It’s been interesting times since Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate two weeks ago—political theater at its highest and lowest. Coming in the wake of the Republican Party’s rebuke of any of McCain’s even remotely moderate policy leanings in its hard-right official platform, it was little surprise that the party also pushed him away from his preferred choices for a running mate, someone like Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, and forced him to choose the more ideologically doctrinaire Palin in order to shore up the “base” of the GOP, the die-hard 28-percenters who still support Bush.
And it’s no surprise at all that the party has completely ignored McCain’s earlier vows to keep the campaign itself dignified and serious. From the repeated lies about Palin’s record regarding the “Bridge to Nowhere” and other earmarks, to the sleazy attack ad distorting Obama’s record on sex education, to the faux outrage over Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” remark, any pretense of dignity is long gone.
I find it disappointing that the McCain campaign is stooping to such bottom-feeding, Rovian tactics… disappointing, yes, but not at all surprising. He’s not even pretending to take the kind of stands he ran on eight years ago, and anyone who still imagines that he could be any kind of “maverick” in office with the GOP power structure cracking the whip like this just hasn’t been paying attention.
What I find really interesting, though, and indeed genuinely surprising, are two other trends. One, from all appearances the only people (in public or in the larger media) really buying into the sycophancy toward Palin are the hard-right ideologues, the diehard Bush supporters who would never have voted for Obama under any circumstances anyway but now have a fresh face they can support with more enthusiasm than they had for McCain himself. (I think any recent shift in the polls is largely due to Palin bringing a lot of the lunatic fringe off the fence and back into the “likely voter” camp; and even so the recent evidence of a “swing” seems largely due to overcounting Republican voters.)
Two — and this is the reassuring thing, in the wake of much wailing and gnashing of teeth and armchair strategizing from the blgosphere last week provoked by the fear that Palin might be a “game changer” — the media’s not playing along this time. Its enchantment with McCain seems to have worn off since his campaign dragged the media itself into the line of fire, and suddenly everywhere you turn someone’s calling out his misleading, deceptive, diversionary, and generally sleazy tactics for what they are. And it’s not just liberal pundits like Paul Krugman. I mean, when such a died-in-the-wool creature of the Beltway establishment as Time’s Joe Klein starts complaining that you’re taking cheap shots, you know you’ve crossed a line. Or Jim Lehrer calling the campaign “dishonest” and “dishonorable.” Or the Associated Press. The hosts of The View. Even Bill O’Reilly (!). Really, pretty much everyone is talking about about how McCain’s reputation for “straight talk” has derailed.
That’s the narrative that’s emerged in the last few days, and that’s the narrative the rest of the public, aside from the true believers, is going to pick up. Both Obama and McCain promised to run a different, more serious kind of campaign. Only one of them is sticking to it.Tags: Election 2008, McCain, media, Palin