Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Setting the Palin Narrative. Part 2.

It seems strange to feel compelled to address a vice-presidential debate in the midst of such economic chaos. For a long time throughout American history, the selection of a VP was treated as an afterthought by the vast majority of the public and media. Of course the danger has always existed that one day a man (or woman) might be called on to fulfill the most important obligation of the #2 executive- getting that last promotion to the Oval Office. In fact I count nine men who have had to assume the responsibilities of the presidency unexpectedly. This exclusive group included such luminaries as John Tyler, Chester Arthur, Gerald Ford, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Calvin Coolidge. It's hard to imagine the voters would have chosen them to execute the duties of the Chief Executive.

While some have suggested that it's in poor taste to point out that John McCain presents a particularly high risk of expiring in office, the reality is that if elected he would be the oldest president ever to assume the position. It's difficult to believe that the candidate himself hasn't thought about this possibility. He could hardly ignore the repeated requests from reporters and opponents asking for the release of his medical records. But on the other hand, many are scratching their heads over his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Quite a few commentators from both sides of the aisle have leveled charges that John McCain has exercised poor judgment in making his very first "executive decision".

Yesterday I published a post that outlined the GOP creation of a public persona for Sarah Palin. That formulation is increasingly coming under intense scrutiny. You can't convincingly argue that your state's proximity to Russia makes you a foreign policy expert, especially if you've never even crossed that "small maritime border". It simply fails to inspire confidence in any rational citizen. If you do slip up and try to make that case, you certainly don't repeat it ad nauseum until you have become a laughingstock on a national scale. Similarly, when asked to give one single example of an economic reform that your running mate has accomplished, you don't respond with generalizations and clich├ęs. You just answer the question. If you can't, then you have no business representing a ticket promising "change" in Washington.

I think that the McCain campaign realizes all of this. That's the reason why they have gone to great pains to keep Sarah Palin from being freely questioned by the media. It's not to develop an "air of mystery and seduction". It's not to give her time to "get up to speed". It's not to allow her time with her family. The truth is that McCain and Co. realize that they risk embarrassment every time that they send Palin out alone to another interview. That's why John McCain is always at her side when she's making stump speeches to her rabid followers. That's why the McCain campaign won't allow her to do press conferences. That's why John McCain felt compelled to return to Katie Couric's soundstage and interrupt Palin's answers to reasonable questions.

Some critics have suggested that the McCain campaign's strategy of protecting Palin from the media is sexist at its core. I'm not sure if I buy that. To my mind her gender has NOTHING to do with the fact that she is unprepared, uninformed, and inarticulate in unscripted conversations. There are just as many men who evince these traits, and just as many women that are certifiable geniuses when it comes to political communication. I'm sure that Palin being a fundamentalist Christian woman with extremely socially conservative views made her initially attractive in "the vetting process". But the bottom line is that the McCain campaign could not have known what they were getting, or they would have made an alternative choice. They are stuck. As you know, you have to go to war with the Sarah Palin you have, not the Sarah Palin you thought you were getting.*

*My apologies for evoking memories of Mr. Rumsfeld.

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