John McCain has created a monster. No, wait. Two. John McCain has created two monsters.
One, of course, is Sarah Palin. This cute 'n' sassy Alaskan cookie, this g-droppin', moose-shootin' regular gal, this soccer mom who talks like a teen (and whose teen will soon be a mom), this utterly fearless and thoroughly shameless liar who looks like a stripper playing a secretary and who, like many a confident ignoramus, talks to reporters as though they're the idiots she thinks she's putting one over on: Forget those big-boob hotties in bikinis menacingly wielding power tools on calendars in body shops. This is the pinup babe for All-American Power Porno.
It's all here, from the pious jerkwater Christianity that flaunts its ignorance and waits for applause, to the dimpling, sexy-winking speeches not only devoid of content but actively, preeningly demagogic. Poli-sci, acting, and psych majors are encouraged to monitor Palin's stump appearances; it's the closest they'll ever get (if we're lucky) to watching a natural demagogue at work live and in real time.
It may be too much to hope that national leaders bring out the best in us (although, with Obama, it threatens to be possible), but here is a woman who brings out the worst in people. The lies, the smears, the disingenuous innuendo and high school cafeteria sarcasm, the religion- and terrorism- and race-baiting: this is someone whom sane grownups would censure and condemn if she were running for president of the Student Council.
With Palin we encounter the purest example, in our lifetime, of a candidate whose mere presence on a national ticket demeans and pollutes the very process. To watch her being interviewed is to behold someone not only unwilling, but constitutionally unable, to give a lucid answer to a serious question. As a commenter on a different blog said, This is a woman who is incapable of passing a Turing test, let alone acting as a Vice-President.
(And you, Reader: You can give a clear answer to a question, can't you? So can I. And, like me, you shouldn't be Veep, let alone Prez, of the U.S.)
Palin may, for all we know, also be inherently unable to give an honest answer in addition to a comprehensible one. It's one thing to lie, in the sense that "all politicians lie," by saying they're going to do X and then, when in office, not doing it. Palin's lies have been those of the compulsive liar. She's repeatedly lied about matters of fact, easily refuted via the public record and then, when they've been shown to be untrue, she's kept reciting them.
Is it calculated or reflex? Is she evil, or merely crazy? We don't know and, you can bet, the "patriot" who has inflicted her on us doesn't know, either.
We have John "Country First" McCain to thank for Sarah Palin. Or, rather, we have the current, most recent, appallingly monstrous John McCain to thank. Because that's the second monster he's created: himself.
You youngsters don't remember, but back in 2000 there were those Democrats who thought, "You know, that John McCain might not be such a bad feller. Not as egregious as your average Republican, not as self-evidently loathsome as your Gingriches or as transparently phony and mendacious as that what's-his-name...Bush. Yessir, that McCain might have a future in some centrist post-Cold War Pax Americana..."
The rest was, and is, history. Now there is not one admirable principle that McCain used to espouse that he has not, systematically and thoroughly, betrayed. Not only has he thrown honor and honesty (nee "Straight Talk") under the bus, he has halted the bus, flung its driver out onto the sidewalk, taken the wheel, and driven back and forth over them repeatedly until no CSI or SVU unit on television could tell you with any certainty what they once were.
To watch him in last week's debate was to watch Homer Simpson cast -- against his will -- as Teddy Roosevelt, then pushed out in front of tv cameras and told to recite the talking points, as augmented with affirmation-like incantations meant to convince, if not the audience, then himself: "I know how to catch Bin Ladin. I know how to win wars. I know how to balance the budget." And doggone it, people are going to vote for me.
The best thing you can say about McCain in that debate was that he refrained from actually calling Obama a terrorist then and there. God knows Palin would have done it if it were on the agenda. And she may yet; if their polls keep deteriorating, she may abandon the pretense of snarking about Obama's acquaintances and go all the way. She's on the brink of a success exactly consonant with her most fevered, narcissistic, dream-big, proudly "humble," God-blessed beauty-contestant ambitions. Who knows what a provincial woman that politically vulgar is capable of if it seems about to slip away?
Palin, in all her sashaying disgracefulness, is not McCain's creation; but she is his responsibility. And either he knows it, and still feels some residual shame in whatever small fragment of his soul still exists uncorrupted by his own ambition...or he doesn't, and he's as gone as she is. I don't have a sense which it is. It might be the former, in fact; he might be secretly appalled by what he's condoned and encouraged, but feel -- understandably -- that the whole juggernaut is out of his control and all he can do is hang on and hope, if not for the best, then the least bad.
Or does he perform small acts of penance in private? Does he rebuke La Palin behind the scenes? Does he care when her audiences yell "Terrorist!' and "Kill him!" about his opponent? Hillary Clinton rightly took heat for invoking Bobby Kennedy's murder in 1968; now we have Sassy Sarah prompting her worshipful thugs to shout for blood. Maybe, away from the glare and the cameras, John chides her as you would a "high-spirited" daughter.
No, you don't think so and neither do I. Dig McCain's shit-eating grin at the livid, content-free outburst of one citizen's comment here ). McCain, this "hero," has accomplished what many (including he himself) might have thought impossible: he has colluded in his own moral castration. Now he's Sarah's consort, happy to bask in the gamma rays of hate and rage she elicits by her mere presence on the podium. How long will it be before he refers to it as "the Palin-McCain ticket"? (Having already addressed the American people as "my fellow prisoners.")
Of course, McCain might assuage his guilt with the thought that it's all politics. And it is all politics -- debased politics, the worst kind of politics, the politics of the mob.
Someone -- one of his many "friends" -- should tell McCain that it's also the kind of politics you cannot foster and sustain and encourage (or even tacitly permit), and still hope to wake up the next morning with the same self-respect you had before it all started. Before, you tell yourself, you "had to" do certain things.
"Country First." It sounds like a savings and loan. No wonder it felt right as a campaign slogan. McCain may turn out to be the thinking man's -- no, the fighting man's -- Bush, endlessly acting out his Oedipal grudge and forever compelled to screw things up, crashing planes, his reputation, his country. That'll show the old man.
Cross-posted at What HE Said.