Archive for September 2nd, 2008

The Politics of Palin

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

These are trying times for the Neurotic Democrat. I don’t do well with speed-of-light political change.

By Sunday, I was fairly sure McCain had taken the single step that could unite his base, peel off disaffected Clinton voters, and win himself the election.

And then came noon, Monday. I was at a park, in Akron, watching my 19-month-old delight in some little gnat-like bug that had landed on his slide, when I got the call from my mother-in-law about Palin’s daughter’s baby.

Kennedy’s assassination. Man landing on the Moon. Challenger disaster. 9-11. There I was on the playground, with another “where were you when” moment unfolding, right before my eyes.

I quick phoned my uncle, one of the smartest political prognosticators, and perhaps the most relentlessly optimistic Democrat and Rutgers fan, that I know. Let it be said — a full day before Intrade began taking bets that Sarah Palin would have to withdraw her candidacy — my uncle put the odds at roughly 30 percent. When he told me this, I was standing near some small shrubs, many with spider webs and reddish berries, a moment I will surely never forget, as long as I live.

As the day progressed, the Category 5 Neurosis I had been suffering as McCain successfully turned Gustav into a leadership moment, began subsiding. I mean — the hockey mom’s daughter is pregnant? Surely that will at least present a challenge to the ticket’s image, right? Still, I assumed it would be a rather low level Internet story. One that certainly wouldn’t punch through the night of the would-be GOP convention.

Last night, just before watching a Tivoed recording of my beloved Scarlet Knights vs. Fresno State, I logged onto Huffington Post, to find a full on, screaming headline: “What Did He Know and When Did He Know it?” above a picture of McCain and Palin. Among the headlines:

— A top GOP governor was already fielding questions about whether she would withdraw
— Palin was once a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, which, as part of its plank, has pushed for a vote on whether Alaska should secede.
— She was almost recalled, as mayor, in 1996, for firing the police chief and library director, who did not support her.
— She’d hired an attorney to defend her for allegedly firing her public safety director, who had refused to fire the cop that was going through a bitter divorce from Palin’s sister.
— Oh … and did I mention her daughter was pregnant.

And that wasn’t all of them.

I quickly clicked over to the New York Times, assuming, still, that the story wouldn’t have crossed over, only to find this article, which notes that Palin herself conceived her first child out of wedlock, and includes these grafs:

Aides to Mr. McCain said they had a team on the ground in Alaska now to look more thoroughly into Ms. Palin’s background. A Republican with ties to the campaign said the team assigned to vet Ms. Palin in Alaska had not arrived there until Thursday, a day before Mr. McCain stunned the political world with his vice-presidential choice. The campaign was still calling Republican operatives as late as Sunday night asking them to go to Alaska to deal with the unexpected candidacy of Ms. Palin.

Although the McCain campaign said that Mr. McCain had known about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy before he asked her mother to join him on the ticket and that he did not consider it disqualifying, top aides were vague on Monday about how and when he had learned of the pregnancy, and from whom.

When I read this article, I was sitting on my rug, leaning against the blue couch, talking to my mother-in-law (the one person I know who is more neurotic about Obama’s chances than me), with my computer balanced on one of those cushioned-wood lap thingies. I had just placed the remote control on the ottoman. I will never, ever forget it.

I awoke this morning to a world gone crazy. Palin was topic number one on NPR. A caller on the Diane Rehm show noted that the Washington Post was reporting that Palin, who, at her first rally, pitched herself, like McCain, as a warrior against earmarks — indeed, she had opposed the “bridge to nowhere” — had in fact hired a lobbying firm to secure $27 million in federal funds for Wasilla, a town of 6,700, when she was mayor. And the GOP officials on her show were on the defensive, big time, about her daughter’s pregnancy, given Palin’s own support for teaching abstinence only in schools.

There I was, in my kitchen, defrosting a bagel, brewing a pot of coffee. The weather outside was lovely, low humidity, 67-degrees under sunny blue skies. A day like many others we’ve had in Akron this summer, except for its unforgetable-ness.

When I got to my desk, I couldn’t help myself. I followed some of the links that friends had sent. I checked out some of the more salacious stuff for myself. I must confess that I clicked on a link featuring Palin, being interviewed by DJs for an Alaska radio show: When the DJ’s describe one of Palin’s political opponents, a cancer survivor, as a “cancer” and a “bitch,” Palin laughs, and then invites them for a visit. As soon as I finished reading this tabloid tripe, I immediately went to wash my hands. I swear it. Thank the good lord Yom Kippur is just around the bend.

I now see that Huff Post as an entire page dedicated to breaking Palin news. (“Some News is So Big, It Needs It’s Own Page.”)

This issue, it seems to me, should be about:

1. Whether McCain fully vetted her, and …
2. If he did — and he says he did — How could he have not foreseen the distraction that this would cause? I mean, his surrogates have been after Obama for months, for failing once to put his hand over his heart, and for not wearing an American flag lapel pin at all times during the primary; and he picks as a VP a woman who was a member of a party that wants a vote on whether or not Alaska should secede? What does THAT say about McCain’s judgment, and fitness for the highest office?

We’ve had a gut-level, look-into-Putin’s-eyes-and-see-his-soul decision maker in the Oval Office for eight long years, thank you very much.

And yet, the Neurotic Democrat in me is feeling absurdly jittery about all this. We’ve never seen a media onslaught like the one we are witnessing now. Even Diane Rhem, on her show this morning, was so indignant, bordering on self-righteous, when pressing a McCain backer to answer how well abstinence-only works, in the Palin family, given news of the pregnancy. It was unseemly. If I were Obama, I’d be nervous.

It’s fair, in my view, for the media to plunge in with two feet — McCain has picked for his VP a woman that few people outside Alaska know. Her record is fair game. But no one can control this Internet mania. And Republicans are masters at playing the victim as the press piles on. Particularly the left-wing blogosphere. You can bet Team McCain will double-down, all-in, at it’s convention tonight, tomorrow and Thursday. If t
hey are keeping Palin on the ticket, what choice do they have?

Will voters be able to separate the relevant from the irrelevant? Will they be able to focus on policy differences? Will they hold this media firing squad against Obama, despite the fact that Obama has said, emphatically, that the pregnancy issue is a family matter, and the press should “back off.” (In the same statement, he noted that his mother had him when she was 18, too.)

[After writing this post, I logged on to check email. The top AP headline was: “McCain camp: Obama Spreading ‘Smears’ About Palin.” Check out the story for yourself — nowhere in it does it say that Obama, himself, is spreading anything at all. In fact — if you look at the last line — it says exactly the opposite.]

Don’t be surprised if McCain comes out of this week ahead in the polls. I was talking a bit about this in the doctor’s office this afternoon, where we had taken our 19-month old for his checkup, when the doctor, an Obama supporter, asked: Who was it who said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”?

I can say with absolute certainty, I’ll always remember exactly where I was when he said it.