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David Wallechinsky Headshot

The Sad Fate of Sarah Palin

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If John McCain loses his bid for the presidency on November 4th, Sarah Palin will probably follow the path of Katherine Harris. Having sold her soul to the Republican Party leaders, she will be dumped and turned into a laughing stock, the butt of jokes about an ambitious female politician more concerned with her appearance than with real issues.

But what if McCain wins and Palin is sworn in as vice president of the United States? There is one school of thought that Palin, supported by the hard-right evangelical branch of the Republican Party, will seize effective power from the increasingly weakened McCain. I'm not so sure. What if it turns out that McCain was much cleverer in choosing Palin than he is being given credit for?

When I picture Sarah Palin as vice president, I don't see a younger version of Dick Cheney; I see a new Spiro Agnew.

For those who are too young to know about Spiro Agnew, here's a brief summary. Agnew had served less than two years as governor of Maryland (sound familiar?), and was unknown nationally (ditto), when Richard Nixon chose him to be his vice-presidential running mate. Agnew made a name for himself as Nixon's anti-media, anti-intellectual attacking bulldog. Nixon and Agnew won the 1968 election. But after they were reelected in 1972, Agnew was forced to resign after pleading no contest to charges of tax evasion and money laundering dating back to his days as governor. Following the procedure set out in the 25th Amendment, Nixon then nominated Gerald Ford to succeed Agnew, and Ford was quickly confirmed by both houses of Congress.

To get back to McCain and Palin, the conventional wisdom seems to be that McCain wanted to choose as his running mate one of two good friends, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. However, the Republican Party establishment revolted against these pro-choice moderates and convinced McCain that if he wanted to win the election, he had to appease the conservative wing of the party by choosing one of their own. Thus, Sarah Palin.

What if it turns out that McCain was actually well aware of Palin's "Troopergate" problems? What if McCain accepted the fact that he needed Palin to win the election, but reckoned that he could deal with her later, after they were inaugurated? So here's the scenario: on January 20, 2009, Palin is sworn in as vice president of the United States. But soon thereafter, with McCain's behind-the-scenes support, the Troopergate investigation explodes and Palin, forced to cop a plea, resigns as vice president. McCain then gains his revenge on the conservative wing of his party and appoints Lieberman or Ridge to the vice presidency. Like Gerald Ford 35 years earlier, either of these gentlemen would be likely to receive bipartisan support from Congress.

Mind you, there is another devious possibility. What if the leaders of the conservative wing of the Republican Party were familiar enough with Sarah Palin to know that she would ultimately damage the ticket? They then tricked or bullied McCain into choosing her, and are now waiting for him to lose in a landslide so that they can retake control of the party.

Of course, these scenarios are pure speculation. But if I was Sarah Palin, I wouldn't just be taking a crash course in foreign policy, I'd be taking some time to learn about Katherine Harris and Spiro Agnew.