September 15, 2008
The Palin choice-9: McCain's recklessness
(For previous posts in this series, see here.)
When I first heard that John McCain had selected Sarah Palin, my initial hypothesis was that this was a desperation move, a sign that the campaign's internal analyses were suggesting that the seemingly close national polls were misleading and they were going to lose unless they did something to break out of the rut. It seems like that initial impression was right.
The Palin choice is being portrayed by media analysts as a sign that the McCain campaign felt they needed to solidify the campaign's right wing, evangelical base. Perhaps that is true. It is undoubtedly the case that that group seems very excited by the choice.
But the reports about last minute decisions suggest that there is very little coherence to their campaign strategy. After all, all the indications are that right up till the end, McCain had really wanted Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge but had been warned away from them, saying that this same base would revolt.
But Lieberman and Ridge are not very similar to Palin on social issues. So to lurch abruptly from them to Palin suggests that such policies don't matter at all to McCain, not if he risks losing because of them. It looks like McCain would risk putting the country in untested hands simply to salvage his chances of winning, which makes a mockery of his boast that he "puts country first".
As Kyle Moore says:
At the first sign of trouble, McCain abandoned his game plan and went instead with a high risk maneuver that thus far seems to have some pay off, but is coming with a high cost.
What does that say about how he’ll behave in the realm of foreign policy? Will he abandon any semblance of a safe and tested plan in favor of a high risk move that will put us and our families in danger? What about terrorism? In a McCain administration, I think that this indicates that instead of pursuing a smart and tough anti-terrorism policy, he would engage in a reckless and reactionary response that would only make us less safe and likely put us in another war.
We can discuss the lack of qualifications for Sarah Palin, and there are plenty, but the biggest problem is that it indicates that John McCain’s temperament and judgment is far below the standards necessary to serve in the Oval Office.
Steve Benen adds:
So, what are we left with here? John McCain met Sarah Palin in person once, for 15 minutes. Months later, he then talked to her on the phone for five minutes. Four days later, without a thorough background check, he invited her to be vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
Sensible people of sound mind and character simply don't do things like this. Leaders don't do things like this. Those fundamentally unsuited for the presidency do things like this.
Even David Frum, a conservative and former speechwriter for George W. Bush says over at National Review Online:
The longer I think about it, the less well this selection sits with me. And I increasingly doubt that it will prove good politics. The Palin choice looks cynical. The wires are showing.
. . .
I'd guess that John McCain does not have a much better sense of who she is, what she believes, and the extent of her abilities than my enthusiastic friends over at the Corner. It's a wild gamble, undertaken by our oldest ever first-time candidate for president in hopes of changing the board of this election campaign. Maybe it will work. But maybe (and at least as likely) it will reinforce a theme that I'd be pounding home if I were the Obama campaign: that it's John McCain for all his white hair who represents the risky choice, while it is Barack Obama who offers cautious, steady, predictable governance.
Here's I fear the worst harm that may be done by this selection. The McCain campaign's slogan is "country first." It's a good slogan, and it aptly describes John McCain, one of the most self-sacrificing, gallant, and honorable men ever to seek the presidency.
But question: If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?
Other Republican party stalwarts like Michael Murphy and Peggy Noonan are equally worried about what this choice says about McCain, as was revealed by their comments to MSNBC's Chuck Todd when they thought their microphones were off.
(You can read transcripts of the comments here.)
If anything, this entire episode confirms reports that McCain is hot-headed and reckless, a dangerous trait for a president to have. Furthermore, it reveals that these people are very unserious, caring little for policy, and viewing elections as entirely tribal feuds, appealing to the worst of passions, and further trivializing the process.
Now that the lightweight Palin has been picked, the McCain campaign is desperately trying to change the focus of the discussion. Their campaign manager is now saying that this election will not be about issues but about people.
I read that as a signal that we are now going to see a campaign based purely on culture wars (god, family, sex, abortion, race) and the politics of tribal resentments. It worked for the Republicans in 2004 on the issues of gay marriage and the ten commandments.
This time they are trying to sell the idea that McCain and Palin represent 'real people' who will bring change. This Tom Toles cartoon points out the hypocrisy of McCain campaigning as the agent of change. But will it work?
POST SCRIPT: Video of Palin pork
The hypocrisy of Palin/McCain on the earmarks issue:
And cartoonist Mike Luckovich gives his take.