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AUGUST 29, 2008 5:33PM

McCain's Desperate Decision (Updated)

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You'll have to forgive me in advance for this one, I'm pulling no punches.

The media today is describing John McCain's selection of 44-year-old Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate as a "shake up" of the campaign. I agree completely. "Shake up" is what a desperate coach does to a boxer who's been pummeled so badly he threatens to collapse in the next round.

McCain's cheap, flailing selection of Palin certainly provided the media with plenty of flash - a flash in the pan. And a flash of the political middle finger to the country.

The Rovian calculations behind the decision to make her McCain's running mate are so transparent, so plainly insulting to the intelligence of the American people, it is one of the few things McCain could have done to actually make himself look even smaller and more petty in the wake of the Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama's history-making speech.

Does McCain, and whoever counseled him to make such a frivolous choice, really hold women in such low regard that he thinks they will automatically flock to his ticket merely because it has a female on it, despite the fact that this woman is staunchly anti-choice, and even favors teaching creationism in the classroom?

Do they have such a low opinion of Hillary Clinton supporters that they expect those supporters to defect in sufficient numbers solely to see a woman - any woman - become Vice President, despite the fact that she would likely be one of the most ignored and purely symbolic Vice Presidents since Dan Quayle, rendering completely empty the fact that a woman occupies that position?

Is the McCain campaign now so blatantly beholden to the radically fundamentalist religious right that they would rather send out a crass signal of their devotion to that backwards movement than ensure that the person who would take McCain's place is even remotely qualified for the most important and consequential office in the nation?

It will be easy for many to dismiss as trivial John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate, but in fact his decision was quite profound. Indeed, he decided today to make his sneering, opportunistic contempt for the American people indisputable and unmistakable, once and for all. Perhaps more importantly, however, McCain demonstrated yet again that his first instinct when presented with a challenging choice is to act recklessly and without any regard whatsoever for the potential consequences of his actions.


This is not a joke, but the actual statement of Lisa Schiffren, speechwriter to Vice President Dan Quayle:

My first response to the Palin choice was to say "Yaaay!" -- and to call my daughters to the TV. The GOP rarely hits those emotional chords -- or makes the edgier choice -- but John McCain has done it big-time by partnering with a young woman who worked her way up to the governorship of Alaska while happily married and raising five (!) children.

It is hard to imagine a more compelling choice for this election. She brings sizzle and energy the GOP ticket would have lacked with another white guy. Palin also highlights McCain's substantive commitment to real political change; to small government; and to actually cutting spending.

Barack Obama says that change comes to Washington, not from it. But Palin has already changed the way things are done. She has vigorously cut pork. She personally stopped the "Bridge to Nowhere." She has been tough on ethical lapses. At a moment when energy issues are central, Palin has been a forceful advocate of drilling in ANWR; that she is a hunter, a conservationist and Alaskan gives her street cred on the environmental aspect of this issue. She is a serious athlete -- and we shouldn't underestimate her willingness to hit hard.

McCain, the presidential nominee, has plenty of foreign policy experience -- the preferred order for a ticket. Palin might not win a debate with Joe Biden, but GOP voters look for action and forgive a lack of rhetorical elegance.

Talk about a role model for our daughters: Annie Oakley in the halls of power! With a newborn . . . and a son serving in Iraq. I am giddy!

John McCain truly has the distinction of being even more deeply unserious and cynical than George W. Bush.


Angry Mouse at Daily Kos (a woman, I believe) has a similar sentiment.


In the words of Karl Rove himself:

It would be a clear sign from the McCain campaign that they were going to be making a very strong bid for the women whom they see up for grabs -- both the traditional, swing independent suburbanites and then the Hillary Clinton supporters who remain disillusioned.

This decision was about as crass and transparent as one gets. Lest anyone dismiss this as obvious and unsurprising for a highly cynical McCain campaign, remember that not everyone will instantly regard it as such, and the narrative must be permitted to coagulate in the public's perception while the decision is still fresh.

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You nailed the Rovian crap in the Polin pick. When you listen/read the talking points that came out from the McSame campaign right after she was announced, you can see that they found someone who would fill in the most polling weak areas. McWar is a perfect next candidate for Rove, because McSame only cares about winning and doesn’t care what he has to say or do to make that happen.
Paul -

Exactly. I really think the pick demonstrates two main things: (1) blatant, empty political cynicism that even "ordinary folks" will notice; and (2) a naked, condescending belief that these ordinary folks are too stupid to know otherwise.
I think the Palin pick will, unfortunately, not fall so quickly on its face as you suggest.

However, as the weeks go by, I think it will become increasingly apparently to all but the real Republican die hards that Palin severely lacks the experience needed to be President.

And that will give the election to Obama/Biden.
Chris, this is a great post! I'm also saving this to give my children.

I talked to a friend today who is a die hard pro life Republican conservative (really--big time Texas millionaire) and he is insulted by the choice of Palin. He is giving serious consideration to voting for Obama--he actually was quite moved by his speech last night and this move by McCain has ticked him off.
Mary - I'm glad you mentioned that. It reminds me of another interesting pitfall of McCain's decision.

Two of the expected appeals of Palin are in substantial tension with regard to the targeted right-wing vote. On the one hand, she is expected to appeal to mouth-breathing social conservatives. On the other hand, the simple fact that she is a woman will give many of the males in this same group pause on a subconscious or even conscious level.

The equally perilous flipside is that any inherent appeal she might have with women is effectively stricken-out by her hardline anti-choice stand.

The choice is a terrible mess. It's a political Frankenstein borne of a jumble of abstract and incongruous considerations, without regard to the unintended signals that accompany it.

All the hallmarks of a truly desperate, flailing campaign.
Oops, I didn't mean to imply that your friend is sexist. I just had those other thoughts when you said "die hard pro life Republican conservative." Obviously, I don't know anything about your friend in particular.
Great post, Chris... crass and transparent pick indeed. I'm very curious about the VP debates.
Is the McCain campaign now so blatantly beholden to the radically fundamentalist religious right...

Yes. This has been another edition of short answers...
A basic difference between the Quayle pick and the Palin pick is this: We reasonably expected George H.W. to survive his term. With McCain, 72 and not in the best health, that's a real question. If anyone needed to pick someone ready to step in, it was John McCain.
There are no words for Lisa Shiffren other than she is certainly qualified to write speeches on right-wing talking points...

Only bit of good news to report: The first reaction of my office mate, original believer that George W Bush was the BEST president ever:

"McCain chose a woman?"

Later in the day, she acknowledged that she believed a mother should stay home with their offspring until the children are grown. In view of having a Down's Syndrome infant, I think she was appalled that Palin would accept the role of VP.

Maybe after my office mate thinks about it for awhile, she will feel differently. She is NO WAY, NO HOW, ever vote for Obama southern woman. But she was visibly put off by McCain's choice of running mate.

If she is a typical example of that thought process, the extreme ultra-right 1% who still hold respect for Bush as the President of the USA might not buy into McCain's choice for VP. Only thing is, they would never vote for a black man...
I watched a lot of the coverage yesterday morning. One thing that amazed me was the response of the various pundits and so-called journalists. Many of these people were very excited, and were talking about how this "energizes the race." Translating from journalist-speak into English, it meant that *they* were energized.

As I sat at home watching these smiling idiots on the tube gushing about Palin's "positives" that she brings to the ticket, I thought "yes, positives to the ticket, and nothing to the office of vice president" -- an office that she recently confessed she knew nothing about.

And I wondered if they might have those same smiles a year or two from now if Palin suddenly finds herself in the oval office, head of the American empire, her finger on the nuclear trigger, backed by her substantial experience as a hockey fan and hunter, and advised by whatever neocons and wingnuts happen to be around. At that point, will they still be "energized?"
Great post, Chris. Republicans show their true level of contempt for Hillary and her supporters - apparently, they believe that the main issue is voting for a woman, any woman, and not the issues that the particular woman who is Hillary stood for.

I agree with Mishima666 - if McCain drops dead of a heart attack in six months, how great will everyone feel that it is Palin guiding us through uncertain times. It is true that we don't know everything about her - and, contemptibly, the Republican party has chosen her and announced the choice in a timeframe that makes sure we can't find out enough about her to vote on anything except the narrative picture the media presents - and they're hoping that Hilllary supporters in particular, and women voters in general, are shallow enough to find the narrative enough, and ignore everything else that Hillary and many of us stand for, not the least of which is control over our own bodies, something Palin isn't really very interested in.
I guess McCain wanted youth and sex appeal to his tired ass. I can't say it surprises me to hear Day Quale's speech writer use the word, "Yaaay!" but I don't knwo what her nomination is going to compell anyone to do expect give a few college students a new icon for masturbatory fodder. In the long run, it will cost votes as Americans wake up to the deperate vacancy of the act and vaccuousness of the candidates. He might as well have picked Kathy Lee Gifford. I'm sure SP is an intelligent, capable woman, but a year and a half as governor is no criteria for running the most powerful democracy on the planet. Poise and poses will only get you so far.
At first, I thought Rove was behind this pick, too, but then I read Sidney Blumenthal's post at HuffPost, and the book discussion thread at FDL, in which he said that Rove was pushing for Romney, but that McCain really wanted Lieberman (and that Graham was really pushing for him). The result: Palin. McCain had to assert his independence, apparently. Blumenthal usually has good inside sources.
Polls are already showing this to be a less than stellar choice, and that's even in the generally most favorably immediate aftermath of the decision. Now, we're getting all sorts of questions cropping up.

This looked like a disaster of a decision to me from the start. Now we're beginning to see just how disastrous.
This was clearly a short-sighted pick aimed at stealing the thunder of an acceptance speech so moving that it literally brought tears to the eyes of many voters for the first time in decades. I honestly respect that Palin may be a genuine hero to many who share her views, but the fact is that her views could not be more contrary to those of Hilary Clinton, and it is an insult to women to assume that they will blindly support anyone with the same chromosomes.

And while it's ironic that someone who preaches teen abstinence without sexual education to go along with it now has a pregnant teenage daughter, those of us on the left tend to be very pragmatic about just this sort of thing. We will leave it to Palin's peers get all bent out of shape about it.

Side note: They say that "undecided voters" this late in the game represent either very uninformed voters or very shallow voters. Let's hope that this year's election isn't decided by who has the best sound-bytes or spin and is decided by the candidates' actual positions. We're way overdue for an election with a little substance.