By Tommy Hough
For most of the summer I've been figuring this was going to be a close race between John McCain and Barack Obama, and the polling numbers leading up to the Democratic convention seemed to confirm this, pretty much an even 50/50 split.
In the wake of McCain's disturbing V.P. choice, however, I'm feeling pretty good about calling this for Obama now. There are other reasons why Obama has the edge, but picking Palin doesn't seem to bring anyone else to the ticket who wasn't already on board or leaning towards voting for McCain, and the immediate reaction I've seen has been an angry turn-off of moderates who were waiting to see how McCain handled his first presidential-style choice.
The reasons for Governor Palin's selection says more about the alleged judgment of an elderly John McCain, and a Republican party growing more desperate to be interesting, engaging, welcoming or having something to do with the charisma that comes so effortlessly to Obama. Like their desire to drill for oil in every nook and cranny of the continent to keep their status quo-benefiting pals at Exxon afloat, the GOP is bankrupt. It's not that the Republican Party doesn't have bad ideas – but lately, is seems they have no ideas.
So what do they do? They call Obama a Muslim (intended to be bad, apparently) and send out mysterious e-mails alleging he attended Pakistani madrasas. Classy. McCain spent a month bashing the guy because he has nothing to say about himself, and at the exact moment when McCain needs to step up and deliver some content and win over moderates waiting on the fence for him, he passes over a solid crop of seasoned, ready-to-go running mates in favor of a cuddly western governor who also happens to be a gun nut, moose hunter, someone taking an interest in the untimely demise of polar bears and an evangelical pro-lifer. This is the young woman conservative Republicans apparently think McCain needs.
However popular Gov. Palin may be in Alaska, despite being under investigation – almost a rite of passage for GOP politicians these days – for using state employees to settle petty family disputes, the reality is she's so far to the right she makes George W. Bush look like a liberal. The decision is so crassly, transparently political none of McCain's ardent supporters will even notice. But what about the rest of the country?
I have problems with gun nuts and folks who are trying hasten the extinction of polar bears being vice president, and as much of a reformer as she claims to be in Alaska, she's every bit an oil person as Bush, she's just clearing the old guard out of the way in Alaska for her and her husband – a man who spends his time running dogs to death in the Iditarod, perhaps while leaving a trail of litter across the Alaskan interior.
A V.P. choice generally doesn't have a huge effect on the outcome of a presidential election, but it shouldn't get in the way either, i.e. Sen. Tom Eagleton in 1972. This first rule is always to do no harm. Whoever picked Palin, whether it was McCain or party operatives who forced the decision on him, they failed the single-most important criteria for choosing a running mate: someone who can immediately step in and take over as president should something happen to the Commander in Chief. It's the first presidential decision a candidate has to make, and it's not something you fool around with. McCain just flunked it. So much for his good judgment.
As much as I despise Dick Cheney, he's clearly competent even with his Darth Vader tendencies, and if something happened to W there's no doubt in my mind he would adequately be able to handle being president, provided his heart was able to handle the surprise (the martial law would come later). Lots of folks weren't nuts about Al Gore being vice president in the 1990s, but even Clinton detractors knew if something happened to the president, Gore could've likewise stepped in and governed effectively.
In the event something happens to the president, the business of the executive branch needs to be able to continue with at least someone competent who could ask the right questions from Day One. The same holds true for other competent, if not always brilliant V.P.s, some of whom became or ran for president themselves, like George H.W. Bush, Walter Mondale, Nelson Rockefeller, Gerald Ford, Hubert Humphrey, LBJ, Richard Nixon – and an unknown senator from Missouri named Harry Truman, who had to be called upon to wrap up a little something called World War II and then manage the beginning of the Cold War after his boss died.
In a tragic situation like JFK's assassination, you had perhaps one of the most gifted politicians of the 20th century in the form of LBJ able to step in and take over the business of the executive branch (and interestingly, immediately began to get the legislative results that had always eluded JFK). What's Gov. Palin going to do if something happens to McCain? Ask for help finding Ukraine on the map? Obama has lived overseas and spent time from Asia to Africa in addition to the U.S., and McCain's overseas credentials as a veteran and lawmaker are unimpeachable. Has Sarah Palin ever been out of the country before?
The selection of Gov. Palin proves the Republicans remain curiously obsessed with Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and somehow think putting a female western governor on the ticket with McCain will entice Hillary supporters without anyone noticing the litany of concerns about her far-right positions, which include all the sexy GOP fundamentals from the Bush years you'd think they'd be screaming to get away from by now, like an eagerness to drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the aforementioned gun nut concern and a clear-conscience ability to allow the hunting of polar bears and Alaskan gray wolves from helicopters.
Obama has proven he's ready to lead, and made it a point to display his ability to listen and make good decisions, particularly in naming working-class Delaware senator and foreign policy whiz Joe Biden as his running mate. Is Sarah Palin really ready to take over the helm of the United States during a time of war and economic fluctuation? Hillary Clinton would've been, but it's not because she doesn't have a Y chromosome – doesn't the Republican Party brass understand this?
Even a man on Sean Hannity's website, of all places, wrote:
Scary Scenario: Like [William Henry] Harrison, McCain dies 30 days into office as the newly elected President. We then turn to a 44-year old mother of five and say, "We are at war in Iraq [and Afghanistan]. Iran threatens. Russia will test you. China will test you. North Korea will test you. The economy is in crisis. Use your degree in journalism and the two years you served as Governor of Alaska and lead us through the trials we now face. Despite the fact you have a son in Iraq and an infant to care for at home and the task before you may seem overwhelming, you cannot falter, you must not let emotion overcome you, you must guide and protect the citizens of this nation. How can conservatives criticize Obama for his lack of substance and yet applaud the Palin pick as brilliant?
Obviously I don't agree with the entirety of this man's comment, but if you're a GOP bigwig who's been a little on the fence about McCain, would you be writing a check in support of this ticket, especially after qualified individuals like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Kay Bailey Hutchinson were passed over?
Granted, the voters the McCain/Palin 2008 ticket may be chasing at this point may be kindly considered "low information," but the faultlines are already appearing in the GOP, and my guess is more Republicans will now cross the line to vote for Obama. Even the always-annoying blowhard Charles Krauthammer writes in the Washington Post:
The Palin selection completely undercuts the argument about Obama's inexperience and readiness to lead. To gratuitously undercut the remarkably successful 'Is he ready to lead' line of attack seems near suicidal.
In The National Review, David Frum writes:
The longer I think about it, the less well this selection sits with me. If it were your decision, and you were putting your country first, would you put an untested small-town mayor a heartbeat away from the presidency?
Even in Palin's native Alaska, in the city where she opted to be inaugurated over the state capital Juneau, the local Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published a staff editorial saying Palin "is not ready for the top job."
Two friends of mine who are both political moderates were waiting to see who McCain picked for his running mate. Both are now happily voting for Obama, but one of them is particularly angry and feels betrayed at what he sees as the purely political machinations behind what was an important decision for McCain. As a Hillary supporter and then a McCain supporter, he feels his intelligence has been insulted. He thought he was backing the 2000 version of John McCain. But the real John McCain wants to be president too much, and will clearly say or do whatever he needs in order to get there, with the help of a former Karl Rove lieutenant leading him by the nose.
McCain's "tried and true" judgment? Either way it's disturbing. If he picked Gov. Palin, what does that say for his judgment? If the party chose Palin for McCain, what else are they going to put on McCain's plate, or in his mouth? As my friend has repeatedly noted, he's a long way from the John McCain of 2000. The Economist said it best this week, with "We want the old McCain back."
I have a feeling Republicans are going to wake up on November 5th stunned at the breadth of their loss.
Tommy Hough is a San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was a candidate for San Diego City Council in the 2018 election cycle.