In selecting Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate, Republican nominee John McCain pulled a Clarence Thomas.
Today, Thomas is a headline name, a 17-year veteran of the US Supreme Court. But when he was nominated, Thomas was a relatively unknown, relatively inexperienced Republican legal bureaucrat.
Thomas had two things going for him: he was a hard-core right-winger, and he was African-American.
For the president — then George H.W. Bush — to name an African-American to the nation’s highest court required a certain sort of brass.
During the four years Bush held that office, and the eight preceding years when Ronald Reagan reigned, the well-being of black America was a low political priority, to the extent that it was at all a concern.
Thomas’s racial heritage provided a perverse sugarcoating for the bitter pill of his radical right-wing views. And it worked.
Now comes Sarah Palin, an articulate, untested radical right-winger. (The Phoenix went to press before Palin’s Wednesday-night convention address. For coverage of that and the rest of Republican National Convention, go to thePhoenix.com/election2008.)
Until 72-year-old McCain plucked 44-year-old Palin from the comfort of her frontier obscurity, she had served six years as the mayor of Wasilla, a town of about 6715.
Palin followed that star turn by winning the governorship of Alaska, the nation’s largest, least-densely-populated state, which is more of a wilderness preserve controlled by the energy industry than it is a functioning polity.
When she wasn’t busy wrestling bears or catching salmon with her bare teeth, Palin coached high-school basketball and ran the family taxi service to hockey practice. Along the way, she battled political cronyism and government corruption.
Clearly, Palin is the stuff of legend. It is a wonder that the Republicans are waiting for the election. Why not bundle her off to Russia today to set straight that nasty, trigger-happy strongman Vladimir Putin?
Palin has clearly stirred the passions of Republican conventioneers. Their enthusiasm is unrestrained. Anyone watching the St. Paul convention on television might think it was an over-caffeinated meeting of the American Association of Retired People. By the time McCain takes the podium, the frenzy will be stronger than Hurricane Gustav. B-12 shots all around!
But if Republican Party regulars are happy, then the talk-show hosts in Rush Limbaugh Land are in heaven. Palin, a gun-toting, choice-denying, anti-tax, pro-oil candidate, is a dream come true for this crowd. Pimping for Palin will be even more fun than was slapping around Hillary Clinton. And the beauty of it all — from the Republicans’ point of view — is that promoting her candidacy can be done in the name of feminism, albeit of a bizarre redneck variety.
Of course, the Republican Party’s idea of women’s rights and social policy is for unmarried women to remain sexless. Sex must equal marriage, and marriage must equal children. Same-sex couples need not apply.
And that, in a nutshell, is the splendid rottenness of McCain’s V-P choice. Palin’s version of feminism is perverted by ideological steroids. If distilled to its essence, it allows her to choose marriage and five children, and all but mandates that other fertile women must follow her example. Choice is an obscenity. And, we suspect, so is free will.
Just as the anti-black coalition that marches under the banner of the GOP championed Thomas in 1991, so now will that same breed of Republican boost Palin.
That’s not only unwise but dangerous: the world according to Palin is flat; the sun no doubt revolves around the Earth; God created the planet in seven 24-hour days; and Darwin is a monkey lover.
Compared with Palin, George W. Bush, the finest 19th-century mind ever to occupy the White House, is an unrestrained freethinker. While the world progresses uneasily into the 21st century, John McCain has proposed to lead America into a storybook past. Call it the Little House on the Arctic Prairie.
The headline that Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant out of wedlock has recently created a stir. But that flurry is nothing like the furor that surrounded Thomas, who was accused of all sorts of louche sexual behavior.
No one need stoop to the politics of personal destruction to question Palin’s suitability to sit, as the cliché has it, one heartbeat away from the presidency. As it was with Thomas, all one needs to know about Palin is right there on the sketchy public record: she is a right-wing nut, but very serious in her nuttiness. That she’s this close to such a position of power is frightening.
McCain’s choice of Palin is a concrete indication of what a dangerous president he would be.