When Sarah Palin was chosen as Senator McCain’s v.p. candidate, I wondered why, with all the capable people in the pool of potential candidates, he would choose a novice governor from a small, solidly-red state. I think I have figured it out—and it’s ingenious.
The Republican Party is really two parties, held together by a lack of elsewhere to hang a self-styled “conservative” hat. McCain’s half of the Republican Party is a western, libertarian, fiscally-hawkish, morally-conscious movement. The other half of the party is the Limbaugh half, who are simply looking for a mass movement to be swallowed up into.
Last summer, McCain’s campaign was DOA. He was written off as big names like Giuliani, Thompson, Huckabee, and Romney took center stage. The problem was that none of these hit the heart of either half of the party. The libertarian wing was disenchanted with Giuliani’s authoritarianism, and the Limbaugh wing was disenchanted with everyone else because they were far too accepting of reality. They were decent performers, but (unlike Limbaugh) they wouldn’t take the gloves off.
McCain won the nomination because he had the lock on the libertarian wing while the rest of the Republicans (who bothered to vote in the primaries) were split among the other candidates.
Enter Sarah Palin. She’s snarky, in-your-face, anti-politically-correct. This is what the Limbaugh faction was looking for—a surrogate for the right-wing media. They wanted someone who would be bombastic, self-righteous, intolerant of other views, derisive (Did you hear the laughs that Giuliani and Palin got when they were mocking the work of a community organizer?) and close-minded. I don’t think Palin is all these things, but she’s the closest they’ve seen, so the party was on. They are so far sold on Palin they will ignore their “traditional family values” and vote for a woman who is obviously needed in her home.
I must admit: I thought the age of Limbaugh, Hannity, et al was waning. I foolishly assumed that people were becoming more informed and that the population of the U.S. was moving toward the center after the catastrophic presidency of George W. Bush. Boy was I wrong. I underestimated the need of people to erase their unworthiness in a purportedly worthy mass movement—especially one as overtly self-righteous as is the right-wing in the U.S.
Thus McCain hit a homer; but in the process, he sold his soul, the soul of a maverick, a reformer, a man who would stick a thumb in the eye of his own party to get done what he thought was right, a man who would team up with the likes of Kennedy and Feingold and would lead the Gang of 14 to prevent an unprecedented abuse of Senate rules by the Republican leadership. In short, he sold his legacy. What did he buy with it? He hopes he bought enough votes to be President.
McCain has said many times that he would rather lose an election than lose a war. Well, apparently he would rather lose his identity and his legacy as a great Senator than lose an election. He made the right choice for his campaign, but not for the presidency; the right choice for his party, but not for America. He gave one last thumb in the eye—to those of us who hoped he was a true statesman—by proving he was just another politician.