Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice?
by Daniel McCarthy
by Daniel McCarthy
When John McCain needed an appealing running-mate who could charm independents while reassuring non-neo conservatives, he looked far beyond the swamp on the Potomac. He looked as far afield as was possible on the North American continent — to Alaska governor Sarah Palin, 44 years old, mother of five, antiabortion, and pro-moose hunting. This was going outside the Beltway in more than just the geographic sense. Palin was a supporter of Pat Buchanan in 1996, and earlier this year she had kind words for Ron Paul. "He's a good guy," she told MTV News, "He's so independent. He's independent of the party machine. I'm like, ‘Right on, so am I.'" Or so she was.
Whatever independence from the Republican machine Governor Palin may once have had ended as soon as she accepted John McCain's offer. That should have been obvious to all during her announcement speech on Friday, in which, in true McCain style, she whipped up a crowd of howling patrioteers with talk of 9/11, Iraq, and the surly Russian bear, while simultaneously pandering to feminists by promising to smash a glass ceiling. We'll be hearing a lot more of the same in weeks to come.
Some limited-government conservatives (no, really — there are a handful) and even a few libertarians have let their hopes and their hormones do their thinking for them. One of my friends believes that deep down Palin must — simply must — be a Buchananite; she definitely cannot be a neocon. But where's the evidence? She's antiabortion, and Buchanan in 1996 was the standard-bearer of the antiabortion conservatives. Her support for him then tells us nothing about where she stands on other Buchananite issues (such as immigration), and her words since joining the McCain ticket make plain where she stands on matters of war and foreign policy — her pumps are planted firmly next to McCain, the man who wants to "bomb bomb bomb" Iran, keep troops in Iraq beyond any of our lifetimes, and bait Russia into a new cold war. As for Ron Paul, he will not even endorse McCain. If Palin felt any degree of sympathy with the Ron Paul revolution, she would not be working to elect the man who is the antithesis of almost everything Dr. Paul believes in.
Yet suppose Palin really were a deep-cover crypto-paleo and that, given the chance, she would govern differently than the man at the top of her ticket. What are the odds that she would ever have that opportunity? After four years on the inside of the McCain administration, Palin will not be identified with "reform." She won't be a fresh face anymore. She'll have had four years of constant pressure from within the administration to conform to McCain and the neocons. And if she someone managed not to lose her soul — an Olympiad in the Beltway, especially in the executive branch, takes a toll on anyone's character — what prospect would she have of succeeding McCain? None, because she will be tainted in public eye by the wars and crimes of the McCain administration.
Don't count on McCain being a one-termer, by the way, regardless of his age. This is a man who for decades has dreamed of nothing else but being president. Why would he step aside after just four years? The last man to do that (after five years, actually) was Lyndon Johnson, who faced certain defeat if he had run again. Before him, Calvin Coolidge was the last president not to seek a second term. McCain is no Coolidge.
Palin, on the other hand, is reminiscent of somebody else. Another attractive, inexperienced but politically untainted newcomer who excited his party's base and seemed to represent something other than politics as usual — post-partisanship, if you will — to independent voters, or at least to the hype-minded press. Traditional conservatives are ga-ga for Palin for much the same reasons that antiwar liberals thought they were in love with Barack Obama. The affair will end the same way: sincere Leftists discovered that Obama isn't really antiwar at all (though next to McCain, he looks like Gandhi) and independents are finding out that he's not so different from any other liberal Democrat. Palin is not a new kind of Republican. She's a McCain Republican — the number 2 McCain Republican in the country.
Yes, she's anti-abortion. But McCain is anti-abortion, too. She supports the 2nd Amendment, on Republican terms at least. But so does McCain. Both of them rail against earmarks, which — like the tax-reform frauds of yesteryear — is a ploy to distract antistatists from what ought to be their goals: slashing taxes (not just restructuring them) and gutting federal spending (not just taking the power to allocate the money away from Congress and handing it to the president). Does anyone want to guess where Palin will come down on FISA and the Patriot Act? Palin puts a prettier face on the same old, tired Bush-McCain agenda. This is not a new kind of politics.
But then, politics is never new — it is always organized expropriation justified with a nimbus of sanctimony. Save the children! The poor! Africans! Poor African Children! In practice, of course, it always means taking money out of your pocket to bomb somebody in a faraway country that has never posed a threat to you.
The one novelty to the Palin phenomenon is this: she takes the American Idolization of politics to a new level. We may become the first empire in history to select our rulers in a literal beauty contest. From Miss Wasilla 1984 to Miss America today — and Miss World tomorrow. Vote for the sexiest emperor or empress.
Well, if you must vote, other things being equal, cast your ballot for the most repellent politician available. Let's have more stumpy, squinty, sausage-fingered Denny Hasterts and Bella Abzugs. Inner beauty and outer beauty don't always accord, but let's do our best to see to it that they do in politics. There shouldn't be anything glamorous about the class that inflates away our currency and stirs up hornets' nests around the world. It probably is no coincidence that the more presentable our blow-dried pols have become the more complacent the public has grown.
Which is why Sarah Palin may actually be worse than her superannuated running-mate. No one has shown any substantial policy differences between the two of them. But whereas McCain is cranky, stale, and cadaverous, Palin puts a sweet seductive smile on executive aggrandizement and perpetual war. She's a spoonful of sugar to mask the bitter taste of strychnine. But, make no mistake, that's what a John McCain presidency will be — lethal poison for what's left of our republic.
September 3, 2008