I must admit: when Senator McCain chose Sarah Palin, I thought the choice was brilliant, from purely a Republican strategic standpoint. Talk about energizing your base and bringing evangelicals into the fold! Guys like Tim Powlenty and Mitt Romney just wouldn’t have revitalized the campaign like Palin did. My conclusion was that McCain, coming out of the Republican Convention with an energized Party, would take the high road and engage Obama with a serious debate about policies and direction. Palin, like all Vice Presidential candidates, would be the attack dog. And the 527’s would swoop in and go after Barack on character and experience issues.
But then, the unthinkable happened: we learned that Governor Palin was a last-minute pick, and that McCain barely knew her. Unbelievable. And, as we now know, not properly vetted (Troopergate, for example). You mean to tell me in the weeks leading up to the convention, McCain and his team didn’t give the proper time and attention to one of the most important decisions to be made in the campaign? Jesus, we’re talking about running for Vice President of the United States and be backup to a 72 year old with a history of cancer.
I completely underestimated how stupid and incompetent John McCain and his team could possibly be in choosing a running mate. Another incriminating sign of how poorly the campaign was run. It just initially wasn’t on my radar screen. So here’s my takeaway of how this played out:
1. I can appreciate how some Republicans could initially ‘like’ Sarah Palin and her homespun, folksy, perky personality. I have been struck by how many guys in my golf sub-community who immediately took a liking to her; they think she is a very attractive, ‘hot’ woman. It’s one thing to lust after someone, but to vote for them to be Vice President of the Untited States? Early in the campaign, one recently said upon leaving the club, “I need to go home and see how ‘my girl’ is doing" (I know, ugh). The whole thing was a little weird, you know? Her rallies, while initially attended by a lot of hockey Moms, quickly morphed into predominantly guy-heavy events. You never saw that at a Hillary Clinton rally, did you? That was an early tip-off that Palin was taking the ticket down. Sarah Palin was not brought on the ticket to help with the male voter.
Trying to appeal to the Hillary voter with Palin’s lack of substance and her positions on most social issues was insulting to that electorate and never gained traction. Palin’s ability to alienate so many women so quickly who were initially very receptive to her candidacy was shocking. 85% of Hillary voters ended up supporting Barack at the polls. It’s truly a case study for the ages of how not to run for a higher office in this land as a female candidate trying to appeal to fellow women.
2. Then there’s the matter of Sarah Palin’s lack of intelligence and huge deficits in the knowledge department. To be clear, Palin possesses excellent political ‘street smarts’ and knows how to campaign in front of a partisan crowd. But that’s not what I’m talking about: I’m referring to the fact that Palin is just not 'smart’, much less 'world smart’; she didn’t learn much when she went to school, and she demonstrates an overall lack of understanding of what Vice Presidents and Presidents need to have a real handle on: stuff like foreign affairs, the Supreme Court, the economy, things like that.
Intelligence matters. If there is anything we should have learned in the last 8 years, intelligence matters. Conviction is not more important than analysis. I am deeply offended by attempts to equate intelligence with elitism; as Jon Meacham points out, “it is not about educational or class credentials, but more about the pursuit of excellence where you started your life.“
Sarah Palin is completely unqualified to have run for the office of Vice President of the United States of America. Her verb-deprived sentences often amount to word salad. We have over 300 million people in this great land and this was the best the Republicans could come up with?
3. I knew that Sarah Palin was going to appeal to the red meat of the Republican Party. But what really surprised me was that she not only scorned liberal ideas (that certainly wasn’t a shocker), but scorned ideas entirely. There is an anti-intellectualism, anti-smart vibe that permeates her entire being. To be an attack dog in the historical sense of the word is one thing; but Sarah Palin has taken it to an extreme, a combustible mix of “My God is Better Than Your God” and "Real America” party-damaging hatespeech.
One aspect of Palin’s incredibly divisive politics and her inciting rhetoric has not really been covered much by mainstream media: from what I could gather from the Obama campaign, every time Palin launched an outrageous claim about Barack’s love of country, the Obama donations went off the charts! The effect that Sarah Palin’s polarizing politics had in generating incremental donations for Barack Obama’s campaign was HUGE. It was the campaign’s secret weapon to getting more money into the campaign. Every time Sarah said one her trademark “he’s palling around with terrorists,” donations would spike. It was the gift that kept on giving. And now, post-election, shows no signs of stopping!
4. And when you can finally extract a ‘position’ from Palin’s alternate language universe, on matters like right to choose, global warming, the war in Iraq, the economy and dealing with our many crises, etc., I can safely say that they are positions that I disagree with. As Governor, she has regularly blurred the line between church and state, traveling exclusively at taxpayer’s expense (and taking her well documented per diems) to Christian gatherings and promoting religious causes. And supporting the Dick Cheney manic interpretation of the role of the Vice President (her words: “we have a lot of flexibility in there” under the Constitution): Palin is way, way on the opposite side of my beliefs. Like in the next universe. There should never be another Vice President like Dick Cheney, who played such a major role in starting the war in Iraq, in misleading Americans about weapons of mass destruction, just to name a few items that will forever be part of his tarnished legacy.
There has been some post-election conjecture that Palin can go into a library for the next four years and bone up on her knowledge of the world, then come back as a new-and-improved candidate for 2012. To that I say: Bring It On! I really mean that; it would be great to have her at the top of the ticket for 2012. She is more polarizing to more people than Hillary ever was (and Hillary upset a lot of Republicans). Sarah Palin has The Stink of not being smart. And having a complete lack of intellectual curiosity. And it will be virtually impossible to get that stink off. Republicans would be much, much better off bringing in a uber-smart Bobby Jindal than Sarah Palin to run in 2012. We will see.
And here is perhaps the most damning aspect about the McCain-Palin ticket. Once you reach the conclusion (as so many key Republicans, like Colin Powell, did) that Sarah Palin is completely unqualified, you have to ask yourself: what does that say about the judgment of John McCain? It’s one thing to be Sarah Palin and not have the sense to realize that running for VP is getting in way over your head; that’s where blind ambition will lead you. And having a limited desire to learn and the ability to achieve through pure force of personality.
But what in the hell was John McCain thinking? Or not thinking about?
Stay tuned to my next and last post of the post-election recap.