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Que Sera, Sarah

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Alaska Governor and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, on the biggest night of her political career.

So, after Wednesday night's spectacle of an intensively-rehearsed Sarah Palin whipping up the Republican convention crowd, what will be for her? Que sera, Sarah.

I think in the end Palin is a sideshow, a base play too problematic and extreme to appeal to independents and moderates, a tyro whose politics actually undercuts the positioning John McCain needs to win the election.

McCain's acceptance speech last night, heavy with elegiac tones, had none of the pop of Palin's. What it did have was depth beyond Palin's glib wisecracks, and a more centrist positioning beyond Palin's right-wing base-stoking, and McCain's own Bush-backing record of recent years. What it did not have was the substance to back up the centrist reformism McCain needs to try to upset Obama.


I asked McCain's old friend Gary Hart, who was McCain's groomsman at the Vietnam War hero's wedding to Cindy, what he thought. "McCain," Hart said, noting the flat response of the convention crowd even to the watered-down centrism of last night, "is trying to return the neocon party to the traditional conservative party. He won't succeed."

In any event, the Vietnam War hero, the "original maverick" as his campaign would again position him after several years of fealty to the very unpopular agenda of President Bush, paled as it were from a performance standpoint next to Palin's kinetic performance.

John McCain's new ad presents Sarah Palin as "the Alaska Maverick," allegedly a fighter against Big Oil unlike Barack Obama, the candidate of "empty words."

Wednesday night was the biggest night of Palin's political career. All ice cream. Palin, whose biggest office until 2007 was the mayoralty of Wasilla, Alaska -- current population 6,715, according to the City of Wasilla -- had been mostly out of sight since her debut last Friday at a Dayton, Ohio rally with John McCain.

Palin was getting briefed in on national and international issues, about which she knows little. She's still not ready for interviews, so this will continue at least into next week as she will soon return to Alaska to see her son Track off to Iraq on, naturally, September 11th. This is the first time I can recall that a vice presidential nominee has done no interviews following his or her unveiling.

Notice that I said "her." Palin is not the first woman vice presidential nominee. New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro holds that distinction, dating back to 1984. I know this first-hand, as I cast my delegate vote at the Democratic national convention for her that year. It proved to be a mistake.

While Ferraro was a credible figure, very well-versed in national and international issues, she was a token. It was stunt casting by a presidential candidate, a decades-long Washington figure, Walter Mondale, hungry to show that he, too, was a change agent. It didn't work.

Back to Palin. The hard right base of the Republican Party loves her. Why would they not? She is for creationism, the religious fundamentalist notion that scientific evolution is false.

A McCain campaign video entitled "Introducing Sarah Palin."

She is a greenhouse effect denier. A convenient stance for someone who pushes for oil drilling everywhere. Incidentally, the Arctic ice cap is melting once again, creating the fabled "Northwest Passage" at the top of the world. Which is why Russia staked a claim to the North Pole last year, as many experts believe that 25% of the world's remaining oil and natural gas reserves are under what was once the intractable ice cap of the North Pole.

She's against abortion in all circumstances, including for victims of rape and incest. She is a staunch opponent of sex education. It would be easy to make the point that her underage daughter, now pregnant out of wedlock, the father being some tuff boy teenage hockey player whose now-scrubbed MySpace page said he never wants to have kids and will kick anybody's ass, thereby making him prime dad material, is a victim of this stance. But that whole area should be left to the National Enquirer -- which is delving into the broad sweep of Palin's private life -- and the rest of the lifestyle press and the ADD media.

Back to public affairs substance. Palin claims to have opposed the infamous "Bridge To Nowhere." Actually, she campaigned for it, turned against it once it had been discredited publicly, then took the money for it and applied it elsewhere.

A fighter against a corrupt Alaska Republican establishment. Actually, she was co-director of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens' political committee. Stevens, a notorious pork barrel pol, is a longtime McCain bete noire, indicted on several charges of political corruption.

Palin is also a big-time political consumer of congressional earmarks, long the subject of McCain anti-spending crusades.

Palin, who had only met John McCain once before he picked her, seems bright and glib. I was aware that she was on a long list for the vice presidency. I thought about her, and didn't think McCain would pick her.

Alaska is a state of well under 700,000 people. That is smaller than not only all 40 state senate districts in California, but all 435 congressional districts in America.

Prior to 2007, Palin's claim to fame was that she had been mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Which, as I've noted, Karl Rove erroneously stated on Fox News early last Friday morning was the second largest city in Alaska. Not even close. I reported then that there were 8000 people in Wasilla. Actually, it's 6,715, according to the city itself. When Palin was elected mayor, it was under 5000.

I got ahold of Palin's election records. What is interesting to know is that, when Palin was first elected mayor of Wasilla, she received 651 votes. That was a landslide election for her, with over 60% of the city vote.

As I look at Palin's record, which prior to 2007 is based on her long tenure as a city council member and mayor of Wasilla, something occurred to me. I held more important local government posts than Palin. When I was in high school.

And looking at Palin's record in tiny Wasilla, I accomplished more as a local government official. When I was in high school.

Now, frankly, it's definitely not much, though it's had a positive effect on the lives of more people than Palin has had as a local government official. But then, I'm not disappointed by being passed over by John McCain for the vice presidency, though I've spent more time around him than Palin has. Not a high bar to cross, since she'd only met him once before he designated her as his vice president.

You know, all this stuff about Palin's private life, which extends out ultimately to the public sphere with her firing of Alaska's public safety commissioner for his refusal to fire Palin's former brother-in-law. I don't care about that. Put it all off limits. McCain's pal David Letterman likens Palin and her family to Jerry Springer guests. Clearly, Letterman is an elitist. McCain, who courted celebrities and now makes fun of them, has been on Letterman more than all but a few movie stars.

Since the bulk of Palin's executive experience is non-serious, here is a more serious question. How would Palin do against Vladimir Putin? It's not an idle question, as about 20% of the vice presidents have become president, and John McCain, who had several bouts of cancer, endured terrible tortures at the hands of his Communist captors and as a result is not athletic, would be the oldest person ever elected to the presidency.

I haven't met Sarah Palin. I have met Vladimir Putin. A bit more of a priority. I'm not in the least surprised that this elite former KGB officer has outwitted George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Well, you see where this is going.

Speaking of Bush and Cheney, neither was present at his own party's national convention.

President Bush, who briefly addressed the convention Tuesday night via satellite, out of prime time, is the first sitting president of the United States not to attend his own party convention in 40 years. Who is the last to hold this distinction? Lyndon Johnson, during the height of the Vietnam War.

Vice President Cheney set off on a big foreign tour for the week of the Republican national convention. His job approval rating is unbelievably low, down in the teens. He's off to Georgia, Ukraine, and Poland. To assure them that they have America's full backing against resurgent Russia.

Empty words for Georgia, whose misbegotten leader Mikheil Saakashvili so misinterpreted the support of Bush and Cheney and McCain that he launched a disastrously backfiring offensive against South Ossetia. For his troubles, he got a swiftly shattered military and Russian dominance over much of what he thought was his country.

As expected, the European Union summit on the Georgian crisis resulted in nothing. A few harshly-worded press releases. Putin, naturally, could care less. He and the rest of the Kremlin crew are certainly losing no sleep about another American politician who talks tough and doesn't know what's going on.

As for Sarah Palin, que sera, sera. As Doris Day sang, somewhat incongruously, in the Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much, whatever will be, will be. And what will be is that she is a base play, a tabloid distraction, a bright and glib politician of opportunity whose political posture will prove highly problematic.

It should be no surprise that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is seen as far more qualified than Palin. Despite all the hoopla, she looks like a play for the Republican base, as I pointed out immediately after she was selected last week, as well as an attempt to shake things up with stunt casting. The new ABC News poll shows that Joe Biden is viewed as far more qualified than Palin, and that, while likeable, Palin is not reaching across party lines or motivating independents.

Incidentally, to the extent that attention is focused on Palin's private life, that's a good thing for her, because it engenders sympathy. Actually, it's a good thing up to a point. The National Enquirer is now on her case, promising to be as diligent with her as it was with John Edwards, and that's never a good sign.

66% of American voters view Biden as qualified, with only 21% saying he is unqualified. Palin is viewed as qualified by 42%, a few points above the baseline Republican vote in a national election, and unqualified by 50%.

Even the effort to spin her small town mayoralty into thematic gold is highly problematic. Tiny Wasilla, nearly an hour out of Anchorage, turns out not to be the idyllic Rockwellesque small town her new conservative fans obviously love to imagine. Actually, Palin's home town is the methamphetamine capital of Alaska.

In the end, this election probably won't be about Sarah Palin at all. (If it is, it's not good news for John McCain.) The election, media hype aside, will quickly settle back into what it's been all along. A change election in a troubled country between a change agent who may be too risky and inexperienced for a plurality of voters and a change agent who may represent more of the unpopular same. And who may have just demonstrated the riskiness of his own judgment.