The good Marshall of Tombstone set the country a titter with his nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for the Vice Presidency. It was an act of political desperation in the wake of Barack Obama's triumphal performance days earlier in Denver in which after securing the Democratic nomination he led the party from the convention hall to what once was called “Mile High” stadium to deliver an acceptance speech before and audience of 85,000. The speech was a masterpiece, conveying hope and promise in these troubling times. Falling in the polls by nearly 7 points, McCain knew he had to have a “game changer”. He chose Sarah Palin. In so doing, the Marshall of Tombstone attempted to put a populist veneer on the politics of greed. Lipstick on a pig.
Last week saw the much heralded debate between Palin and the Democratic nominee for Vice President, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Biden brought to the debate the experience of 30 years in the Senate, including chairmanships of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees. Palin brings 18 months as governor of Alaska during which time she has embroiled herself in an abuse of power fracas involving a former brother-in-law. She now stands as the only candidate for national office in the history of the United States to stand for election while under supenoae. The debate began amicably enough when she greeted the senator on stage and asked if she could call him Joe. Thats where civility ended. During the ensuing 90 minutes the governor rambled on reciting apparently well memorized “talking points” of the Republican National Committee-- none of which were true-- and playing the guttersnipe. Finally, near the end, she boldly announced that she would answer only questions she wanted to answer in the way she wanted to answer them, in effect telling the moderator and the audience that they could collectively go to hell.
Later Kieth Olbermann in his “Countdown” program on MSNBC, pointed out that debates, if they serve any purpose at all, are meant to throw the candidates into situations that most closely resemble governing. Situations wherein they have no control over the subject matter nor the order in which they appear. Palin steadfastly refused to follow the format, suggesting an unease with reality as it usually presents itself.
Much was made of the governor in the days following the Republican convention. She was experienced they said, she was poised they said, she was ready they said. But for the first time in our national experience a candidate for Vice President was kept from the media and the talk circuit, even kept off the Sunday morning talk shows after the first Presidential debate between Obama and McCain. McCain campaign aids descended upon the Palin group and threw a protective ring around her, shielding her from the public and limiting her exposure to well orchestrated photo-ops and campaign rallies. Finally a few interviews were authorized, most notably with Charles Gibson and Katie Curic, in which our worst fears were made manifest. She was rambling, repetitive, unfocused, sounding very much like the Dana Garvey's savaging of Pappy Bush in the late 80's endlessly repeating “stay the course, a thousand points of light”....Her performance was laughable were it not so painful to watch. Accordingly her standing in the polls plummeted. By debate time several influential conservatives, including writers at the National Review were calling for her to do the right thing and resign from the ticket.
By Tuesday night the whole world was watching, Nearly 70 million Americans tuned in to see if she would self-destruct on national television. Such is the nature of American politics, a truly blood sport. The issue by Thursday night was not whether she would win but whether she would survive. Armed with several talking points which, as the contest dragged on, became endlessly repeated, Palin managed to lay against the ropes and let the clock run out. By debate's end, fewer than a quarter of independent voters thought she had the right stuff.
Though her performance was unremarkable it was nevertheless telling for the points she kept reiterating were not only the same shopworn cliche's that Reagan had used so well but several hostile jabs at the stock jobbers on Wall Street. This, of course, did not translate itself into a full-throated call for re-regulation, on the contrary. But the spectacle of a Republican openly criticizing Wall Street was, nevertheless, worth the price of admission. More laughable was her steadfast criticism of “Washington insiders” and “Elites” as she was punching her ticket of admission.
The spectacle that has become Sarah Palin, however, says more about the Good Marshall than it does about the erstwhile candidate. The correct choice would have been Willard “Mitt” Romney. Romney had earned a spot on the ticket having challenged McCain and winning several states. More importantly he would have brought Michigan into the Republican column and perhaps put Massachusetts into play. But McCain did not have the courage to stand up to the Bible-thumping howlers on the political right who view Mormonism as a cult and, therefore, find Romney unpalatable. He could have chosen Lieberman and created a 'national unity' ticket much as Lincoln had done by choosing the Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee to run with him in 1864. Instead he chose Palin, a bone to the political Right which on balance might bring him three votes in the electoral college. By picking Palin the good Marshall demonstrated that he would prefer an empty blouse over substance, a vessel into which one can pour as much bull shit as one person can hold. In this she resembles 'Ol Two-Cows. The difference is that she apparently doesn't hold it very well.
Meanwhile the McCain camp announced as the world focused on the debate that they were pulling out of Michigan.