On Friday last week, when John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, she walked to the podium and McCain could be heard whispering, "No hurry now." It sounded like the advice a father might give his daughter preparing for her first student council speech. It is interesting to look back on Palin's introduction in the light of the last few days. If Palin is so experienced, so comfortable in the executive chair, why did McCain feel the need to offer such demeaning advice? It is very clear from his body language that he was nervous about his maverick pick, but how nervous was he? How much of what the media has uncovered over the last 5 days did he know in Dayton? (Was he in on the decision to have Bristol holding Palin's infant son to hide her growing belly?) How aware was he of exactly how he and his new running mate would mesh?
After Palin's introduction, McCain stood in the camera shot to Palin's right as she delivered her speech, and as soon as she started speaking, he seemed to come down with a severe case of restless arm syndrome. He clasped his hands in front of him, shoved them in his pockets, then seconds later moved them to his side military-style, then clasped them again, played with his wedding ring, then waved and pointed awkwardly to someone in the crowd with a strained smile. He could not stand still and his strained expression during certain points in Palin's talk gave away his unease. It almost seemed as if he could not bear to look at her. We may never know what McCain knew or did not know at that moment, but his fidgeting gives away the fact that McCain considers Palin an all-or-nothing gamble at the very least because these two politicians were meeting for only the second time.
Why should McCain not be nervous? He met Sarah Palin once and had just one conversation with the Alaska governor before tapping her as his vice presidential choice and his closest adviser for the most important job in the nation, (some might argue the world). It appears that the vetting process was far less rigorous that anyone first thought. On top of that, McCain must know that they make an awkward match.
They need to appear close, but too much hugging and cheek kissing will look strange. Joe Biden and Barack Obama often stand shoulder to shoulder, with arms draped around each other - but McCain and Palin always stand at least a few feet apart. When the McCain and Palin families appear together, the Palin brood overwhelms the stage and Cindy looks unsure whom to stand next to or to whom she should whisper some made-up secret exchange that they can pretend to share together in a show of closeness and friendship. Some of this is the newness of a male/female ticket, still an infant in the world of political staging, but much more results from the fact that these two politicians are complete strangers to each other.
Then there is the obvious age gap between Palin and McCain. When they stand side by side we see an old man, long past his handsome prime, damaged physically by torture and a young, attractive woman who looks fresher even than her 44 years and who turns often to monitor her new infant son. They do not lean in and exchange humorous side comments that make them both chuckle and smile together. They are from different eras, different walks of life and different geographic parts of the country. They appear to be from two different worlds - and indeed, they are.
How much McCain knew on that first day is still a mystery, but what we do know is that McCain has just signed himself up for the ultimate blind date. Watch out for awkward silences.