Has there ever been a presidential campaign in living memory in which one of the members of the two tickets was willing to brazenly lie with such by golly enthusiasm as Sarah Palin has been doing even after being exposed by the mainstream media? In speech after speech, often with her father-figure McCain standing proudly beside her, Palin crisply and cheerily proclaims that she told Congress “thanks, but no thanks” to the notorious Bridge to Nowhere. She is so good at it that it seems true, I assumed it was when I first saw it. Palin even adds an emphatic little motion of the hand that smartly sells the statement.
She boldy does this even though she and her mentor know that exactly the opposite is true. When running for governor Palin was all for the bridge. With her aggressive minister of pork Ted Stevens in charge of the Senate committee that doled out federal earmarks, Palin explicitly explained on TV that it was no time to not game the Washington system for all that taxpayers of the lower 48 would cough up for the 49th. After becoming governor Palin never actually said no to the bridge, it was Congress who told her to forget it. And she kept the $200 million. If the Pit Bull With Lipstick had had her way the bridge would be under construction at this moment.
The media had no trouble revealing the truth – one can almost see the eye rolling incredulity of on camera reporters as they detail the facts about the Palin deceit – but this stark exposure has in no way discouraged the GOP veep pick from stating this and other falsehoods (Obama will raise the taxes of the middle class for instance) as if she was stating God’s truth.
And let’s be specific about who is at fault here. Of course Palin should know better. Aside from being a grown up with the basic ethical responsibilities that go along from maturity, she proclaims herself an arch conservative Christian with the implication that she follows the highest level of godly moral truth. But Palin is very suddenly way out of her league. Not long ago she was in charge of a small town. That worked out so well for politically perverse reasons I describe below that she was soon the top executive of a low population state. Before she had barely caught her breath, out of the blue she found herself on the national stage with a real possibility of being Madam Vice President of the United States of America, resident at the VP Mansion at the Naval Observatory, and literally a heart-beat from being President if the elderly McCain can no longer perform the job (and is a candidate for Prez in 2012 or 16). Even if the Palin and McCain ticket loses come November, the former has gained a place on the national political stage she could not have hoped to achieve for years into the future, she’ll certainly run for the White House in the next cycle.
Obviously a person of enormous ambition – nothing wrong with that -- Palin is loving it. After all, it is she, not McCain, who is the brand new nationwide celebrity that draws the big crowds -- so much so that her boss may be embarrassed if he tries to conduct rallies on his own. Like the winner of a multi-million dollar lottery, Palin’s celebrity was not earned the way Obama achieved his status -- by working hard over years to introduce one’s self to the body politic and see what the nation thinks. And like a newly minted rock or movie star cheered by adoring crowds, she is probably not entirely in touch with reality these days. After all, how could she have risen so swiftly from being a Northern Exposure mayor to the political heights of the most powerful nation on earth if it is not part of her creator’s plan? That she is openly lying without shame indicates that she is detached enough to imagine that anything she is doing for the cause is just and necessary. How could a person of God like her be doing wrong?
Her right wing base is more than happy to go along for the ride. For decades God fearing conservatives promised that if the nation would finally evict the inherently corrupt liberals from government the righteous right would at long last institute open and honest rule over this great land. Of course it was a promise they could not keep; conservatives including Palin are human beings like every one else.
It was all part of the traditionalist move to reform society by returning honor and virtue to the culture. Which presumably bans lying. Instead, conservative rule introduced a period of lobbyist fueled graft that took America’s breath away. Palin joined in by lavishing her little Wasilla with over $25 million in federal earmarks gained with the help of a major DC lobbying firm the “maverick reformer” hired to boost her political fortunes (see my previous post on why the political right really loves the big government they love to hate). So she is part of the problem.
But never mind that truth. Now her “mission” is to get as close to the White House as possible, and conservatives could care less that she is lying in order to keep the party that is responsible for the mess in office so they can clean up the mess they made. It is a classic expression of the end justifies the means. It is also reckless. Such egregious lying risks an electoral backlash, and has already damaged the credibility of Palin and McCain so badly that their ability to rule is seriously impaired.
And what is the practical alternative to the lies? As soon as the Bridge From Nowhere became a national scandal, Maverick Man McCain seized upon it as an example of Republican graft. It was a good idea, and still would be, but then McCain went and made it into a potential political bomb because of his opportunistic choice of a veep candidate intimately tied to that very same project. For either McCain or Palin to admit that she was a backer of the bridge would be like bringing two subcritical masses of highly enriched uranium 235 together to form a nuclear explosion. Bad idea. Think about it, how do you spin something like this political turkey?
The truth makes McCain seem like a base political panderer for choosing Palin, and it wrecks her pretense to be anti-lobbyist. There never was a viable way to be honest about the matter, and now they are in too deep. Nor could they ignore the issue and hope for the best; the media and the opposition would have hung the Bridge from Nowhere around their collective necks unless they preemptively proclaimed joint virtue from the get-go. So the lie was born and cannot die. Palin is not ultimately responsible because everything she does at this stage is approved by her handlers. McCain could tell her to tell the straight truth, but that is the last thing he wants.
Besides, when all is said and done, McCain is a Republican -- a Republican who is desperate to win, so the self proclaimed maverick anti-Republican is turning to the standard GOP playbook for how to win whatever election the Repub candidate is in. The book was written by Karl Rove, the eager student of the master of political duplicity, Richard Nixon. The idea is simple enough. Lie through your teeth and don’t back down and enough people might believe it to edge out your opponent.
This method works best when the pretender is sufficiently appealing that millions are willing to forgive his or her transgressions no matter how patent they may be, as per Palin. It was eminently Nixonian/Rovian of McCain to pick Palin. After all, who overlooked a stable of qualified choices to pick another little known governor he barely knew as his running mate because he seemed politically suitable for the moment in 1968? The McCain who promoted the self image of the wise, experienced man of careful judgment followed the calculated electoral political advice of his Bush II set of advisors and selected an appealing novice politician who placated his potentially rebellious base while allowing him to play the politics of gender identity, and as it turned out of the politics of celebrity McCain is still trying to turn against Obama even as he celebrates the mass appeal of his second banana.
Whether Palin and her husband – remember she subscribes to a patriarchal vision of the nuclear family in which He makes the final decisions – are competent to step into the Oval Office if need be in 2009 is of little import in the political world-view where winning is all.
In playing the Rovian book of winning the GOP candidate cynically left the nation with mere weeks to decide if his running mate from a remote state, whose life and politics are little known in the lower 48, is ready and able to be an all too literal heart-beat from the presidency.
Politicians across the spectrum stretch the truth, and the GOP is not the only major party that has offered up a little known female as VP. And in the end, the now dishonorable McCain bears the primary responsibility for the sad moral state his campaign has sunk to. But the ethically plastic Sarah Palin has chosen to go so far beyond acceptable bounds that the national neophyte can be fairly and accurately characterized as the Righteous Right’s Liar from Nowhere.