October 6, 2010

Don't Stop Believin'!

By Robb Witmer Full  |  October 6, 2010


"She's exactly who I need,"
-Senator John McCain, August 29, 2008

"This is a moment when principle and political independence matter."
-Governor Sarah Palin, August 29, 2008


The chartered Gulfstream jet arrived from Anchorage by the dark of a late Thursday night in Dayton, Ohio. The swirl of rumors about who John McCain would pick as his presidential running mate was beginning to tighten into a tornado.

Up to this point, the most memorable campaign moment for McCain was his impromptu press conference in the cheese aisle of a shit-ball grocery store. The whole operation seemed to have the ambition of a Jay-and-Silent-Bob movie.

This is the moment that could change all that, a shot in the arm, the new blood that jolts the McCain campaign awake, a launching pad for kicking out the jams.

The selection of Sarah Palin looked like it might be exactly that. She was an exciting fresh face, unknown, young and spunky, the polar opposite of McCain, who seemed to suck the life-force out of any room he entered.

It was certainly a popular move with the religious right. "This is a home run," said Ralph Reed, an admitted delusional kook. "She is really one of the bright shining new stars in the Republican firmament."

But the Religious Right crowd couldn't possibly be enough to win this election. The Bush Jr. administration had been such an uncompromised disaster that even a few dog-whistles about gay marriage or abortion weren't going to be enough. What else was Palin bringing to this feast?

Ah, women voters, that must be it! The Republicans noticed that Hillary Clinton damn near won the Democratic nomination, so maybe, they thought, there was something to this whole Women's Lib thing after all. Throw a woman on the ticket and the female voting population won't know the difference, or won't care.

Yes, it's a cynical move, and one the GOP tried just a few months later in a slightly different form when they named an incompetent black man, Michael Steele, to be the chairman of the RNC, simply so that average white Americans, through the high-fructose haze around their heads, wouldn't know the difference between him and Obama when Steele publicly fucked up.

This strategy surely picked up a few votes here and there, but its biggest effect was probably on women who were on the fence about voting at all, or just plain frightened of John McCain for any multitude of reasons.

"I was going to vote Republican," said Jennifer Raybaud, a 42 year-old small business owner, "but I feel a whole lot better about it now. Sarah Palin is my age, she has kids. She seems like me."

The idiocy of voting for someone because they are the same age as you, or "seems" like you is of a sort that is pervasive in America, and comes in many forms, but is probably a subject best tackled another time. The point is, not many women were going to vote for John McCain simply because his running mate has a vagina, and certainly not enough to take the election.

Palin was also an appeal to small-town America, what with her being, as Matt Taibbi put it, "just two years removed from running a town smaller than the bleacher section at Fenway Park."

In pandering to Small-Town Folk (or, Real America), Palin "cut right to the core of who they are and what they believe," said pollster and noted dick-head Frank Luntz. "The people who work the hardest and fight our wars."

Right, kind of like when Steve Perry tells a crowd in Cleveland that Journey loves playing there, it's their favorite place to play! For a second the crowd buys it and explodes in applause, but no one actually thinks this is true, they just want it to be.

Then "Don't Stop Believin'" kicks in and brings down the goddamn house.

Of course, wanting to believe something and then hearing someone else say it has become the Modern American version of proof that something is true, so maybe here again a few votes are being picked up.

Plus whatever votes she could grab for the GOP by way of the Boner Vote. A 44-year-old former beauty queen is pretty hot shit for the Upper Management crowd, so at the very least she's putting asses in seats and eyeballs on TV screens.

For a little while, Sarah Palin was exactly what the McCain camp needed, a Red Bull enema for Red State America, a game-changer in Election '08.

Except that it wasn't. Not like that. After a few days, Palin's nomination seemed like it was either a blunder of massive proportions, or perhaps the most calculated practical joke in the history of politics.

Not only had the public and media never heard of this woman, it became obvious that McCain himself didn't have much of an idea of who she was beyond the cover letter and the few Glamour Shots she mailed in with her application for the job.

Palin was instantly exposed as a TLC Original Programming-wannabe who doesn't read anything more penetrating than People Magazine, or understand her own talking points..

Even McCain seemed terrified at the idea that she could be left in charge of anything, much less the most powerful government in the world. It was a still more frightening thought for anyone watching McCain inch closer to death by the minute.

The best that can be said for the Palin nomination is that it was merely a stunt, a ploy to bite into the 24-hour news cycle and chew on it for a few days. In that sense, it was hugely successful, but when it came time to make like she was a serious choice for vice president, the McCain campaign fell apart at the seams.

Palin never seemed to have any interest in winning the election. And as a candidate, even her many superficial qualities only appealed to the 30-40% of people who were likely to vote Republican anyway.

Wasn't this the party with Campaign Mastermind Karl Rove and his minions behind the scenes, knowing exactly which cranks to yank to get the American Public to vote their way? Could they really be fucking up this blatantly in a Presidential Election?



"That was the thinking of the GOP moguls and wizards when they decided to dump George Bush and let Bill Clinton take the rap for the next four years of bad debt and misery that even Ronald Reagan realized was coming."
-Hunter S. Thompson, "Doomed Hope and Failed Dreams"


Sarah Palin wasn't why the Republicans went down in flames. That was likely to happen anyway. What she was, however, was a sign that winning the election was not the priority, and probably not even desirable.

John McCain was the last to know that he'd been thrown under the bus, but he had to know something was up. The clear resentment he had for his VP nominee couldn't have been just because she was young and pretty. She knew something he didn't, that the fix was in.

Palin was never looking for any real responsibilities. She was already half-assing the Governorship of Alaska, kicking Reagan's Spokesmodel-in-Chief act up a notch. Campaigning for vice president was a good use of her beauty-pageant training, and with none of the stress because she'd been assured that she wouldn't actually have to take the job.

The News Industry certainly lived up to their end of the bargain. Palin got shopping sprees, guaranteed best-selling books, a TV show she could phone in, speaking engagements for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop, and a lifetime of "campaign contributions" that she gets to keep because she'll never seriously run for anything ever again.

Her motivations have always been clear, but why would the Republicans roll over like they did? As a strategic retreat, it was probably a good move. Thirty years of Free Market Economics had completely hollowed out the economy, unemployment was skyrocketing, banks were failing, bridges collapsing... Seek cover and escape at the first opportunity.

If McCain had won, the American Dream might have been picked clean with the bones left out to bleach in the sun once and for all. Instead, the remains were left to fester for a few more years, and now the stink-rot is seeping into every crevice.


Robb Witmer Full doesn't like the circus but it's not necessarily because he has anything against clowns.
@robbwitmer