic values they seriously believed in. If Sarah Palin wants to praise Hillary Clinton, go for it. But at least understand what you're praising. Because it will likely come back and bite you.
It was a thin, nothing, empty speech. It was a speech to be head of the Chamber of Commerce. Compare that to the speech by Joe Biden when Barack Obama introduced him. Eloquent, soaring and explaining in blunt detail why John McCain should not be president. Joe Biden must have been watching Sarah Palin's speech, in order to take notes in preparation for his debate with her and thought, "This isn't fair."
And all that's not even the reason the decision is so terrible.
The reason is because the election is not about Sarah Palin. Or about Joe Biden. As much as TV analysts want to be excited by the balloons and hoopla, tomorrow the air will be let out, and there are still over two months to go for the campaign.
The campaign is about Barack Obama and John McCain.
Sarah Palin's nomination doesn't change that. In fact, it reinforces it. Nothing about putting Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket changes a word that Barack Obama said in his vibrant acceptance speech - about himself, about his issues, and about John McCain's repeatedly faulty judgment on the critical issues facing America.
What Sarah Palin's nomination does do is focus attention on John McCain's age. Indeed, the nomination was made on his birthday, when he turned 72, the oldest man ever to run for president. As the crowd sang "Happy Birthday to You," you almost sensed that through John McCain's clenched smile, saying, "Thanks for reminding me," that what he was thinking underneath was "Please, oh, please, don't sing the 'How old are you now?' part." And how good a message was it that he's saying he supposedly forgot it was his birthday?
Vice presidents are usually selected as people who are adept at blasting the other side's presidential candidate, because it's only the presidential candidate that matters. Joe Biden has already done that - twice - at length, spoken as someone who knows John McCain well and likes him. Sarah Palin had her first chance...and whiffed. Didn't even try. And it's hard to imagine what she has in her arsenal that will remotely allow her to do so in the future.
The election is about the presidential candidates. And the selection of Sarah Palin now allows Barack Obama to campaign untouched by the Republican ticket. John McCain's only other option is for himself to personally become negative for two months - which is disaster in presidential politics.
Now add on all the problems expressed above. Sarah Palin's inexplicably laughable lack of substance, most-especially on the foreign policy stage. Her taking away the one issue, experience, Republicans were even attempting. Her pushing away voters who might otherwise be willing to vote for a senator with 26 years in the Senate. Her bringing Hillary Clinton aggressively back into the campaign. Her inability to offer anything to off-set Joe Biden. Her standing as supposedly the most-qualified Republican woman as John McCain's first decision.
And, in the end, it all focuses back on Barack Obama, with his indictment of eight years of the Bush Administration and of John McCain's flawed judgment - and John McCain's defense of all that.
Republicans might be dancing earlier today, because there was a lot of fun music playing. But the music has stopped. The actual campaign has now started. For Republicans, it might have ended.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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