The short-term politics of picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice-president on the Republican ticket are more astute than many Democrats are acknowledging. The pick has, in a moment’s notice, galvanized the religious right, brought abortion back into the spotlight, and re-energized John McCain’s candidacy for president as a maverick.
But the longer-term impact of the choice will likely undermine the confidence the American public will have in McCain’s decision-making.
If Palin’s choice as his running mate is indicative of his recklessness and willingness to gamble the nation’s security for a bump in the polls, then the American public must face the possibility that we would have another president in the White House who would rule by gut instinct, hasty and uninformed decisions, and a reluctance to fully vet an issue before making important decisions.
In choosing Palin, McCain had his first face-to-face conversation with her the day before his announcement; a time that his staff was still researching information about her past and her qualifications. On the day before making her selection public, the McCain staff found out about her 17-year-old daughter being five months pregnant — not an issue in itself, but the fact that it was unknown until the day before more than suggests that the vetting process was rushed and uninformed at the very least. Yet, McCain maintains — as Bush so often did — that the facts are not as they seem; that the contradictory evidence is just the other side making a big deal out of nothing. (It also points out the weakness of those who, like Palin, support abstinence over birth control.)
But brush the last-minute decision-making aside, and imagine this: While running for office as mayor of Wasilla, then a town of 5,000 people (that’s 3,000 fewer than Middlebury) she ran a campaign based on her opposition to abortion, her support of gun rights, her born-again Christian faith, and support of term limits — none of which had anything to do with the issues facing the city of Wasilla. She also appealed for advertising help to the state Republican Party and for the first time in its history — because small-town community elections are normally nonpartisan — the state party funded the ads. (Can you imagine a candidate conducting a race like that to run as chair of Middlebury’s selectboard?)
Even more jarring to the town, once in office, Palin fired or forced out of office the librarian, the public works director, city planner, museum director, the police chief and others — something unheard of in small town politics. In one particular action, she approached the librarian about banning some books, soon fired her, then reversed herself because of public outrage.
She also changed the town’s traditional ways with an edict that no town employee was to talk to the news media without her permission. As a local comparison, that would mean that Middlebury town manager Bill Finger, police chief Tom Hanley, town planner Fred Dunnington, the road commissioner or town clerk could not inform the public about their own areas of expertise without her approval. Why? Not because she wanted the public to know what was going on, but because she wanted to control what they knew.
Ah, yes, that’s pure conservatism straight from the playbook of Karl Rove and Bush — stifle the messenger, spin the message. And McCain, who famously refuses to address issues that challenge his beliefs, would seemingly follow suit with Palin’s staunch support.
Such facts resonate with voters — particularly after eight years of a federal government willing to tell bald-faced lies about the war, deny spying on fellow Americans, pursue illegal appointments in the U.S. Justice Department, conduct secret dealings with oil companies, turn a blind eye toward corruption with contractors in Iraq, and on and on. Electing a team that fundamentally embraces a secretive, closed-mouth approach to governance that would rival the Bush-Cheney years may not play all that well with voters.
But that is style. On the issues, know that: Palin is not only strongly anti-choice, she opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest; supported right-wing Pat Buchanan for president in 2000; thinks creationism should be taught in public schools; doesn’t think humans are a cause of climate change; has supported drilling for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge; sued the Bush administration for putting the polar bear on the endangered list because it might hamper oil production; and is fully supportive of Bush’s and McCain’s energy policy that favors big oil.
The clincher, of course, is her lack of experience, though experience isn’t nearly as important as judgment. As one commentator noted, Sen. Barack Obama’s perceived lack of experience has been thoroughly addressed during the past 18 months in the campaign. And it’s not just that he has gained experience running the campaign, but that his judgment passed the test of public approval in a tough, 50-state race. As Americans, we know Sen. Obama as a thoughtful candidate who has fought for what he believes, made well-informed decisions against the war even when it was popular to support it, and whose approach to politics has truly put the nation first — if by that what is meant is putting the people first, not big oil or big business or the banner of patriotism masking as public good.
Palin, on the other hand, is a virtual unknown, appointed by McCain without the public casting a single vote in her favor as a national leader who could be a heartbeat away from leading the nation with views that the vast majority of Americans reject.
McCain had earlier publicly subscribed to the belief that the chief obligation of the presidential candidate was to pick a vice-president who was qualified to serve as president. He discarded that notion without a thought of putting the country first, and chose instead to base his decision on the short-term political gamble that this choice might help his campaign in these last 60 days.
That sounds an awful like putting McCain and his party first, and the country second — just like it’s been under the Bush-Cheney reign these past eight years. It also causes a gap in credibility that McCain will be hard-pressed to refute.
Angelo S. Lynn