One Heartbeat Away: Reflections on the Palin Nomination


John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate is one of the most transparently crass and cynical moves in United States political history.

"Country "First" was the white-nationalist rallying cry at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota two weeks ago. 


The slogan is coldly contradicted by McCain’s chilling proposal to put a remarkably inexperienced, arch-secretive, vindictive, petty, distant, and ignorant politician one heartbeat away from the presidency. 

Lyda Green is the Alaska state senate’s Republican president.  She thought it was a prank when she heard that Palin had tapped for her party’s presidential ticke. "She’s not prepared to be governor.  How can she be prepared to be vice president?" asked Green, who comes from Palin’s home town of Wasila. "Look at what she’s done to this state.  What would she do to the nation?
(Cockerham and Loy 2008).

Green’s concerns were richly validated by Palin’s recent interview with ABC news anchor Charles Gibson, where she revealed amateurish misunderstanding of basic facts of U.S. policy and economic life (ABC News/Huffington Post 2008).


Here are some interesting reflections from a recent front-page Palin profile in the The New York Times:

"Since taking office in 2007, Ms. Palin has spent 312 nights in her Wasila home, some 600 miles to the north of the governor’s mansion in Juneau…As state legislators debated one of her pressing priorities – a long-sought gas pipeline – some legislators became so frustrated with her absences that they took to wearing yellow ‘Where’s Sarah?’ pins."

"Many politicians say they most often learn of her initiatives – and vetoes – from press releases, including her decision to veto $237 million in programs from last year’s budget."

"Mayors, from the state’s larger cities to tiny cities along the southern fiords, are even more frustrated.  Often, their letters go unanswered and their pleas ignored, records and interviews show."

"Last summer, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, pressed Ms. Palin to sit down, as his city was running short of state funds to operate its traffic lights.  At one point, records show, state officials told him the city should turn off a dozen traffic lights."

"Ms. Palin agreed to meet with him when he threatened to go public with his anger, sources with direct knowledge said."

"At an Alaska Municipal League gathering in Juneau, mayors across the political spectrum swapped stories of the governor’s remoteness.  How many of you, someone asked, have tried to meet with her? Every hand went up, recalled Mayor Fred Sheilds of Haines borough.  And how many of you met with her? Just a few. Ms. Palin soon walked in, delivered a few remarks, and departed for an anti-abortion rally" (Becker, Goodman, and Powell 2008) 

Speaking of Palin being "one heartbeat away" from the oval office, the Melanoma-afflicted "war hero" (shot-down and incarcerated for bombing Vietnamese women and children) John McCain, is 72 years old.  If elected he would be the oldest U.S. president ever inaugurated.  His father died suddenly from a heart attack at age 70 and his paternal grandfather did the same at 61.  The highly ambitious Palin would be in a very strong position to become president in the not-so-distant future.


Some European observers will be puzzled that someone like Palin could be moved so close to the top of the U.S. political class overnight. But there’s nothing mysterious about why McCain selected "Sara Barracuda" for those who understand the powerful role of evangelical Christianity, racism, and other atavistic forces in U.S. political culture. It’s all about getting America’s millions of white "Christian fascists" (Hedges 2007) on board with a presidential ticket that had not previously scored well with the religious right.

Palin is a passionate Pentecostal Christian who fiercely opposes abortion even in cases of race and incest.  She is a dedicated enemy of gay rights, sex education, environmental protection, and social justice.  She is pro-gun, pro-censorship, and pro-creationist. She is a messianic-militarist who has suggested that George W. Bush’s petro-imperialist invasion of Iraq is "a task that is from God" (Johnson 2008).  Palin recently sent her young Christian solider son off to the Holy Occupation of Mesopotamia on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 jetliner attacks – the events that Evangelical Warrior George the Second and Darth Cheney exploited to launch a New Crusade against Southwest Asia and the Muslim world.

Palin is an effective hit-lady who half-jokingly refers to herself as a "pit-bull with lipstick."  When she holds the stage and is not being put on the defensive by supposed "liberal" elites like Charles Gibson, Palin knows how to viciously attack liberals and Democrats below the belt. 

These proto-fascistic attributes make Palin highly attractive to a critical part of the Republican coalition. The powerful U.S. religious hard right has had serious problems over the years with the insufficiently evangelical and pious McCain. "Conservative" evangelicals were threatening to sit-out the 2008 election, especially when the Democrats failed to nominate the far-right’s She Devil Hillary Clinton and opted instead for a candidate who has gone out of his way to make nice with the religious right. 

Palin has fixed this problem for the GOP. The leading Christian-fascist Ayatollah James Dobson (president of "Focus on the Family") has signaled his newfound readiness to get behind Mad Bomber McCain. "I would pull that lever" (for McCain-Palin) says Dobson, who earlier proclaimed that "I cannot and will not vote for Senator McCain."

This is no so small coup for McCain.  Four years ago, Dobson put his potent propaganda machine to work for a second Cheney-Bush term.  His efforts contributed significantly to Dubya’s winning margin.  If McCain wins next November – a distinct possibility that has liberals shaking their heads and rolling their eyes – hard-right religious support will provide no small part of the explanation.


There’s more behind the Palin selection than a desire to energize the "conservative" religious base. The Republicans are trying to use gender identity politics to recruit female Hillary Democrats and independent women. The GOP is playing up Palin’s "executive experience" (as a mayor and governor) and her supposed "working class" identity as part of their efforts to reach white workers and discredit the Democrats as elitist, do-nothing carpers. The Republicans are also using her "outsider" status and nontraditional (for presidential and vice-presidential candidates) gender to steal the aura of "change" and novelty that Obama’s skin color and nomenclature have given the Democrats this year.

Will it work?  So far the Republicans have reasons to be ecstatic about the results.  I won’t depress liberal and progressive readers with the latest polling data here, but it’s becoming clearer every day (I am writing on September 15th) that momentum has shifted the Republicans’ way.  The  dangerous and extremist GOP’s presidential ticket has a serious chance of prevailing. Never mind the astonishing damage two straight hard-right Republican presidential terms have done to the country’s domestic health and image abroad. Never mind that most Americans claim to prefer having Democrats in power and support policy positions that are closer to (actually to the left of) the Democratic Party. 

The arch-reactionary shit lurking in the shadows of U.S. political culture has really hit the historical fan.  Warrior McCain has shown his true colors and his desire to win at all costs.  Look at his recent, deeply dishonorable television commercial absurdly accusing Obama of supporting comprehensive sex tutorials for kindergarteners! 

Will the bourgeois Democrats overcome their historical reluctance to supplement their all-too marginally superior(from a left or true-progressive standpoint)policy positions with serious populist appeal and a willingness to fight? Do they want to win or are they content to nobly suffer yet another "undeserved" loss on the model of Gore, Kerry, Dukakis, and Adlai Stevenson? 

McCain is vulnerable as a transparently elitist agent of plutocracy and arch-militarism.  He’s vulnerable as a mentally unstable hothead with a legendary temper and as a decrepit, forgetful buffoon. He should be attacked as a reckless son of privilege (his father was a top military official) who graduated form the bottom five of his class at the Naval Academy and who almost died (in 1958) because he couldn’t bother to read a basic  manual on how to eject in an accident.

There are serious problems that could be raised about McCain’s "war hero" narrative, including the claims of some his fellow POWs that he received and enjoyed favored treatment as an admiral’s son.

He should be savaged for picking a transparently unqualified vice presidential candidate who has cheered on a right-wing third party calling for Alaska’s secession from the United States.
The Obamanists I know (including Obama) don’t seem predisposed or equipped to wage the sort of sort of bloody battle that is required to effectively exploit these and other McCain-Palin weaknesses.

They would be well-advised to "man up." Take it from someone who lives in a contested and partly Red State: you don’t just argue the issues with the Republicans and roll your eyes when they advance horrible positions. You have to beat them into submission and rip away at their flesh – like a Barracuda.  It’s not enough to debate Republicans.  You have to kill them, so to speak. 

Paul Street ([email protected]), a writer and speaker based in Iowa City, IA, has been demystifying the Obama phenomenon on ZNet since July of 2004.  His latest book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, order at www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=186987



ABC News/Huffington Post 2008. "Sarah Palin’s Charlie Gibson Interview," read and view at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/11/sarah-palins-charlie-gibs_n_125772.html

J.Becker. P. Goodman, and M. Powell, "As Governor and Mayor, Palin Hired Friends and Hit Critics," New York Times, 14 September, 2008, sec.1, p.1.

Sean Cockerham and Welsely Loy, 2008.  "Choice Stuns State Politicians," Anchorage Daily News, 28 August 2008, read at

Chris Hedges 2007.  American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: New Press, 2007).

Gene Johnson 2008. "Palin: Iraq War ‘A Task That is From God," Associated Press, September 3, read at http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jNulPSqaP1eyysv8ENJWhk0ZSrPgD92VJPL00

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