Presumptive Republican’t presidential candidate John “100 Years War” McCain celebrates his 72nd birthday today by choosing as his running mate Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old first-term governor of Alaska. An unconventional choice, to be sure, but one that also smacks of desperation and pandering.
A developing meme this afternoon seems to be that McCain’s choice of Palin is a “stunt,” one that, as Matt Yglesias of The American Prospect writes, “calls into question whether he really understands the nature of the job he’s running for.”
By all accounts, McCain doesn’t know Palin well. He didn’t even pick her as a surrogate for his campaign in Alaska. However, she’s respected (if not well known) by the GOP’s dominant right-wingers, is a longtime opponent of abortion rights, and has a son who’s preparing to be deployed to George W. Bush’s war on Iraq in the fall. What’s more, Palin’s advocacy of more oil drilling in the United States would seem to bolster McCain’s amply disproven assurance to Americans that they can immediately drill their way out of high gasoline costs.
Choosing Palin is a political calculation, pure and simple. Having her on his ticket is meant to shore up McCain’s wobbly relationship with the Christian fundamentalists and narrow-minded moralists who have taken control of the Republican’t Party. Furthermore, Senator Small may think that by selecting a woman as his running mate he can peel off some of those legendary disaffected Democratic women voters who, the media insist, remain upset that Hillary Clinton is not their standard bearer. But other better-known female GOP congresspeople (Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Olympia Snowe, etc.) must be furious to see McCain passing them over for a woman of so little experience; Palin has been governor of Alaska for only the last year and a half, and before that she was mayor of a tiny Alaska town most people have never even heard of. Women, in general, might be offended by the Arizona senator’s cynical belief that they will make decisions about presidential candidates based on their sex alone. But then, John McCain--notorious for calling his second wife a “cunt” and cheating on his first wife--doesn’t exactly model male respect for women.
All Republican’ts might be made uncomfortable by the fact that Palin is already under investigation in Alaska for abuse of power. (The last thing GOPers want is to be tainted once again with the “culture of corruption” label that decimated their numbers in Congress two years ago.) And when asked recently what a vice president does all day, Palin didn’t even know. Another sign of her inexperience, if not also her lack of curiosity.
What’s more, choosing Palin presents McCain with a serious problem. Almost his entire argument against Democrat Barack Obama becoming the 44th president has been that the Illinois senator is too young (at 47), with too little experience to lead the United States. What does it say about McCain’s judgment that he should now choose as his vice presidential candidate somebody who’s even younger than Obama, and can boast much less leadership experience? Compared with Palin, Obama looks like a veteran legislator. This becomes a significant issue because McCain, at 72, is the second-oldest person ever to run for a first term in the White House. (Only Bob Dole, who was 73 in 1996, surpassed him in age). Given McCain’s health problems, it’s not unreasonable to think that, were he elected to the presidency, he might die in office. So, what he’s telling the nation by choosing Palin is that he’s willing to leave it in the hands of somebody with no foreign policy credentials at all, and almost no government background, rather than allow the Oval Office keys to go to Obama--a guy who has the potential and intelligence to return the United States to economic solvency, restore its standing in the world, and rebuild the faith of voters in the presidency.
That’s irresponsible. That’s putting partisan politics above the welfare of the nation. Choosing Sarah Palin for his veep is McCain’s equivalent of George H.W. Bush tapping Dan Quayle as his running mate in 1988. Quayle, you’ll recall, was also in his early 40s, with little experience. And just remember what a wonder he was.
If, as is so often said by historians and pundits, choosing a running mate is the first test of a presidential candidate’s judgment, then McCain has clearly failed the test.
UPDATE: Even the conservative blogosphere seems wary of Palin, especially because her being chosen smacks so obviously of tokenism. As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in The Corner, The National Review’s blog, “Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”
READ MORE: “A Confounding Choice,” by Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly); “What Sarah Palin Means,” by Joan Walsh (Salon); “Reflections on the Palin Pick,” by Michael J.W. Stickings (The Moderate Voice); “Palin’ Alongside Biden,” by Harold Meyerson (The American Prospect); “Under Investigation: Palin,” by Robert Arena (AMERICAblog); “Palin on ‘Troopergate’ and Abortion,” by Jazz Shaw (The Moderate Voice); “Palin Denies Global Warming Is Man-made” (Think Progress).