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September 1, 2008
McCain Chooses Palin:
Its a Blind Date with Annie Oakley
In Washington, and
around the world, we are waiting for the first torpedo to hit the hull,
as they say. Having been broadsided ourselves in the extraordinary
selection of Sarah Palin by John McCain for his running mate, we who
cover politics are treading water.
polemicists are out in front praising, or damning, with a terrible
tribal loyalty. If the tribal leader says it is so, so it is. And why
not say it is brilliant, or catastrophic, while you are about it? Talk
is cheap, and the Internet and talk radio makes it plentiful. Oh so
Nobody really will
have much idea about Palin until that first torpedo fired is on its way.
It could be a gaffe on economics or foreign policy or something her
Democratic antagonists have dug up from what appears to be a Doris Day
past. We will begin to know her by how she responds.
We know that she is
a kind cartoon Westerner, a huntin', fishin', gun-totin' Annie Oakley
who is going to draw a bead on easy money in Congress and easy virtue
along K Street. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know all about that one. We also
know that, with the exception of Dick Cheney, no vice president has had
the power to affect much.
If the heroine from
the tundra makes it to Washington, Palin will have to do more than face
down oil lobbyists and wayward legislators. Her big challenge will be
the party chiefs and their financiers who helped get her elected.
Washington may be
corrupted by special interests, but it is also sustained by them.
Lobbyists not only control a lot of campaign money, they also own a lot
of knowledge. Because they know the industries they represent, in a
complex world, legislators need lobbyists lobbyists they feel they can
trust. At some level, every expert is a lobbyist. There are precious few
people with deep knowledge on any subject who do not hold opinions about
what they know. The smart legislator can sort out the frauds, like Jack
Abramoff, from those who work in the vineyards and know the grapes.
The selection of
Sarah Palin tells us very little about her but it tells us, again,
mountains about John McCain. (Disclosure: I have known McCain almost
since he came to Washington, and he has spoken at defense conferences I
used to organize.)
Yes, what McCain's
pick again tells us about McCain is that he is the most capricious of
senators, and that he can see no contradiction in his own contradictory
positions. McCainism is not conservatism. It is a view of the world
peculiar to the man who holds it. His grip on Republican orthodoxy,
outside of a right to life and a strong military, is tenuous.
Most of the
delegates now assembling in St. Paul would, one suspects, leave a
private chat with the man they are about to nominate shaking their
heads. They believe money is speech, he does not. They believe in
drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he does not. It
goes on and on.
More, they are
opposed to tokenism and quotas. But in selecting Palin, McCain has
perpetrated what must be the most cynical act of tokenism and quota
acceptance in recent political history. He also has again demonstrated
his unique capacity to be on both sides of an issue.
McCain's rap on
Barack Obama is that he is inexperienced. Now McCain has propelled the
neophyte's neophyte into the small group of people who might sit in the
Oval Office and lead the free world. Nearly one in three vice presidents
have become president. And McCain is not a young man.
His choice of Palin
suggests that McCain is either a cynic or a fatalist much more likely
the latter. The fatalist has no faith in orderly progression, but
expects happenstance to intrude and change the course of events. It was
fate that got McCain shot down and captured. It is McCain coercing fate
that has put Palin on the national stage. Win or lose, she will be there
for a long time.
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