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 V.P. choice, however, I'm feeling pretty confident about calling this for Obama now. There are several 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 McCain. 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-level decision.
The reasons for Governor Palin's selection says more about the judgment of John McCain, and a Republican party growing more desperate to be interesting, engaging, welcoming, or having anything 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 (they have plenty), but lately, is seems as though 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. McCain spent a month bashing Obama 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 more seasoned running mates in favor of a governor who is a gun nut, moose hunter, an evangelical pro-lifer and someone who takes an interest in the untimely demise of polar bears. Is this the future of the Republican Party? It's certainly the person conservative Republicans think McCain needs.
However popular Gov. Palin may be in Alaska, despite being under investigation for using state employees to settle petty family disputes, the reality is she's so far to the right she makes George W. Bush appear measured. The decision is so crassly, transparently political perhaps 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 becoming 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 to benefit herself 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, as was the case of Sen. Tom Eagleton in 1972. This first rule is 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 has demonstrated they can immediately and step in and capably 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 good judgement.
As much as I despise Dick Cheney, he's clearly competent. If something happened to W there's no doubt he would capably handle being president, provided his heart was able to handle the surprise (the martial law would come later). Al Gore had his detractors as 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 thing called World War II and then manage the beginning of the Cold War after his boss died.
In a tragic situation like President Kennedy's murder, the nation at least had one of the most gifted politicians of the 20th century in the form of Lyndon Johnson able to step in and take over the business of the executive branch, and interestingly, immediately begin to get the legislative results that had always eluded JFK. 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 Gov. Palin ever been out of the country before? However much of a punchline it may be, living near Russia doesn't count.
The selection of Gov. Palin also demonstrates Republicans remain obsessed with Hillary Clinton's candidacy, even though it's over. Do they believe placing a female governor on the ticket with McCain will entice Hillary supporters? How would a Hillary supporter not notice the litany of concerns about Gov. Palin's far-right positions, which include many positions even to the right of the fundamentals of the Bush years, like an eagerness to drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the aforementioned gun concern, a dismissive attitude toward torture, reactionary foreign policy, and a clear-conscience willingness to enable hunting polar bears and 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 experienced foreign policy hand Joe Biden as his running mate. Is Gov. Palin really ready to take over the helm of the United States during a time of war and economic fluctuation?
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 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, especially the sexism and questioning a mother's ability to lead, 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 Kay Bailey Hutchinson or Mitt Romney 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 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, former Bush administration staffer 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 Fairbanks, in Palin's native Alaska, the local Fairbanks Daily News-Miner published a staff editorial saying Palin "is not ready for the top job."
Two friends who are self-identifying political moderates were waiting to see who McCain picked for his running mate. Both are now happy to vote for Obama, though one of them feels particularly betrayed at the 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 force onto McCain's plate? As my friend has repeatedly noted, he's a long way from the "straight shooter" 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 Nov. 5th stunned at the breadth of their loss.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.