One Massive Blunder
John McCain, over the years, has been very meticulously building up a brand with the media as a serious, experienced "straight-shooting" politician, who was somehow a bit different from the other rubber-stamp Republicans.
Even though there was very little factual basis to this "maverick" image – he’s voted with George W. Bush 90 per cent of the time – the media always gave him the benefit of the doubt; and he was able to cultivate this perception to the point that he built up some appeal among self-described moderates.
In a year in which the Republican brand is in tatters, John McCain, with his "moderate" image, was his party's best bet to retain the White House after the eight-year Bush disaster. The party power structure agreed, and he won the nomination.
Then on Friday, August 29, 2008, John McCain took his "moderate" image out to the woods, fired five bullets into its head, and threw the body into the river. For good measure, he destroyed his reputation as a "serious" politician, and raised disturbing questions about his integrity, his competence, and his temperament. It was as spectacular a display of self-immolation as has been witnessed in American politics.
The swarm of problems that surround Gov. Sarah Palin have been well-documented. She's the focus of an abuse-of-power scandal at home. She's associated with an Alaskan separatist party. She lied about her opposition to Sen. Ted Stevens' infamous "bridge to nowhere." She bankrupted the small town she was mayor of. She pressured a local librarian to ban books. She raised taxes on groceries. She's firmly in the radical James Dobson camp. She even slashed funding for helping teenage mothers. It's been one disaster after another.
But this really isn't about how comically unqualified Sarah Palin is for the highest office in the land. She is who she is. The real problem here is the stunning lack of judgment shown by John McCain in selecting her as a running mate.
There's a reason presidential candidates subject vice-presidential prospects to a thorough vetting process – it’s essential to screen out candidates who might be embarrassments to the campaign. Barack Obama certainly took it seriously – one of his veep finalists, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, described the experience as an "electoral colonoscopy." He settled on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, a man who didn't really excite the Democratic base much, but who proved to be a competent, trustworthy, and reliable running mate. Senator Obama cited Senator Biden with an eye on building the most effective possible team to govern once he ascended to the presidency.
John McCain, by contrast, made an impulse buy. As Senator Obama's stirring speech on Thursday percolated and resonated across the nation, Senator McCain hastily looked to change the subject. So, he flailed around and tapped a running mate who has since proved that she has no business being a heartbeat away from the presidency – especially given the 72-year-old McCain's dubious health record.
Senator McCain did not pick Governor Palin because he'd done his due diligence and concluded that she would be the best person for the job. He picked her in a cynical and condescending attempt to peel off disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters (good luck with that), and also to ingratiate himself with the Republican Party's fundamentalist base, which has always been suspicious of him no matter how many radical preachers he seeks out for endorsements.
It was a panicky, sloppy, profoundly political selection. And his failure to vet Governor Palin has now blown up in his face. She's a walking scandal machine.
A smart vetting process would have found and addressed all of her liabilities before her name became public – and in all likelihood, moved on to a different running mate. Whatever the protestations of the McCain campaign as to the depth of their Palin vetting, it's obvious that the process was deeply flawed and inadequate, to say the least.
But even that's not the real issue here. The question we all now need to ask is: If John McCain is this slapdash and impulsive in selecting a vice presidential candidate, how can we possibly trust him to make reasoned, qualified decisions in times of national crisis? Is this how he's going to deal with Iran? With the economy? With climate change? Seat-of-the-pants decisions based on whatever's politically expedient at the moment?
A man with this kind of temperament does not belong anywhere near the White House. It's a dangerous enough world as it is. We don't need a man who's inclined to fight a fire by throwing gasoline on it.
With this one monumentally bad decision, John McCain has completely undone the image he had labored so hard to build over the years. There's no reason to give him chances to make some more bad decisions. America deserves better than that.