John McCain's duplicitous defense of his 2008 GOP running mate Sarah Palin this past weekend is as dishonest as it is shameful. He knows better--but for reasons that are rooted deeply in McCain's peculiar sense of chivalry and his political self-interest, he has refused to come clean about Palin with the American people.
"There are fundamental facts that cannot be denied," he asserted on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "When we selected, or asked, Sarah Palin to be my running mate, it energized our party. We were ahead in the polls, until the stock market crashed."
The implication is that the Republicans would have won were it not for the economic collapse that took place on September 15.
Many McCain and Palin operatives in the aftermath of the election have blamed the economy for their loss. That's like blaming a lake in the middle of the 18th fairway for costing one a golf match. The lake doesn't cost you the match--driving your ball into it does.
The economy collapsed for the Democrats, too. They had the same hazards in their fairway as the Republicans. Moreover, the economy was not Obama's strong suit. He didn't play well to white working class voters and he had a hard time articulating how he was going to address the banking collapse.
But let's take a look at some "fundamental facts" about McCain and the economy:
- In 2005, McCain told the Wall Street Journal: "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated."
- In 2007, McCain told the Boston Globe: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should."
- On August 20, only days before he selected Palin, McCain told the press he did not know how many houses he owned.
- On the morning of September 15, the day on which the McCain-Palin campaign tanked in the polls, John McCain said: "Our economy, I think still--the fundamentals of our economy are strong." (Even Rick Davis, McCain's ever-loyal campaign manager, said he wished that McCain had never made that remark.) The following day, McCain's economic adviser Carly Fiorina said that Sarah Palin was "not fit" to run a Fortune 500 company.
While McCain was undertaking his hackneyed "suspension of his campaign" and rushing back to Washington, Palin was nowhere to be seen. The campaign did not want to unleash her on the American people. And when McCain finally arrived in the capital, his Republican colleagues in Congress scattered. As it turned out, John McCain had very few friends in Congress on either side of the isle.
And what did Palin have to say about the economy? Here, in her immortal words, is Palin's response to Katie Couric's question about the federal bailout package:
That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade -- we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.
I would hope that John McCain would have the decency to re-read those words and follow his running mate's eyes as she delivered them. Comforting they were not. Tina Fey did not have to change a single word.
While McCain may have a difficult time accepting "the fundamental facts" of the 2008 election, the Obama insiders who conducted polls about Palin know what happened.
Joel Benson, Obama's chief pollster, noted that after Palin's devastating performance with Couric, "Palin went from having, in our poll, the highest favorable/unfavorable ratio to the worst of the four principals. By the time she got to the vice-presidential debate, in our polling, her negatives were almost as high as her positives." In other words, stick a fork in it.
One former key McCain campaign strategist has called his colleagues' excuses about Palin and the economy "intellectually dishonest." So be it.
Did Palin give a "bounce" to the McCain campaign in the early weeks of September? Absolutely. Did her balloon come crashing back to earth once the American people caught on to her act? You betcha.
It's time for John McCain to tell the truth about his campaign and, rather than blame his own failures on "the stock market crash," to accept responsibility for the failures of his economic credibility and the selection of his running mate. He's yet to address the real "fundamental facts" of the 2008 campaign.
Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn is at work on a book about Sarah Palin and American politics, to be published by Macmillan/St. Martin's next year.