The Rovian Politics of Choosing Sarah Palin

What does it say about John McCain that he not only picked the least experienced Vice Presidential nominee in ’s history, but picked someone he really didn’t know? Departing so far from any normal concept of appropriate background, he should at least have had a sense of why this individual is so special. Meeting Palin once at a Republican governors’ conference and having a single phone conversation on the eve of her selection just doesn’t pass muster—particularly for the oldest presidential candidate ever, who’s had four malignant melanomas.America


What makes Palin such a cynical choice is that McCain doesn’t know her and doesn’t know what drives her. Until she was selected by the Karl Rove types running his campaign (like campaign manager and Rove protégé Steve Schmidt), McCain might not even have recognized her on the street. Instead, she’s a category selection, made for the crassest reasons by the same kinds of political operatives who brought us George W. Bush.


Their motives  are obvious: Palin is an energetic and attractive woman who just might pick up some disgruntled Hillary supporters. She’s a westerner and a hunter who might appeal to rural voters. She might energize a previously tepid base of hard-shell religious conservatives through her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. These attributes may indeed prove her worth as a vote-getter. But they have no relation to Palin’s fitness for the job. McCain can’t have any sense of what lies beneath the marketing categories–who Palin actually is, what she could contribute to the Vice Presidential office, and what it would be like to work together–because he doesn’t know her and had no chance to. It’s like so much that the Republicans have done for eight years and longer—making choices with the gravest possible consequences based largely on political expediency.


Leave aside all the other troubling questions about Palin: her extreme abortion position; her backing the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” while campaigning for governor, then later claiming to disavow it; her denial of global warming and embrace of creationism; her Cheney-style vendetta of firing the Alaska public safety director who refused to fire her former brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper.  Leave aside Palin’s actual record, because John McCain barely knows it. And his vetters didn’t even bother to go through the archives of her local newspaper or talk with the former public safety director she fired. What choosing her shows instead is a politics that once again subordinates any greater common good to a raw pursuit of power. It echoes McCain praising Jerry Falwell after once calling him an “agent of intolerance.” Or embracing Bush’s campaign and administration after Bush’s political hitmen defeated him in  with Swift Boat-type lies. Or when instead of challenging Obama’s ideas, the McCain campaign tried to caricature him as one step up from Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Karl Rove’s minions may be smiling at the brazen gamesmanship of this pick: but if Americans fall for it, they should know all too well what to expect.South Carolina


Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See To receive his articles directly, email [email protected]g with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-article

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