By Mark Mellman - 09/02/08 08:10 PM EDT
In selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate, John McCain violated the first, and perhaps only, rule of vice presidential selection — first do no harm.
Commentary aplenty has explored her qualifications for the job. Instead of retracing that well-trod ground, consider what the process reveals about John McCain himself.
With his first “presidential” decision, McCain has cast considerable, and mostly unflattering, light on his own character and thinking.
First and foremost, it underlines his rash and impetuous nature. Whatever her appeals, what kind of person offers the vice presidency to someone he met just once before? What kind of judgment does that reflect?
I have heard of love at first sight, of people who decide they will marry after one date, but proposals after the first date only happen in sappy movies. Even among groups practicing arranged marriage, two or more meetings between the prospective spouses are normal.
McCain’s brand of rash decision-making may be charming when it comes to love and marriage, but can we afford to put the finger of such an impetuous man on the proverbial button? “Scary as hell.”
Second, as faulty use of intelligence only recently plunged us into an unnecessary war, it is reasonable to ask how McCain gathers and sifts through such information. Reports suggest that his vetters did not bother to comb through Palin’s local newspaper or interview key figures — a stunning intelligence failure.
Did McCain know that the Republican president of Alaska’s state Senate, a woman who hails from Palin’s hometown of 8,000, would rush to tell the press, “She’s not prepared to be governor; how can she be prepared to be vice president or president?”
Did McCain’s intelligence-gathering operation realize Palin was embroiled in a scandal, with a special prosecutor’s report on her alleged abuse of power due just weeks, or perhaps days, before the November election?
Did McCain know she had campaigned for governor on a “Build the Bridge to Nowhere” platform before he touted her opposition to it as a prime reason for her selection?
Did McCain know that her state’s largest paper would question the choice, exclaiming, “it’s stunning that someone with so little national and international experience might be a heartbeat away from the presidency”; or that the state’s second-largest paper would conclude, “regardless of her charm and good intentions, Palin is not ready for the top job”?
Did McCain fail to learn, or merely ignore the fact, that she not only sat in the pews for Pat Buchanan’s hortatory speeches without denouncing him, but also proudly wore his button?
Third, the Palin selection clearly reveals McCain as a prisoner of the GOP’s radical right.
Having reportedly settled on Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) as his unconventional running mate, McCain quickly reversed course under pressure from the denizens of the far right. Anyone who persists in seeing McCain as a moderate should be jolted to reality by the fact that he willingly ceded this decision to the extremists.
Finally, McCain’s selection of Palin suggests that the non-political image he attempts to cultivate is merely a mirage masking the crassest kind of politician. As the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner put it, “McCain seems to have put his political interests ahead of the nation’s.”
Palin’s own remarks in Dayton confirmed her understanding that she was on the ticket for a purely political purpose.
McCain made an impetuous decision in order to prove his fealty to the Republican right while demonstrating that he will do anything to get elected. Is that the kind of president the rest of us want?
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.