Mere hours after the Democratic Party officially nominated the first black man to a major political party in United States history, John McCain announced that his vice presidential pick will be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She’s an intelligent, articulate, pro-gun, pro-life, pro-oil drilling, climate-change-denying conservative; more importantly, she’s a former beauty queen. McCain has been fiendishly eyeing Hillary Clinton’s leftovers for months, hoping to lure the New York senator’s disgruntled female followers into the fold, and Palin—what with her having breasts and a vagina—is his last-ditch attempt to seal the deal. The implication that those lingering Clinton supporters only care about how close their gender gets to the Oval Office (and with McCain celebrating his 72nd birthday yesterday, Palin will be just a heartbeat away) is not only naïve, but insulting to those very women. Surely they care more about the issues than settling a score with Barack Obama. Surely they realize that the 44-year-old Palin, a one-term governor of a state whose population exceeds only three others in the union, is not a suitable proxy for Clinton.
To be fair, there’s still a lot to learn about Palin (oddly, McCain’s decision has inadvertently managed to make Obama seem like a veteran politico—or at the very least, a household name), but her relative inexperience on domestic issues and wholesale inexperience on foreign affairs makes her an unusual pick for a candidate who has routinely criticized his opponent on those same points. Joe Biden shored up Obama’s ticket with a wealth of international experience, knowledge and know-how, but in addition to scoring votes, Biden would also be a valuable asset to an Obama presidency should they win the election in November. Palin, it seems, would not. The only way McCain’s selection could have been more cynical, more transparent a vie for votes, is if he had chosen Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, but at least she has the experience, if not the judgment or competency. As it stands, McCain’s pick completely undercuts the senator’s claim that he’s the candidate who puts “country first.” These are all things, it’s interesting to note, that Republicans, including King Reagan, took issue with when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential pick in 1984.
With her staunch opposition to Roe vs. Wade, Palin will certainly help turn out the Christian right on Election Day, and that—more so than an effort to corral Clinton voters—is likely what prompted the McCain campaign to take such a risk. (One wonders: If this ticket wins, and McCain were to peer over the wall of his presidential cubicle to reprise his alleged joke from the 1980s about a gorilla who beats and rapes a woman on the street for his new colleague, would Palin find it acceptable if it were revised to include a punchline about the woman deciding to keep her half-breed baby?) Despite the fact that Palin is an obvious right-wing ideologue, some view this whole VP charade as an attempt to renew McCain’s maverick image. But when it comes to abortion rights and almost every other issue, it’s Obama who seems most willing to reach across the aisle and govern in a post-partisan fashion, as evidenced by his exceptional acceptance speech on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention:
“We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise—the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.”
With most of the electorate reeling from eight years of oilmen running the country into the ground, a VP who denies the validity of climate change science and sues to have polar bears removed from the Endangered Species List because it hurts the oil industry’s bottom line could damage the ticket to the extent that it solidifies the left’s claim that a McCain White House represents four more years of Bush-Cheney. Whether the gamble will pay dividends or not remains to be seen. What is clear is that the McCain campaign has succeeded at its first objective: Palin, and not Obama’s speech, is the subject of this editorial.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.