Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Historic errors

John McCain would appear to be another one who isn't so good at learning lessons from history. You can see what he was thinking off when he picked Sarah Palin as his running mate: a feisty, independent-minded woman who appeals to the religious nutt... that is to say conservatives he needs to turn out en masse if is to have any chance of winning.

No matter that she wasn't his first choice, no matter that it blunts any attacks on Obama for being inexperienced, the real mistake was ignoring the golden rule of selecting a running mate: make damn sure they've been thoroughly vetted.

Republican presidents before him have lived to regret selecting the likes of Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew on a whim and, with Palin, turning out to be someone who makes Obama look massively experienced and presidential by comparison, the McCain camp looks singularly unprepared to deal with it all.

As one grateful hack puts it: Thanks to McCain's miscue, everything the press touches about Palin turns into a scoop: her earmark flip-flops, her political inexperience, her Alaska Independence Party connection, her views on teaching "creationism," her book-banning phase, plus the "troopergate" scandal, her husband's ancient DUI, and her pregnant teenage daughter. And the press rampage has only just begun.

How bad could it get? After most of his original choices turned him down, George McGovern finally announced Tom Eagleton as his running mate.

Twelve days later Eagleton stepped down after news he'd received treatment for depression. A lot of the consequent speculation about his mental state was deeply personal and deeply unfair - just like some of the stuff about Palin's family - the problem was that people began to wonder what else the campaign didn't know and why the campaign hadn't been prepared to deal with the questions.

If your own campaign reeks of bumbling incompetence, you're going to have a hard time convincing people to let you run the country. I would that the other question is why a man with McCain's long years in politics didn't remember all these precedents.

The real danger is the Troopergate case. Of course this was known about when she was selected - though possibly not the rather disturbing pattern of her firing state employees who cross her - but there are a couple of factors which make it especially risky. Firstly the Alaskan state legislature is releasing a report on October 31 - right before the election. Secondly, she's relying on a combination of Democrats and Republicans - many of whom have cause to despise her - to get her off the hook with that. Good luck, I'd have said, but there appears to have a masterplan to neutralise the isse: ask said Democrats and Republicans really nicely if they could wait a bit and, if that doesn't work, make a formal complaint about your own behaviour. You're bound to look good one way or another.

It probably won't get to the Eagleton level but there is another historical precendent that people will remember. William Henry Harrison shows the danger of selecting an elderly war heroes to beat the Democrats: they might die suddenly. Harrison keeled over a few weeks into taking office and his VP John Tyler- picked to balance the ticket - was not an unqualified success. (One thing he did achieve, though, was setting a precedent that when the President dies, the VP takes over for the rest of the term.) It's bad enough that the doubts about Palin make people question McCain's judgment, but for those doubts to then remind voters of their doubts about McCain's health and age makes it an especially spectacular own goal.

Probably. She's addressing the Republican convention tonight and one has no doubt that she'll get a massive ovation from her fanbase. She could turn it around with a great performance, but her first speech after receiving the nomination doesn't inspire much confidence in her abilities. Others may disagree, but I thought immediately of Jacqui Smith and the general air of an over-anxious, earnest sixth former being completely overwhelmed by the situation - and that's before it emerged she'd told an easily detected lie. Amateurish and foolish to an incredible degree.

But she still has a slim chance (I put it at about 3/1 at the moment) to avoided becoming joining the list of historic exemplars of what not to do. Because history also gives us a model what Sarah Palin needs to do. Here was a Republican VP candidate who survived an ethics scandal with a masterly performance.

In 1952 Richard Nixon was facing all sorts of questions about his financial dealings, which he addressed in the speech here. The most famous bit comes about six minutes in with the sentimental hokum about Checkers the spaniel and managed to get people feeling sorry for him. Note, though, how he transformed himself from a ruthless political operator into a poor misunderstood family man being bullied by the big nasty media and note how the seeming candour and directness helped him turn move from a desperate defence into an all-out attack.

We all know how well things worked out for him subsequently. Sarah Palin has already fluffed her introduction to the big stage so badly that she needs to follow Nixon's example and make people feel sorry for her. Because otherwise she'll be on the fateful path that Dan Quayle, Gordon Brown and other over-promoted deputies have followed: ridicule, pity and oblivion.

NB: I've been trying to embed Nixon's speech into this thing. But it doesn't appear to be working. I don't know why, but I suspect George Bush is to blame in some fashion.

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Blogger dominic said...

Oh come on Bill, get a grip and stop being a supercilious patronising bastard.

Of course there is no need for a state Governor with, what was it, an 80%+ popularity rating, to go down the Tricky Dicky "oh feel sorry for me" route.

How many lies about this woman is the media going to (continue to) put about? The lies factory has been working overtime somewhat has it not?

As SHE says,

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organiser," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

Obviously the source is partisan, but some interesting comments about her, made on the DAILY KOS of all places, last January.

Well, here's to her becoming next VP. She should prove well up to the task.

7:33 am  
Blogger dominic said...

Melanie Phillips sums it up very well.

Maybe the selection of Sarah Palin will go pear-shaped. Maybe she’ll be found to have presided over a mafia cartel of illegal moose-slayers while in a polygamous marriage to a creationist abortionist who raped his mother. But for the moment it seems to me that her selection is a political masterstroke. Which is why the left is in such a terrible rage.

10:56 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Interesting post, Bill. I wonder if her mauling in the press is part of a move to engender sympathy or just the usual American misogyny raising it's ugly head.


2:54 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

Ah well you've explained yourself to me now, so I take back the gratuitous abuse above. (For now, anyway)

Still, I am beginning to think that McCain is in fact a greater liability to their campaign than is Palin - I think she is clearly a woman to watch.

I also think that (yes, like Thatcher), being feisty and sharp - and, yes, attacking - is more likely to count in her favour than being "sympatico" (or, rather, "sympatica").

But I fear the dreadful Obama will win, although the inclusion of Palin on the R's ticket will give them a greater share of the vote than they would otherwise have receivd.

11:57 am  
Blogger bill said...

Puss, misogny does play a part, for sure (just as there is an element of racism is some of the attacks of Obama) but the waters get somewhat muddied by the manner in which cries of sexism are used to deflect attacks on it.

The Daily Show clip sums it all up nicely.

I don't think anyone can argue that post-Newt Gingrich a bloke holding her views would not have gotten anyway near the ticket.

Dominic, dear boy, I can see you are confused and worried that your world view is crashing around your ears, but you can't seriously think Melanie Philips is going to change anyone's mind, do you?

The point is for every Bible-totting nut case Palin enthuses, their lefty feminist equivalent is going to dispel any doubts they may have about Obama and make sure he wins.

Further, most Americans hate the culture wars shit that Palin represents, whatever their response is in terms of voting, they aren't going to vote Republican because she's on the ticket. McCain's strength really is in being himself, there's not much anyone can do about that.

1:25 pm  
Blogger dominic said...


Palin no more represents the culture wars than do Barack "Change, amoral, lack of experience, abortion is good, but corruption is better" Obama and (yuk yuk yuk yuk I can't bring myself to say her name - odious pantsuit Draft-Dodger-marrying woman):

It's just she represents the other side of them - the side you'd like to think has been defeated. That Gerald Baker piece in the Times about how the left always underestimate conservatives seems to be the most pertinent and insightful analysis I've read on the theme

t never ceases to amaze me how the Left falls again and again into the old trap of underestimating politicians whom they don't understand. From Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to George Bush and Mrs Palin, they do it every time. Because these characters talk a bit funny and have ridiculously antiquated views about faith, family and nation, because they haven't spent time bending the knee to the intellectual metropolitan elites, they can't be taken seriously.

Spot on.

12:32 am  

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