She's Not Quayle; She's Thomas

09/30/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


"I got a woman," John McCain is singing, "way over the continent," and she's good for me, oh yeah. . . . Yeah she's a kind of friend I need."

The Republican presidential nominee-to-be had to alter a few of Ray Charles's words to adapt the song. But he's got his woman, first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Contrary to what some critics of the selection are saying, McCain didn't want just any woman. She had to be qualified. Not qualified to be president, obviously; but qualified by being right--extremely right--on all the right-wing issues.

Unlike Ray Charles's woman (and many regressive women and men), Sarah Palin doesn't "know a woman's place is right there now in her home." But that's one of the few areas where this woman who opposes abortion in all cases, even rape and incest, who is a Creationist, who doesn't think human activities contribute to global warming . . . (the list goes on and on) parts company with the extreme right.

There has been much talk of Sen. McCain's choice of Gov. Palin as something akin to the 1988 pick by George H.W. Bush of Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle to be his running mate.

Like the senior Bush's choice of not-ready-for-prime-time Quayle, McCain's choice of Palin (who, as just one example of her total lack of qualification for the presidency, says she hasn't "really focused much on the war in Iraq"), came, as the saying goes, out of left field--except that in both cases the picks actually came out of right field--the deepest part of right field.

But the far more apt parallel for the choice of Gov. Palin is an even worse nomination made by Bush the Elder three years after his selection of Quayle.

On July 1, 1991, the first President Bush announced the nomination of Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. Like Palin now, Thomas then was indisputably far less qualified than numerous other possible candidates, and was chosen entirely on the basis of demographics and ideology--an ideology shared by Thomas and Palin that opposes choosing people on the basis of their demographic group.

The parallel between the Thomas and Palin selections is almost exact:

1. An attempt was being made to replace on the Court Justice Marshall, one of the leading figures in advocating civil rights, with a person who shares his complexion but is his polar opposite on civil rights issues.

2. An attempt is being made to persuade women to replace in their affections Senator Clinton, one of the leading figures in advocating women's rights, with a person who shares her hormones but is her polar opposite on women's rights issues.

Neither women nor African Americans are, of course, of one mind when it comes to political and social issues, and some women are in tune with Sarah Palin, as some African Americans are in agreement with Clarence Thomas. But the women who agree with Gov. Palin are already Republicans. Sen. McCain's cynical ploy is aimed at winning over women who voted for Hillary Clinton.

A woman who supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 but would vote for a female whose choice made Dr. James Dobson and the rest of the Jesus Thieves of the so-called "Christian Right" ecstatic would be as foolish as a black civil rights advocate who would approve an African American Supreme Court nominee whose choice thrilled the "Religious Right" and the right-wing in general in 1991.

A second X-chromosome is no more a sufficient qualification for being women's choice for the vice presidency than dark pigmentation was for being African-Americans' choice for a seat on the Supreme Court.

And mention of seats on the Supreme Court brings the parallel between Clarence Thomas and Sarah Palin into even sharper focus. The election of McCain and Palin would assure the appointment of more justices who share Thomas's ideology and would guarantee the overturning of Roe v. Wade along with many other progressive and pro-woman and pro-civil rights decisions.

How many supporters of Hillary Clinton would have voted for Margaret Thatcher? How many would vote for Phyllis Schlafly? That's exactly how many should vote for John McCain and his new help-mate.

So while John McCain is happily humming "I Got a Woman," the rest of us need to sing -- no, scream -- the lyrics of another song from the 1960s, the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again":

Then I'll get on my knees and pray

We don't get fooled again

Don't get fooled again

No, no!

If the voters do allow themselves to get fooled again, as they were fooled by the Republican politics of fear and lies in 2004, the nation will find itself with John McCain as president and Pete Townshend's closing lines of that song tell us exactly what that would mean:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

The song combined with images of Thomas and Palin, Bush and McCain, Karl Rove and a quick clip of a 2004 swift boat ad would make a great television commercial.

{Historian Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. His latest book is Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America 2008-07-01-GTJcoversm.jpg.