That McCain and his Republicans left the voters and the media with just weeks to vet Sarah Palin as potential Vice President and perhaps the President is a neat trick because it precludes figuring out just how she is before it is too late to do anything about it. Going nearly ignored by the press is her spouse, Todd Palin. This may be a big mistake.
Most first spouses have not been controversial because they have not been deeply involved in their husband's political affairs. No one cared much about Mamie Eisenhower, for instance, because she kept out of the Oval Office. But others both Democratic and Republican have fueled debate over the powerful political roles they have played, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan, and Hillary Clinton.
The last example is particularly pertinent because many on the right and left wondered what role her past President mate would play as First Husband if she made it to the White House. Would Bill keep his nose out of national affairs, or would he be some form of Co-President? It was a legitimate concern that we no longer need mull over during this election cycle.
But what about Todd? The relationship between the Governor of Alaska and her spouse is potentially of immense importance. The reasons for this are simple enough. The Palin's are by all accounts head over heels devout, arch conservative, evangelical, born again, fundamentalist Christians who support creationism, gun rights, fetus rights, denying gay's their rights and "this is the applicable point herein " the institution of patriarchal marriage in which the husband plays the dominant role and is ultimately responsible for making all major decisions involving the activities of his wife and family. That last statement is not a stretch when applied to the Palins. The hard right world view is Bible based, and the Bible goes to lengths to describe marriage as a male oriented arrangement in which the power is in the hands of the husband. So much so that marriage until recently was a property relationship in which the husband effectively owned the wife who had virtually no rights, and could be forced against her will into a marriage she could not get out of. Even the American evangelical right has abandoned that version of their heritage, but conservative sects have no patience with the liberal secular view of a marriage as an equal partnership. There is nothing secret about this, you can go to the website of the Assemblies of God USA, the Pentecostal church the Palins belong to (www.ag.org/top/Beliefs/relations_04_marriage.cfm). Although the commentary on marriage says the husband should not be dictatorial, it declares that the "wife should submit to her husband as the Church should submit to the Lord"-- the woman has responsibility as a parent, God has called the husband to be the leader in the home," and describes a marriage as a "head/submission relationship" based on mutual love. Hard Christian right organizations such as Focus on the Family and The Family Research Council agree that the husband rules the roost.
The right wing has long swept under the carpet the inherent hypocrisy of strong conservative woman who they faithful celebrate as protraditionalist heroes as they pay at least as much attention to their time consuming public activities as to their marriage and family. Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlafly are old style examples of this contradiction, although Bryant later split with her husband whom she blamed for ruining her career with their anti-gay campaign. Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter are modern expression of the contradiction in that neither fast approaching middle age female has gotten married as they viciously attack the left for destroying old fashioned family values while their audiences applaud with righteous glee.
Now we have Sarah Palin, who could be President in the next few years with all that entails concerning how much time she will be able to follow the dictates of her church in parenting the tykes. All but a few conservatives have conveniently accommodated her failure to follow Biblical doctrine. But they are not bothered by her propensity to lie like there is no tomorrow either (see my "The Liar From Nowhere"- post). That Palin is not being a truly traditionalist Christian may reveal a degree of hypocrisy on the part of herself and her political base, but that is not much of a reason for not voting for her unless you is the hardest core kind of Bible believer. After all, it's not a big deal compared to her running mate being an adulterous divorcee who has little interest in religious activities, and Bill Clinton was a church going bad boy. The potential problem with Palin that the nation needs to take a hard look at is Todd. Let us assume for the sake of discussion that the Palin marriage is not nearly as traditional as it should be according to the divine instructions of their church. Perhaps Governor Sarah is such a strong personality, and her "First Dude"- Todd is sufficiently laid back, that she in the end is able to do what she desires. That she ultimately calls the shots when it comes to political decisions. In that case there is not a big problem in this specific regard.
But we do not know that that is the case. Instead, there is good reason to think otherwise. By all accounts "The First Gentleman"- is his wife's primary political advisor. He regularly sits in on discussions with her political aides, and helps her make decisions regarding both her career and specific policy actions. Todd is such an intimate part of Sarah's cohort that he has been subpoenaed to testify as "a central figure"- in the governor's questionable dismissal of the Alaskan director of public safety (because the latter refused to fire a state trooper who was Sarah's ex-brother-in-law). Todd's deep involvement in his wife's governmental activities and decisions should not be surprising. The Christian traditionalist Todd does not look like the kind of guy happy to stick to his own jobs in oil (his Secret Service code name is driller) and fishing while his similarly traditionalist wife develops a spectacular national career independent from him. This is even more likely to be true if she and the children become inside the Beltway residents. Very probably he will follow along to maintain the nuclear family unit, abandoning his optional jobs as he has done before. If that occurs will Todd be satisfied taking care of the kids or twiddling his thumbs while his wife ascends to the heights of power? Based on past patterns there is little reason to think so, if anything Todd appears to enjoy being both a public and private part of his wife's amazing rise to the national stage. It is plausible that if Palin beats Biden in a few weeks and continues her God approved journey to the White House, that Todd's desire for a degree of power will tag alongside hers.
That's pretty scary. Past and potential co-president spouses such as Eleanor, Hillary and Bill were well-educated, long term members of the ruling class who had years of mainstream social and political experience. To her credit we now know that Nancy was -- despite her dabbling in astrology -- a savvy moderating force upon Ron who encouraged him to pursue détente with Gorby. Who knows what influence Todd, a young fellow who has minimal college education and little political experience, will have upon his spouse whose worldly knowledge is not something to right home about either.
This is McCain's fault. There is no excuse for the nation being put in the position of having just a few weeks to figure out whether they want to put the unknown Palins on the fast track to the White House (especially if McCain does not make it the full four years, or does not run in 2012). And McCain et al. knew what they were doing. It is classic tactics of diversion. If the opposition spends time examining the Palin side of the ticket they divert attention from the remarkably weak presidential candidate McCain and the all too obvious emptiness of his Republican governing philosophy. The McCain campaign loves it when the media and public focus on her instead of the top of the ticket since JM is pathetically hard pressed to draw an enthusiastic crowd that SP can whip up with a confident snap of her fingers. But if folks do not investigate the Palins then they risk voting them into office before knowing the exact reasons why it may be a bad idea. The Repubs have yet again gamed the system to their electoral advantage in a manner that reduces their subsequent ability to govern effectively. Which in of itself is a reason to vote against the Palin/McCain ticket. The body politic should reject the all too common tendency of Presidential candidates to spring upon an innocent nation a convention surprise along the lines of Agnew, Ferraro, Quayle and now Palin (note that three of these are Republican rolls of the dice). It should become the expectation that all serious presidential candidates do what Obama did and pick running mates that are already nationally known and respected figures that most can agree have the ability to step into the Oval Office if the need arises. Is such basic common sense too much to ask for? Or to demand. If Palin wins it will only serve to endorse the tendency of major party candidates to take a gamble and foist veeps from nowhere upon the nation. Let's teach future seekers of a White House a lesson they will remember.