A major post-election story has been drawn from a packet of gossip fed to the media by John McCain advisors about the supposedly colossal ignorance of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The Republican aides claimed that her geographical and political knowledge was no better than a second-grader's. Certainly, she has stumbled badly in interviews, and as the young governor of Alaska was not well-versed on international affairs, but is the allegation that she didn't know Africa is a continent at all credible? As some analysis have pointed out, her vetting and selection was the responsibility of these same aides, a strong indication of McCain's judgment and no doubt a factor in his defeat.
Throughout the campaign, the media has been more than willing to indulge such derision, particularly against a favorite target: the evangelical Christian. One of the few major media figures to cry foul was Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal: "By not bothering to look very deeply at the details beneath either candidate's governing proposals, the media have created a lot of downtime to take free kicks at Gov. Palin. My former colleague, Tunku Varadarajan, has compiled a glossary of Palin invective, and I've added a few: `Republican blow-up doll,' `idiot,' `Christian Stepford wife,' `Jesus freak,' `Caribou Barbie,' `a dope,' `a fatal cancer to the Republican Party,' `liar,' `a national disgrace' and `her pretense that she is a woman.' If American politics is at low ebb, it is because so many of its observers enjoy working in its fetid backwash."
In contrast to the rumor mill at the McCain camp, Barack Obama's campaign was disciplined and vigorously controlled leaks. Even as the president-elect dissociated from liabilities such as his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Professor Samantha Power, he kept the smears out. When the news story about Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy broke, he publicly declared the subject "off limits", including with it any negative references to a candidate's family. Since Tuesday, the sore losers have dubbed the Palin family "the Wasila hillbillies".
The rift between McCain and Palin is said to have been caused partly because of her future ambitions. One wonders why an older statesman would grudge a political future to a younger colleague, particularly after the tenacity she showed in campaigning for the less popular ticket. McCain advisors controlled the media access and the message for Palin to deliver. At one point, Todd Palin was reported to have called McCain aides to ask why she was being isolated from her own advisors. Now Sarah Palin is taking the high ground, downplaying any disunity and not responding to the disparaging charges. For example, regarding the "spending spree" allegations, reports instead show that campaign aides selected clothing for her, some of which she chose not to wear, and much of which was being returned to the stores.
Whether or not she was ready to be vice-president of the United States, she was employed for a particular purpose: to galvanize the religious right which was at best tepid about McCain. She delivered on that strategy. If the plan was flawed because it steered the party to the right and lost the center on a message of fear, those who wrote the script should take the blame. One wonders about the wisdom of party pundits in sacrificing a green but promising star. Fred Barnes, of the Weekly Standard, opined: "Palin, as best I can describe it, exudes a kind of middle-class magnetism. It's subdued but nonetheless very powerful. Whether they know it or not, Republicans have a huge stake in Palin. If, after the election, they let her slip into political obscurity, they'll be making a tragic mistake."
The strain in the Republican party was evident before the primaries, between those committed to cultural issues and others vested in conservative economic and foreign policy agendas. Whereas Obama and Clinton's battle was about experience more than platforms, the Republican contest highlighted strong ideological rifts. Is the scapegoating of Sarah Palin an attempt to dissociate from the social conservative branch? If so, the Republican party has not begun to assess the Reaganite synthesis necessary for its future viability. CNN analyst Gloria Borger called it when she said: "A civil war that is simmering will break out into the open if McCain loses, and the party will have to decide what they want to be in the post-Reagan world."
Published at Il Sussidiario.Net.